It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post something here, but in the spirit of the season of giving, or a welcome break from the stresses of this time of year, I’ve forced myself to make the time now to begin sharing some of the recipes and ideas I’ve got stacked up from the last few weeks. This, then, is my new favourite soup, so much so that I’ve eaten it at least twice a week for the last several weeks, and I’m not bored of it yet. Warming and comforting, easy to throw together and perfect as a meal, either on its own or with some delicious bread, this is indeed wonderful solace from the mid-Winter routine of leaving the house for work whilst still dark and returning home when it is, alas, already dark again, its cheery orange hue adding to the uplifting effect. Not just a remedy for the Winter blues, this, I think, also makes a great first course for the sort of casual meal with friends you might want to share at this time of year, as I did the other week, following the soup with roast chicken, and everything else that entails, at our now annual faux-Christmas dinner for our friends whom are scattered across the country.
Split red lentils are particularly useful for a soup like this. Don’t worry that they disintegrate into a somewhat unappetising mush during cooking, that is what you’re after here. This yellow mush, when you blitz the finished soup, will help keep it thick and creamy, without having to add extra cream (although you can if you wish), and since they’re an extra vegetable portion too, this soup is quite healthy, and still deliciously rich. The lentils also help to make the soup go much further, so the soup is healthier on your pocket too. The quantity below easily feeds four, possibly six with extra bread, and would maybe stretch to eight as a starter. It should keep in the fridge for a day or two, and also freezes well, so if, as in Rupert’s kitchen, there are just the two of you, make the quantity below and keep half for another day, which will also save you having to use up half a leftover squash (although, you should know that, cubed and dropped into a freezer bag, I find that squash freezes quite well uncooked).
2 cloves garlic
1 butternut squash
200g split red lentils
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1.2 litres vegetable stock (good quality instant stock is fine – I like Marigold Bouillon)
Peel and roughly chop the onions. Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and add the onions, sprinkling over a little sea salt to help stop them from browning. Cook over a gentle heat for ten minutes or so, until soft. Meanwhile, peel the butternut squash and chop it roughly into cubes of around 2cm. Peel the cloves of garlic and mince them over the onions, cooking for a minute more. Tip the squash cubes into the pan, and then add the lentils and spices. Give everything a good stir, and then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, clamp on a lid and simmer for around 25 minutes, although you may need more, until the squash and lentils are tender. Once cooked, check the seasoning is to your liking and let it cool a little before carefully blitzing the soup, in batches if necessary, in a blender until smooth. If you like your soup a touch thinner, add a little extra stock.
Serves 4+, and see introduction
Hot on the heels of the easy tuna melt pizza baguettes, this is based on another offering from BBC Good Food magazine, only this one was chosen by the Other Half. The choice was a bit of a curveball really, since he doesn’t like couscous, but I do, and since he was willing to give it a go, I kept schtum and got on with it. I assumed it was something about the taste, or perhaps lack thereof, that wasn’t appreciated, as couscous can be quite bland. Not that this is a bad thing per se, since a comfortingly plain pile of starch is often the ideal side to something that could be described as hearty, or spicy, or both, like this stew. And by all means, you could serve this with mashed potato, or plain rice, for me brown basmati, but whatever works for you.
So if the plain-ness was the issue, this recipe might solve it, since the couscous is not steamed or soaked separately and then the stew ladled on, but is just added directly to the pot with the spiced chicken, vegetables and sauce and allowed to swell and get tender, absorbing the flavours of the dish. This was a real revelation to me – I had never thought about cooking the couscous like this before. Don’t know why, since really it’s like making a jambalaya with rice, which I have done countless times. Anyway, it was good, (although a little too lemon-y first time round, hence below suggesting you just add half of the lemon juice and taste before adding more) and we agreed the flavours were good. But he doesn’t want it again. Turns out it was the texture of the couscous that he doesn’t like. At least I tried, and I’d definitely make this again, either for myself to take to work for lunch over a few days, or for us both, minus the couscous and with alternative carbs.
Adapted from BBC Good Food August 2011
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 red onions, halved and then sliced
2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm dice
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
zest and juice of a lemon
two good handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
small handful of freshly chopped coriander
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole or pan with a lid over a lowish heat. Add the chilli, garlic, spices and onions, give everything a good stir, and cook gently for around 10 minutes until the onions are soft and everything smells good, stirring every now and again. Add the chicken and brown it for a few minutes, and then add the cubed squash, giving everything another stir, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, fill each tin half full with water, swill it around and add to the pan as well. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, put on the lid and let it simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the squash is just tender. Add the lemon zest, and half of the juice, stir in and check to see if it needs it before adding the other half. Season, stir through the cherry tomatoes and couscous, put the lid back on and turn off the heat. Leave the pan on the hob for 10 minutes. Once the couscous is done, stir through the coriander and serve.