Friday, October 19, 2007

Day 15: Spiced Red Lentil

This recipe is out of a big glossy book portentously entitled The Soup Bible (ed. Debra Mayhew) that a thoughtful friend got for me from that discount book shop on the corner of The Cut, diagonally across from the Old Vic. It echoes last Friday's Çorbasi and, in my interpretation, uses some of the left over ingredients.

It also incorporates coconut milk, which has become something of a trademark of Pullens Soup Kitchen. For the sake of experimentation, this time around, I used two tins of coconut milk (79p each) instead of a single block of creamed coconut (about 50p) to achieve much the same effect. Admittedly, the stuff from the can is has a more ready-to-use consistency, but in future I'll stick with the cheaper option.

There wasn't much shopping to do for this soup, but the daily expenditure was inflated by the purchase of a decent sized sieve and a storage jar. Also, I restocked with Marigold bouillon powder from Fair Shares and bought several varieties of bean and pulse, including a 2kg bag of red lentils, which I used in this soup.

I started by peeling and mincing two heads of garlic, then peeling and dicing six medium sized British onions, and put them into a little oil in the bottom of the soup pot over low heat. With the lid on the soup pot, I sweated the onions and garlic for a few minutes while I assembled the spice mix of turmeric and cumin - I used two tablespoons of each - plus a big stick of cinnamon and a couple of dozen cardamom pods. I added these spices to the pot, mixing them thoroughly with the onions and garlic, before adding the contents of three cans of chopped tomatoes (that cost a quid from Iceland). I also added half a jar of sweet red pepper paste that was in the fridge.

Taking the pot off the heat, I tipped in three quarters of the big bag of red lentils, probably 1.5kg, plus the rest of a bag of fine bulgur wheat, perhaps 250g, left over from last Friday's recipe, which called for half as much bulgur as lentils. Here, I figured a much smaller proportion of bulgur would combine with the coconut fat to give the lentil soup a velvety texture. Adding two litres of boiling water and two litres of Marigold bouillon, I brought the pot to the boil and simmered the lentils for about half an hour before blending.

While whizzing up the lentils, I slowly added another two litres of bouillon and then I finished the soup by blending in the contents of the two cans of coconut milk the about 500ml of lime juice (limes were five for a quid at Oli's). This was as per the recipe in The Bible, which suggests that you 'reserve a little of the coconut milk for the garnish'. If I were going to do that, I'd squeeze a wedge of limes into the soup as its served, too, since the coconut and lime flavours quickly became muted as the soup sat warming on the hob.

The soup pot sat undisturbed for quite a while, as trade was slow. Maybe half a dozen people from the workshops and offices in the yards came in with their bowls to collect soup to take back to work - Alex Monroe and his posse; the good people of Six O'Clock Cleaning Services - leaving me alone and the Pullens Centre deserted, so when Taz (left) tried to pull the same stunt, I implored her to linger 'n' chat. Later, a few more women (all women!) came in and a couple generously wrote 'Wow' in the log bok. Joy said, 'such a lovely place to come for lunch. Wow, what a fab soup' and Essie said, 'Wow! Absolutely gorgeous. A real treat'.

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Spiced Red Lentil
Other ingredients: Cumin, coconut milk, lime
Garnish: Cumin seeds, chopped parsley
No. of bowls served: 16
Expenditure: £24.67
Donations: £21.67
Dry goods: 30.13
Running balance: +£110.03

I've been a bit slow to update the blog because, instead of doing it last night, I went to watch Capital Tales, 'a whistle-stop journey across 100 years of London' via a selection of rarely seen short films shown on a big screen in Trafalgar Square:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 14: Creamy Curried Parsnip

I had a couple of parsnips left over from yesterday, plus the trimmings of the diced root veg I put in yesterday's soup. I also had quite a lot of yesterday's soup, at least 5 litres, and it was too damn good to through away. In fact, in terms of flavour and stick-to-the-ribs gloopiness, the Miso had mellowed and the pearl barley disintegrated, while most of the diced veg. retained a detectable crunch, so it was arguably better on the second day. In Somerfield I bought for a quid a bag of ready shredded cabbages - a 'medley' of cabbage - to green it up a bit.

Somerfield is where I went for more parsnips, to make a total of about three and a half kilos, plus I bought the carrots/onions/celery there, too. One thing you can say about Somerfield is that a lot of their produce is proudly British and so, in the interests of terroir, I may have to pay more attention. I discussed my supply problems with Alison, who stopped by early and enjoyed a bowl of yesterday's soup and a full and frank exchange of views. She suggested she could solicit cheap ingrediments from contacts @ Borough, but that hardly seems likely when the salient feature of Borough market is silly prices.

I bought bread from Oli's and remembered that we were down to the last scrapings of the Marigold barrel and that I couldn't get any more until Fare Shares opened unless I paid an extra quid for it at Baldwin's, so I reviewed their stock cube options. I bought a six packet of Knorr Rosot Warzywny cubes - Polish stock cubes purchased from a Turkish 24 hour market in Sarf London - which I guessed would make about three litres: 89p. I also bought a block of coconut cream for 49p.

For curry flavour, I had half a tub of mild curry powder that's been hanging around for a while, a couple of tablespoons full; plus turmeric and mustard seeds, a couple of teaspoons of each of those. I added this spice mix to the cooked mirepoix and added parsnips to the pot as I diced them, moistening the pot with some of the Knorr stock to stop the veg from sticking, and then covering the diced vegetables with all the rest of the 3L stock, plus a litre of water, before turning up the heat and boiling the pot for twenty minutes.

I whizzed the soup with the liquidizifier, finished it with creamed coconut melted in a litre of boiling water and served it garnished with chopped fresh coriander and a dollop of Greek yogurt mixed with a little lemon juice to make it runnier. I do like a nice beige parsnip soup, but most recipes obtain that colour from butter 'n' milk, whereas all the Soup Kitchen recipes until now have been vegan, with any animal fats being optional. But I do think that final swirl of yogurt takes it into another dimension.

Having two soups worked well because I was able to offer early birds yesterdays while todays was still cooking and when a delegation from Cottrell & Vermeulen, Architects, came round for a quantity of soup to take back to the office, I was able to offer choice. Other Architects, as seen left, enjoyed the ambience of the Pullens Centre in which to enjoy their soup, of which someone wrote: 'thick, creamy and tasty just how we like it.'

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Chopped Parsley
Other ingredients: Creamed coconut
Garnish: Yoghurt, chopped coriander/parsley
No. of bowls served: 27
Expenditure: £16.53
Donations: £26.87
Running balance: +£143.16

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 13: Winter Vegetable Miso

I've been wanting to do a chunky vegetable soup with miso but - likesay and to my dismay - good old British root vegetables aren't exactly plentiful in these parts and I didn't see so much as a parsnip down East Street this morning. Oli had parsnips and also these amazing radishes, which I thought might work in the absence of turnips. I stepped in to Somerfield on my way back up Walworth Road and picked up a couple of shrink-wrapped swedes and a bag of curly kale.
radishes, parsnips, swedes, carrots, onion, celery and kale (in colander)

Back at the Pullens Centre, I started by boiling up the pearl barley, probably about 500g. You cover it with cold water, bring it to the boil, then drain and repeat. When the barley water boils for the second time, it has to simmer for at least an hour.

This soup isn't going to be blended, so everything needs to be diced quite small (as in the picture). I roasted the diced swede, parsnip, carrot and radish in a little vegetable oil for about half an hour with the oven turned up as high as it goes, turning the dice in the roasting tray every ten minutes. Meanwhile, I made a mirepoix of finely diced onion, carrot and celery and sweated it in a little oil with the lid on the soup pot.

I dissolved a 240g tub of Organic Sweet Brown Miso - which is especially rich in soups, or so it says here - in a litre of hot water. I assembled the soup by tipping the cooked pearl barely into the cooked mirepoix, mixing them together while adding a 2 litre jug of Marigold bouillon. Then I added the miso, plus another three litres of Marigold bouillon. Finally, I added the diced root vegetables, which were just cooked through, and the kale, which I washed and shredded a bit finer than it came out of the bag.

Iraxte and her Mum, a Basque, were first through the door with baby Irene. Iraxte thought her Mum might not like the taste of miso, but she cleaned her bowl.

Of the 18 people who came for soup this lunchtime, at least half a dozen brought their own bowls and scurried back to their workshops with their soup. Which is fine, of course, but it gets a bit lonely if no one hangs out. Ira from the Buddhist Centre sent over a chocolate cake today, but I didn't get around to offering any. In fact, I didn't make a cup of tea all day. There was loads of soup left over, too, and I'll serve it again tomorrow rather than see it go to waste.

Among those who did hang out at the Soup Kitchen today, Kevin from Iliffe Street said the 'soup was fantastic, heart warming', and Shelly said: 'third time. I'm officially hooked! Love the soup, great idea. Tell your friends. Long may it reign.' Yay!

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Miso Winter Vegetable
Other ingredients: Pearl Barley
No. of bowls served: 18
Expenditure: £14.83
Donations: £21.09
Running balance: +£133.06

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day 12: Simple Borscht

We've been talking about borscht practically since day one, but until now the discussion has been academic due to an absence of beetroot. I've remarked before on the absence of ye olde English grocers of green down East Street and among the stall-holders surrounding the Heffalump shopping centre, where plantain and cassava are abundant. I was contemplating a trip to New Covent Garden to purchase a net if beets when Louisa made an arrangement with the bloke at Crusons in Camberwell, paying seven quid for 12.5 kilos.

While I've been weighing the theoretical virtues of cumin and apples in the composition of borscht, Louisa's found a recipe for Fresh Beetroot Soup in The Great Green Cookbook by Rosamond Richardson (1996) that truly is, as described: 'the simplest of soups - a straight puree of freshly cooked beetroot, served with chopped dill and yoghurt.' Seeing as Lou omitted the dill, her soup had only a couple of ingredients: beetroots and stock.

Multiplying the quantities in the recipe book by six, Louisa scrubbed about 9kg of beets and trimmed their tops, leaving a stub so that the beets didn't bleed too much as they boiled. She placed the beets in the big pot, covering them with cold water, which she then brought to the boil and simmered for three quarters of an hour. Testing with a fork to see if they're tender, Louisa fished out the smaller beets first, leaving the bigger ones to cook through, and plunged them into a sink of cold water.

By this time Graham had turned up, so Louisa got him to peel the beets as they cooled enough to be handled. Their skins rub off easily enough after being boiled/cooled. As he peeled them, Lou roughly chopped the beets and returned them to the big pot, from which she had poured out the water in which they were cooked. Then she covered the chopped cooked beetroot with eight litres of Marigold stock mixed with four dessert spoons full of Marmite.

The idea to use Marmite came about because, traditionally, borscht is made with beef stock and we thought Marigold would be a bit light. Marks and Sparks do quite a nice dark vegetable stock concentrate, as it goes, and we might experiment with that when beetroot day rolls around again (which will be next week, 'cos we've still got about 3.5kg of beetroot). But, for today's soup, Louisa darkened the stock and deepened its flavour by adding dollops of Marmite into the Marigold bouillon mix. She liquidimated the soup once with the big stick mixer, added a further two litres of stock, and then she liquidizised it once more. And that's all!

According to Rosamond Richardson (whose book the late Linda McCartney called 'inspiring and practical'), 'beetroot is an epicurean vegetable and often severely underrated: just the smell of it as it boils is mouth-watering.' Enticing as the aroma was, just 21 bowls of simple borscht were served, each one garnished with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. Comments included, 'yummy'; 'scrummy' and 'gorgeously delicious'. Indeed, it was a bowl full of pure beet goodness. Thanks, Louisa.

Soup Maker: Louisa
Soup: Fresh Beetroot
Other ingredients: Greek yoghurt, Marmite
No. of bowls served: 21
Expenditure: £10.78
Donations: £21.58
Running balance: +£126.80

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 11: Leek & Potato

I don't disrespect St. Delia, no matter what footy-related shenanigans she gets up to. Indeed, if I were Scroobius Pip, remixing 'Thou Shalt Always Kill', I'd command that 'thou shall not desecrate the good name of Delia, nor cast aspersions upon the integrity of her commercial relationships'. I yield to no cook in my enthusiasm for Marigold bouillon powder, so I can hardly sneer when Deals declares it 'without doubt an ingredient that has revolutionised modern cooking'.

But then you check Delia's recipe for Leek, Onion and Potato Soup and she says, 'This is my most favourite soup in the world and now we can buy extremely good mashed potato frozen it means we can be a little bit more spontaneous about the whole process of soup making'. Oh right, Deals, Q.E.D. The good folks at McCain bring out their frozen discs of Simply Mash and the world is a better place. No doubt the Catholic church will soon ordain women priests while the Canaries qualify for European competition.

Today's L & P differs from Day Three's in that it's blended whereas that one was chunky. In that recipe, I used my mashed potato (not McCain's) in the manner Delia describes, as a 'backdrop to other ingredients', but in this version, I'm going to blend the soup anyway, so I don't need to make mash separately. In order to get a nice creamy texture, Delia uses milk and butter, but I'm going to experiment with creamed coconut to add texture rather than flavour to the soup while keeping it vegan.

First I needed to locate the ingredients and somehow - since it's a Monday and there's no market down East Street and because I wasn't very together this morning - I ended up in Tesco. Blimey, they really run those places for their own convenience, innit? Took ages at the checkout because the machinery didn't work and the operator struggled to weigh 2.5 kilos of leeks (@ £2.28/kg) in three instalments. On the plus side, I got a 2.5kg bag of Desiree spuds for 89p.

Starting with a mirepoix of onion, celery and carrot, sweated in a big knob of Flora, I alternately added shredded leek and diced potato to the pot, keeping the lid on. I kept back a couple of the leeks, shredded and sautéed them separately. I added two litres of Marigold bouillon to the sweated vegetables, whacked the heat up and boiled vigorously for about ten minutes, then added another couple of litres of bouillon, turned the heat off and left the pot to cool for ten minutes before blending.

Meanwhile, I melted a block of creamed coconut in boiling water and added it to the sautéed, shredded leeks. Then I tasted the mixture and suffered a crisis of confidence because coco-leek is a bit weird. I briefly considered having two soups, but then I told myself not to be silly and stirred the coco-leek mixture into the blended soup, along with another couple of litres of bouillon (making a total six litres of bouillon in all, to two-and-a-half kilos each of leeks and potatoes) then returned the pot to the heat and brought it to the boil. Right on cue, my upstairs neighbour, Cathy, came in and she had the first bowl. She didn't mention anything about coconuts, but she did write in the log bok that the soups are 'getting better by the day'.

In fact, the barely perceptible coconut flavour attracted little comment. Joe here certainly didn't mention it. A trio trooped in from the Buddhist Centre and one of them remarked upon it, favourably, and another one of the regulars later picked up on it, but nobody had anything bad to say. I noticed how the coconut fat continued to thicken the soup after it had been reheated a few times while the flavour faded even further into the background as lunch time wore on. There was a bit of rush again today and I served 28 bowls of soup by 3pm.

Soup Maker: Russell
Soup: Leek & Potato
Other ingredients: Creamed coconut
No. of bowls served: 28
Expenditure: £12.77
Donations: £36.01
Running balance: +£116