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Soup Of The Evening

Lewis Carroll

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two p
ennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

In the magical ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Lewis Carroll wrote an ode to what I’d like to think was his most cherished entree, soup. Maybe it was even his most beloved dish of any of the day’s repast. And I would have to agree – soup is one of the greatest gifts you can give a vegetable.

Any humble, muddy rooted legume may be transformed into a Rajasthani queen, given a sprinkling of toasted spice and a roast in the oven. A cast of spring vegetables can be charmed into a pool of broth for a synchronised swim. The threadbare remnants of a roasted hen can be redressed and transformed into a meaty elixir, worthy of clobbering any grown-man’s influenza. Throw in a handful of grains, a cup of lentils, some beans or pasta, and you have yourself a solid meal. Yes siree! This is the fairest of food; transcending class, race, gender, age, and season. It tells stories about where we come from and, also, where we’re at. A simple potage of potatoes could feed a small village during a famine whilst a bouillabaisse in the south of France could cost a week’s salary somewhere else in the world. Best of all, soup keeps us alive.

And so here I am, sitting today at my mother’s house, full with the riches of her famous chicken soup. Two bowls, in fact. This is no ordinary chicken soup (none of that creamy malarkey that was born in a tin or a carton, with murdered fleshy bits floating on the curd) – this is the goldenest of liquors, extracted from a koshered boiler after hours of simmering in a shissel full to the brim with root vegetables and giblets. This is the soup that leaves a fine meniscus of oil around a tipped bowl, like a luscious Pedro Ximenez, just to remind you of its strength of body and spirit.

So, in response to a question reminiscent of a Passover seder table: why on this day do we eat chicken soup? Well, it’s the best thing a Jewish family on Christmas Eve in London can eat to remind themselves about where they have schlepped from.

Glossary
Shissel – Yiddish word for a large cooking vessel
Seder – the ritual Jewish feast of the festival of Passover
Schlep – Yiddish word for (v) haul or carry; (n) a tedious journey

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Carrot_Cake2

When my son Reuben was tiny he suffered from Gastroesophageal Reflux.  There are many ways to treat this not-uncommon condition in infants – ranging from pharmaceuticals through to probiotics, positioning and homeopathy – and what is prescribed depends both on the gravity of the condition and the opinions of the child’s parents and/or caregivers.  Although Reuben was prescribed medicine, we chose not to medicate him, and instead sought a variety of non-pharmaceutical aids.  Hand-on-heart, I will attest that – aside from the infant probiotics (which did wonders, I tell you) – our most efficacious approach was simply my diet, and the changes I made to it as a breast-feeding mother.

Six months ago, I stopped eating dairy products (both infant and adult reflux has been linked to dairy for some time), refined sugars and caffeine, and – short of indulging at a wedding, barmitzvah, shiver (purely out of respect, of course), or the delightful Colonna & Smalls coffee house in nearby Bath – I doubt I’ll ever gobble another bowl of macaroni cheese (sob), guzzle a bag of milk chocolate buttons, or sup a cup of freshly roasted coffee again.  Yes, seriously.  And it has been amazing.

Aside from the ebb of sick, Reuben stopped shrieking and writhing around in pain, and I felt (and still feel) incredible.  You know that energy lull you get in the middle of the day?  You know, the one they tell us is all about carbs.  Well, I’m sorry to rain on those women magazines’ parades, but it’s all about sugar and caffeine.  I no longer feel tired – and I’m a full-time mother to two children under three people! – and my skin is amazing.  And best of all, I feel really positive and high all the time.  Not wishing to sound totally evangelical about my new-found self-nourishment, here’s a link which is worth a read, and I’ll just leave you to do your own research, as I did.  (But it doesn’t mean I won’t try to surreptitiously introduce you to this eatable revolution through my cooking.)

The following recipe is both dairy- and sugar-free and offers a dense, sweet and moist cake.  It is also incredibly child-friendly because it doesn’t contain refined sugars (which kids eat far too much of nowadays) and introduces little ones to the idea that puddings can be made using vegetables.

My recipe is an adaptation of a lovely one that I found on the Heavenly Cakes blog – thank you Heike.  You can read it here.

Carrot_Cake1

Ingredients

250g grated carrots
200g white spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of fine sea salt
3 large eggs
100ml agave syrup
180ml sunflower oil, plus extra for oiling your cake tin
150g ground nuts (I used 100g almonds and 50g hazelnuts)
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange

Carrot_Cake5

Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 and then oil and line a 30cm round cake tin with baking parchment.

In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Then, in a second bowl, combine the grated carrots, orange zest, oil, eggs, salt and agave syrup.

Tip the wet ingredients into the dry and carefully mix together.  Finally, fold in the ground nuts.

Pour the batter into your cake tin and bake in the oven for around 50 minutes or until the top is a golden colour and a skewer comes out clean.  Whilst your cake is baking, squeeze the juice of the orange into a jug.

Leave your cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.  Place a large dinner plate under the rack and, using a skewer, pierce 7-10 holes evenly around the top of the cake.  Lastly, drizzle the orange juice over the top of the cake.

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focaccia_1This recipe for flatbread is another of my interpretations of Dan Lepard’s loaves.  This time it’s his take on the Italian focaccia.   Lepard’s ‘Olive Oil and Potato Flatbread‘ uses your average white spud, which most of you have knocking about.  However, on my mission for corporeal wellbeing (and that of my bairns), I like to substitute the white potato with a sweet potato as the latter is infinitely more nutritious, and sweet to boot.  I’ve also added a topping of silky sautéed red onions, fresh sprigs of rosemary and torn black olives – which add a heavenly trilogy of sweetness, earthiness and saltiness to the bread – and I use a little nutty walnut oil, which really compliments the sweet potato.  This is a meal (or, if you’re me, a snack) in itself.

Ingredients

200g 00 pasta flour
200g strong white bread-making flour
175g peeled and then grated sweet potato
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
21g fresh yeast (or 1 teaspoon of easy-blend yeast)
275ml warm water
2 tablespoons of olive oil mixed with 2 tablespoons of walnut oil
Olive oil for sautéing the onion and oiling the baking tray
1 red onion
A handful of fresh rosemary
6 black olives
Coarse-ground rock salt for sprinkling

focaccia_2

Method

Scald a large mixing bowl with boiling water and then dry it out.  Add the warm water to the bowl and, using a fork, mix the fresh (or dry) yeast with the water.  Once dissolved, add the grated sweet potato, 00 flour, strong white bread flour and salt, and continue to mix using your fingers until it comes together.  You will have a very soft and sticky dough.

Cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and leave somewhere warm for 10 minutes. Quoting Dan Lepard, we do this because “This will give the flour time to fully absorb the water and aid the development of the elastic protein called gluten, which will catch all of the gas produced by the yeast.

Rub a generous tablespoon of your walnut and olive oil mixture on the top of the dough using your hands, and then loosen the dough rubbing downwards so that it is covered in the oil.  Next, turn the bowl with one hand and, using the other, pull the dough up-and-down out of the bowl about 8 times, to give it a good stretch.  Cover the bowl again and leave for another 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice more at 10-minute intervals, then cover again and leave for a further 30 minutes.

Next, oil a large plate and, using a plastic palette knife, flip the dough out of the bowl and onto the plate in one quick motion.  Give the dough a blanket fold by stretching and folding it into thirds – you can learn how to do this by watching this video – and then place the plate and dough inside a plastic bag and leave for 30 minutes. Repeat the blanket fold once more and again cover the plate and leave for another 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan-assisted).  Generously oil a large baking tray (preferably non-stick) and drop the dough into the middle of it.  Fold the dough in half so that it looks rather symmetrical and squarish, before turning it over so that the seam is hidden and your bread looks neat.  Then return the baking tray and dough to your carrier bag (I find I often have to tear or cut the plastic to get it to fit), the inside of which you have oiled so that the dough doesn’t stick to the sides.  Leave this parcel for 30 minutes or until the dough has risen nicely.

Whilst your dough is having its final rise, cut in half and finely slice your onion.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan (again, ideally non-stick) and, over a low heat, slowly cook the onion for about 15 minutes – or until it has taken on a translucent and glossy colour – stirring every now and then so that the onion doesn’t catch.

After your dough has had its final rise, remove from the carrier bag and, using lightly oiled fingers, dimple the top of the dough.  Then pour over your softened onions, including any of the oil left in the pan, followed by a sprinkling of rock salt, a few sprigs of rosemary, and the black olives, which you can tear up roughly with your fingers (of course, remembering to remove any stones). Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C (180C fan-assisted) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the bread has a golden crust.

Carrot_Cake7This past weekend I have been experiencing what I shall call my ‘Orange Period’.  I’m not sure how long-lived this comestible epoch will be, seeing as I have yet to confront the persimmons that I picked up on Saturday, which are currently starring at me, angry-faced, from the fruit bowl. (This is the fruit, I tell you, that has left my husband scarred since once upon a time it literally drew all the moisture from his mouth with one fell bite. So, as his friend, it is my duty to ensure that the next time he tastes the flesh of a persimmon, it doesn’t leave his mouth quite resembling a cat’s arse.)

As you’ve probably guessed, the ‘Orange Period’ is not just about oranges. Oh no. It covers other orange-coloured bases – specifically those wintry gifts that mother nature (and HM Revenue & Customs) bestows upon us – and this hue does seem to mark the sweetest of winter fodder. So far, this red-yellow spell has been a rather creative period in which I have become a sort of domestic Mata Hari. But without the exotic dancing. (Maybe.) My culinary espionage sees me sneak orange-coloured vegetables into dishes that will either surprise the diners who devour them or – and I’m really ashamed to say this – trick my beautiful daughter into having her 5-a-day.

focaccia_2On Friday night I made a sweet potato, olive, onion and rosemary flatbread that strangely (and perhaps science-defyingly, for a bread) seems to improve with age – it mopped up that star anise-scented lamb and barley stew with such finesse last night. And on Saturday I whipped up a dairy-free and sugar-free carrot, hazelnut, almond and orange cake for tea guests. Yes, this is an actual HEALTHY CAKE. Neither recipe is tricky and both, I can assure, are equally nutritious and ambrosial.

Click here to view the sweet potato, olive, onion and rosemary flatbread recipe.
Click here to view the recipe for my carrot, hazelnut, almond and orange cake.

I invite you to kindly await my next installment whereby the persimmons and I do battle.

There is a secret document that many Jews have been waiting to be exposed for years.  No, it is not the formula to writing an excellent musical comedy – although many would be interested.  The secret I speak of is that of Golda Meir’s chicken soup and kneidlach.  Yes, it is out.  And I am enchanted.
Golda_Meir_ChickenSoup_Kneidlach
What interests me most about Meir’s recipe is her method for making kneidlach: the first and only female Prime Minister in the history of modern Israel used actual matzah, as well as the olbigatory matzah meal, which is pretty off-piste in a modern Jewish kitchen.

So, I’m going to have to try this next time I make chicken soup.  They can’t be bad seeing as the creator was a rare beast of a female politician in the 1960s, who was known not only for making her own food but also for entertaining international statesmen and women in forums known as ‘Golda’s Kitchen’.  Now that’s my sort of pow wow.  I’d like to see David Cameron getting his dumplings out for Barak Obama next time he visits number 10.

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Every week, the kids and I make a journey to this fantastic little organic fruit and veg wholesaler just behind the city train station.  Reuben falls asleep in the car listening to Radio 3’s morning lull of sonatas and symphonies, and stays that way whilst his sister bounds around the warehouse with an empty fruit box filling it up with delights of her choice.  This might be illegal (that I leave my son asleep in the car – not the bit about a human under 55 years old being exposed to Radio 3) but I park on the forecourt and watch him sleep as I shop.  Plus, you must never wake a sleeping baby.  Especially when buying aubergines.

Pumpkin_orzo

Aside from dropping my car keys down the toilet at said wholesaler (with her little brother still asleep in a LOCKED car), this week’s excursion saw Zippy choosing a winter squash.  She pulled out a darling little Orange Minikin, rolled it into her box, and then began her usual magpie activity of sneaking around the back of a giant box of cherry tomatoes before crouching down, nymph-like, to pop the little jewel-like fruits into her mouth.  Sadly, it is only my child who appears to partake in (or rather had INVENTED) this activity, whilst the other small people who accompany their grown-ups to the store play games like ‘holding hands’ and the ever-so-popular ‘helping’.  But, lucky for me, Ian (the grocer) turns a blind eye and I don’t have to embarrassingly count stalks before paying.  Every time.

The other night we cooked the squash.  I peeled and deseeded it, chopped it up, and roasted it simply in olive oil with a little sage (as it can be overpowering) and a generous couple of heaped teaspoons of one of my favourite spices, sumac.  I discovered sumac when living in the glorious north east London village of Stoke Newington.  Stokie – as it is affectionally known by the locals – has an enormous Turkish community and therefore a whole mezze of ocakbasis in which to indulge one’s appetite for grilled meats, vegetables and breads. Anyway, this deep-red and tangy-tasting spice is made from the crushed berries (or drupes) of the sumac shrub, and is incredibly popular in the middle east to add sharp lemon notes to a variety of dishes, including hummus, salads, kebabs and rice.

As the chill of the winter continues to draw on, I fancied a warming pasta and pulled out a box of orzo from the cupboard.  (Orzo is a dinky grain-like pasta – meaning ‘barley’ in Italian, they also call it ‘big rice’ – and is just scrumptious in soups, salads and as a substitute for rice in risotto.)  We had some feta in the fridge and, well, that’s about all we needed to make this very simple and very delicious dish.

Ingredients

A small squash (a butternut would work well here)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoon sumac
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
250g orzo pasta (macaroni would suffice but orzo is infinitely better)
100g feta cheese (or any soft goats cheese will do)
1 tbsp coriander or parsley (or both), roughly chopped

Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 and then peel, deseed and cube your squash.  Place the squash in a baking dish and cover with the sage, sumac, olive oil, a good pinch of sea salt and a couple of cracks of freshly-milled black pepper.  Stir the ingredients together (I used my hands, they’re much more effective) and put in the oven for 30 minutes – or until soft and slightly caramelised – checking and turning with a spoon every now and then.

In the meantime, bring a big pot of water to the boil on the stove.  When the water bubbles, add a pinch of salt followed by the orzo and cook until tender (between 7-9 minutes).  Whilst you cook the pasta, chop your herbs.  Once the pasta’s cooked, leave draining whilst you complete the dish.

Once you have removed the squash from the oven add the tomato puree and lightly mash into the squash with a fork – this will be your pasta ‘sauce’.  Add the orzo and freshly chopped herbs to this mix, and transfer to a serving dish.  Finish by crumbling the feta cheese between your fingers and sprinkling over the pasta.

Glossary:
Orange Minikin – this nice little site tells you more about pumpkins
Ocakbasis – Turkish grill houses

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