Curried parsnip and leek soup with spicy chickpea croutons

Curried parsnip soupEven without the addition of yoghurt at the end, this soup has something of a silky korma texture, thanks to the creaminess of the parsnips. Just the kind of winter warmer you need in these dark, short days of the year.

The town where I live, Frome in Somerset, is lucky enough to have a Food Assembly, which is like a farmers market but you order online in advance. They’re a fantastic event for both consumers like me and producers, so take a look at their website and see if there’s one near you. New ones are opening up all the time. For this soup, I used leeks and parsnips from Vallis Veg who sell at Frome’s Food Assembly. The yoghurt is a deliciously creamy ewe’s milk one from Wootton Organic Dairy, also at the Food Assembly.

My chickpea crouton recipe was inspired by the chat salad recipe in Meera Sodha‘s wonderful curry book, Made in India.

Try and use parsnips that are as fresh as possible; I’ve made parsnip soup before with older ones and the soup has turned out bitter.

Serves 6

Ingredients

Soup

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 tbsp butter

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium leeks, sliced

1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

½ tsp tumeric

¼ tsp ground cardamom

500g parsnips, peeled and roughly diced

1300 ml vegetable stock (I used Marigold bouillon)

Natural yoghurt, fresh coriander and naan or chapatis to serve

Croutons

2 tbsp sunflower oil

400g tin of chickpeas

2 tsp garam masala

2 pinches of cayenne pepper or chilli flakes (optional)

½ tsp mustard seeds

salt

Method

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan and then fry the onion on a medium heat for 5 minutes, before adding the leek and cooking for a further 5 minutes.

Add the chilli, if using, plus the garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a few minutes.

Stir in the parsnips and then add the stock. Bring to the boil and then turn down, simmering for 20 minutes or until the parsnips are soft.

While the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Rinse and pat dry the chickpeas with some kitchen roll.

Heat half the oil on a high heat in a frying pan and when hot but not smoking, add half the chickpeas. 

After 2-3 minutes, when they should be starting to crisp up (but not burning!), add half the garam masala and cayenne pepper/chilli flakes, if using.

Cook for another 1-2 minutes, then throw in half the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, remove from the heat and then repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Puree the soup in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Season to taste.

To assemble, add a swirl of yoghurt to each bowl of soup, topped with chickpea croutons and a scattering of coriander leaves. Serve with naan or chapatis.

Curried parsnip soup 2

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Smoky vegetable kebabs

barbecued vegetables

Made with my favourite marinade, these vegetable kebabs are quick, easy and perfect for barbecues and campfire cooking. You can add or swap the veg for any others you have handy, like aubergine or mushrooms.

I’ve also used the same marinade for fish (I’ve tried it on mackerel and bream, but others would work too) and chicken (for this, I replaced the dried oregano with fresh rosemary). If you haven’t got a barbecue or a fire on the go, you can also cook these under the grill.

When camping, I always take some store cupboard herbs and spices and these include dried oregano, cumin and smoked paprika, making kebabs like these easy to throw together. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 courgettes, cut in thick slices

2 red peppers, cut into large dice

1 large onion, cut in quarters lengthways and then each quarter halved

Marinade

100 ml olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

3 cloves of garlic, crushed to a paste with salt

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp of cumin

1 tsp of dried oregano

½ tsp dried chilli flakes

pinch of salt

4 wooden skewers

Method

Soak the wooden skewers in water.

Mix the marinade ingredients thoroughly. If you have a jar with a lid, then you can shake it up in this, otherwise just mix it in a mug with a fork.

Cut the courgette into thick slices and the pepper into fat squares. For the onion, halve it lengthways then cut in half widthways, so you end up with large rough squares.

In a large bowl, tip the vegetables in and mix thoroughly with the marinade. Leave to infuse while you light the barbecue or heat the grill.

Thread the vegetables onto the skewers.

Cook until the vegetables are just tender and slightly charred. 

Pour over any leftover marinade before serving. 

barbecued vegetable kebabs

Mung bean curry

Mung bean dalA change in the weather and the beginnings of an autumnal cold has made me crave warming, nourishing curries this week. I also like to cook a big pot of soup or curry to have for lunch during the week.

This easy mung bean curry recipe is also cheap and very satisfying, either served simply with plain boiled basmati or as part of a thali spread, with lime pickle and yoghurt.

I would like to serve this with chapati too, but since going gluten-free have yet to find a decent recipe. I tried a 100% gram flour one to go with this curry, but the dough was too hard to work with. So please let me know if you’ve got any easy gluten-free chapati recipes!

I made this curry quite dry, but if you’re in a soupy mood, then feel free to add more of the reserved stock to make it more liquid.

Serves 4

Ingredients

200g whole green mung (or moong) beans, soaked overnight

2 tbsp sunflower oil

6 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 green chillis, finely chopped and deseeded depending on heat required

2 tbsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp tumeric

4 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

small handful fresh coriander, stalk finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped

small handful (10-15 leaves) curry leaves

Method

Put the mung beans in boiling water in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until just soft. Drain, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Heat the sunflower oil in a saucepan.

Fry the garlic, chillis and spices on a medium-low heat, without letting the garlic colour, for five minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the tomatoes and salt, cooking for 10 minutes until the tomatoes are soft.

Add the coriander stalks, curry leaves and mung beans, putting in about a wine glass of the drained mung bean cooking water, or as much as required.

Simmer the curry for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice or chapati.

Okra curry

Okra curry with chutney and raita

I fully got into the curry vibe during a weekend visit to Easton, Bristol, this weekend, with an evening at the wonderful Thali Café and a shop at the Sweet Mart.

I stocked up on okra, because as I live in the wilds of Somerset, even in a town like Frome, this vegetable is something of an exotic novelty for me these days. I love their impossibly funky bike wheel pattern when they’re sliced open, and their weird and unique ooziness.

This recipe is adapted from one I learnt at Little Cove Yoga Retreat in Goa. Don’t be deterred by the long list of ingredients; like many curry recipes, there’s really not that much to it once you get started, as most items listed below are spices you can just throw in.

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 tsp sunflower oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped

5 cm piece of ginger, peeled, grated and finely chopped

2 green chillies, deseeded depending on heat preferred

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

300g okra, washed, topped and tailed

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1 tsp garam masala

½ tsp salt

25 g fresh coriander, chopped

Method

Heat the oil on a medium-high heat and cook the mustard, coriander and fennel seeds for a few minutes, until the mustard seeds start to pop.

Turn the heat down to medium low and add the onions, ginger and chillies, cooking for 10 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, slice the okra into pieces about 0.5cm thick.

Chopped okra

After the onion has cooked for 10 minutes, add the garlic, turmeric, cumin seeds, garam masala and salt. Cook for a further 10 minutes.

Add the okra and 50ml of water and cook, covered, on a low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the coriander and cook for another 5 minutes.

Okra curry

Zhoug (green chilli sauce)

Zhoug green chilli sauce Zhoug (pronounced ‘shug’, as in the first syllable of sugar) is a green herb chilli paste from Israel and a perfect accompaniment to my wild garlic falafel. The first time I tried zhoug I was hooked, spreading it on toast, to replace olive oil for a Spanish pan con tomate, stirring it through couscous or bulgar wheat or adding a dollop to tomato soup.

It’s important to use good-quality coriander, not the flaccid kind you find in growing in pots in the supermarket. If you see a good bunch of coriander but don’t have time to make zhoug immediately, wrap the bunch in some dampened kitchen roll and keep it in a bag in the fridge to stop it wilting (this method works well with parsley too).

Zhoug is supposed to be fiery, so use the seeds if your chillies aren’t particularly hot.

If you don’t use it straight away, zhoug will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks – if you can resist eating it, of course!

Ingredients

50g fresh coriander, including stalks

2 green chillies, seeds left in

1 garlic clove, crushed

1½ tsp cumin

1/8 tsp salt

4 tbsp olive oil

Method

Finely chop the coriander, green chillies and crushed garlic; it’s worth using a mezzaluna for this if you have one. (I prefer the texture of zhoug chopped by hand rather than using a food processor, which can make the end result rather mushy.)

Add the cumin, salt and olive oil.

zhoug with falafel

Spice up your life

Indian curry spices

When I was seven, a friend came round for tea and saw my Mum putting bay leaves and cinnamon stick into whatever stew she was making for our dinner. This being the seventies rural Cambridgeshire, my friend had never seen these ingredients before and thought my Mum was a witch!

Cooking for me is something like bubbling up a magic potion. The chemistry of cooking is such that you can become an amateur alchemist and one of the easiest ways to wave a magic wand at your cooking to make it more special and more individual is to experiment with spices.

Be creative and ta-dah! You too can create your own wizardry effects.

Although stocking up on large money-saving bags in Asian supermarkets – such as the fantabulous Sweet Mart in Easton, Bristol, which I cannot recommend highly enough; it is packed full of reasonably priced culinary treasures from all over the world – can seem like a good idea at the time, most spices have to be absolutely fresh to taste at their best.

We need to warm ourselves up on these chilly, dark November nights and spices hit the spot for me. What are your favourite spices?

My top five essential spices:

1 Cumin – earthy and evocative of many different cuisines, including Middle Eastern, Indian and Mexican

2 Garam masala – a mother of an Indian friend made this for me once and it was so brilliant I used it for over a year without it going stale. With a spice grinder it’s easy to make your own though. Simply place 3 tbsp of cardamom seeds, 2 tbsp of cumin seeds, 1 tbsp of peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, 6 cloves and ½tsp of ground nutmeg into a spice mill for a few minutes.

3 Tumeric – good for colour in the obvious curries but also a cheap and easy alternative to saffron for paella

4 Chinese five spice – use this for a dish to be shared with friends and an utterly irresistible fragrance will greet them as they enter your house

5 Smoked paprika – want to add an instant Spanish kick to a dish? Use this, now widely available in supermarkets and an integral ingredient of chorizo