Friday, November 16, 2007

16.11.07: Dal Makhani

I don't think any one who knows their chutney would seriously contest the suggestion that Simply Indian offers the best curry-on-demand delivery service in our part of Sarf London . It's certainly got the most irritating Flash website (but you can order online and turn off the sound;-) You know a dish is becoming properly trendy when it appears on the Simply Indian menu and 'Dall Makhani' made it, oh, about a year ago: 'This is a very typical Punjabi dish containing black lentils, red kidney beans, butter, cream, and various spices. Makes this a wonderful, warming and tasty dish" (sic) it says. This version is no soupier than S.I.'s, or not much. Instead of lashings of butter and cream, its creamy texture is derived from a 200g block of creamed coconut.

Carlo had cooked up some black lentils, urad, that filled a 2 litre jug left and were left over in the 'fridge. Yesterday, I picked up two 400g cans of Bio Idea brand organic fagioli nero, black beans, from Fare Shares for 50p each. Overnight, I soaked probably a kilo and a quarter of red kidney beans. This morning, a geezer turned up to service my boiler, so I put the kidney beans on to cook at home while investigating a recipe via Google. Boiler and appliances duly checked, I went to Oli's and bought garlic, ginger and green chillies, plus a couple of big onions and a packet of cumin seeds (99p). I also picked up a jar of piquant red pepper paste - Kirimizi Biber Salcasi - which turned out to be a crucial ingredient of the eventual soup. And one of Oli's big round loaves, too.

Back at the Pullens Centre, I carried on simmering the red kidney beans, which need to be cooked until they're soft, for at least an hour. I minced two bulbs of fresh garlic and equal quantities of ginger and green chili, then diced and started to cook the two big onions in a generous splash of oil (Carlo left some nice Spanish olive oil), adding the minced trinity of garlic/ginger/chillis, a big fist full of each. I sprinkled probably a dessert spoonful of cumin seed and another of garam masala into the mix. Then I added two tins of plum tomatoes, a couple of dessert spoonfuls of tomato puree that was left over in the 'fridge, plus half a jar of the aforementioned red pepper paste.

To this dense red base of spicy tomato and onion, I added the pulses: first, the red kidney beans and three quarters of the cooked black lentils. Adding four litres of Marigold bouillon, I brought the soup to the boil and simmered it for ten minutes. Before blending it, I scooped out a couple of great big ladles full of the kidney beans, etc, and reserved them for later re-incorporation. Then I Gaynored soup, liquidizising it fairly thoroughly and adding a further couple of litres of liquid: creamed coconut melted in boiling water. Then I returned the reserved kidney beans and black lentils to the soup and added the two tins of black beans, with their liquid, these late additions giving texture to the soup, which I served with a swirl of yogurt soured with lemon juice .

It went very well with the regulars. Gordon and Nick were particularly enthusiastic, declaring it 'fan dabbie dosey' and 'the best soup to date' (respectively;-) My friends from the Buddhist Centre on Manor Place (here's a pic of the shrine) brought a cake, so people were encouraged to linger after a portion or two of what was generally agreed to be a pretty damn fine soup and then have a cup of tea and and slice of cake. It was all very civilised but, I must say, I only served sixteen, not counting refills. The Soup Kitchen's numbers are down on a fortnight ago, but perhaps people aren't aware that we're back in business. That should change imminently as some fresh flyers are being printed...

Talking of fresh flyers, here's Kai (eyes right), who I reckon has been the Soup Kitchen's most faithful devotee, having hardly missed a soup since we started. Here, he is waving away the camera in a futile attempt to avoid public ridicule for this pathetic, soup-related joke: a pilot ejects from his plane over dense jungle and drifts down on his parachute, guiding himself towards the one clearing he can see in the rain forest below. Too late, he realises he is about to land in the middle of a tribal gathering and, as luck would have it, he drops down smack into a great big cooking pot that's simmering over an open fire in the middle of the clearing. Whereupon, the tribal chief exclaimed, "there's a flyer in my soup!" No, you're right and I told him, Kai, you oughta be ashamed...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

15.11.07: Borscht

I served borscht today with a swirl of sour yogurt and garnish of chopped chives. I used a gallon or so of frozen beetroot puree left over from when Lou made her simple borscht, and following the Soup Bible recipe which I called complex borscht, because it contains mushrooms, apples and red pepper. The mushrooms - a 750g punnet from Somerfield - impart an earthy flavour to the base of the soup, which is important as I was not about to use beef stock, while the apples - half a dozen Bramleys - provide a fruity zing that worked well with the beetroot.

I started with half a dozen medium sized onions, roughly chopped and sweated in the bottom of the soup pot with half a dozen stalks of celery and two red bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped. To this mixture, I added cumin (ground jeera in this case, since I didn't have any whole cumin seed), bay leaves, and dried thyme. Then I added the chopped mushrooms, continuing to cook over low heat with the lid on, stirring occasionally, while I peeled and chopped the apples.

After adding the apples to the pot, I tipped in the beetroot puree which I'd defrosted in another pot and added another couple of litres of stock. I used Marigold bouillon, adding a dessert spoon-sized dollop of Marmite to achieve a darker colour and richer flavour. I brought the pot back to the boil, simmered for about fifteen minutes and left the pot to cool for ten minutes before blending its contents with Gaynor.

I wasn't entirely satisfied with the consistency of the soup, so I passed it through a sieve into another pot, achieving a silky texture that was enhanced with the addition of sour yogurt (rather than cream). I used fresh yogurt form the EasiYo yogurt maker, thinning it with a little lemon juice, which one commentator found 'a little sour' which is surely the point? Anyway, this person - actually, it was Professor John Eacott (he's got a PhD in funk!) - also said the borscht was 'lovely' and 'worked a treat'.

Only about 15 people came in for soup today - one of whom declined to make a further donation on the grounds that he gave a fiver yesterday;-) - but it was good to see them all. Naveed (left) was among those who spared a half hour to hang out and chat. He's one of a small group of students of City Design & Social Science from the London School of Economics who are doing a project on the Pullens; its history and social evolution. They haven't quite worked out what angle each is going to take, yet, but will be looking to interview residents in the near future. So, if you're reading this and you live on the Pullens, or used to, and you've got something to say about about the experience, leave a comment here or come into the Soup Kitchen one lunchtime soon.

14.11.07: Thai/Indian Curry Veg

I went on a booze cruise to the hypermarkets of Calais on a trip organised by Jan from Iliffe Yard, leaving Carlo to make a soup he described on the blackboard as 'Thai/Indian Curry Veg with Love (donations)'. He left me a half a bowl to sample and this was an intensely curried, orange soup with gob-smacking flavour.

Recipe info is scant, but I gather Carlo made use of what he could lay hands on. He roughly quartered half a dozen onions and cooked them quite hot, in a good couple of splashes of oil, browning the onion. Then he added spice: the end of a packet of cumin seeds; mild curry powder; green curry paste. He added diced vegetables, predominantly carrots, plus a tin of tomatoes and half a tin of tomato puree. He also used up the Marigold bouillon powder, making a few litres at least. When his soup was cooked, Carlo blended it with Gaynor and finished it with half a block of creamed coconut dissolved in boiling water.

He reckons he only served about 15 people, but one of them left a fiver so Carlo easily covered his costs and had enought fun to want to do it again. No photographic evidence was gathered, but log bok comments include: 'nice + spicy - very warming'; Kadett put, 'really nice spicy soup, just what I want'; and Linda wrote, 'love the Thai flavours, thankyou a lot!' Carlo returns next week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

13.11.07: Lentil and Vegetable Stew

Compare the image above with the one on the right and you can see that things are starting to happen at the Pullens Centre. One of the residents - Simon - repainted the woodwork downstairs on the side of the building that faces into Iliffe Yard in order to smarten the place up before the open weekend at the end of the month, when the Centre will be the venue for a community art exhibition. Simon wasn't prepared to erect scaffolding and tackle the upstairs and so the chaps from Makers - the contractor responsible for the external refurbishment of the estate - were persuaded to take the job on themselves. They've also brought forward the redecoration of the frontage so it too will look good for the Open Yards weekend.

What's more, you'll notice the white van in the photo belonging to OCO, the heating engineers contracted to Southwark Council. The boiler at the Pullens Centre hasn't worked all year, despite the attentions of various chaps at various times. Now, however, its been replaced with a brand new one that actually dispenses hot water on demand! Yay! Now we can retire the energy-hungry urn we've depended upon for hot water this past month.

Today, Lou made a lentil & vegetable stew that went down very well, with comments in the log bok that included: 'Really delicious soup, thank you!' 'Yes it is, Ta!' 'Simply the best' (or should that be beast?) and 'a true tummy treat'. 21 bowls were served.

Lou used 2kg of brown lentils which were soaked over night. Lentils don't necessarily need to be soaked in advance, but it reduces the cooking time and - according to some - soaking one's lentils and discarding the soak water before boiling them in fresh water reduces 'gaseousness' a.k.a. 'fartiness'.

I wasn't watching when this chunky lentil soup was made, but I'd guess that Lou boiled the lentils separately while frying onion and garlic in the bottom of the soup pot, to which she added coarsely diced potato, carrot and leek. I daresay she continued to the veg. for ten minutes or so before adding the lentils, covering with stock and cooking for at least half an hour, garnishing the soup with chopped parsley as it was served.

Monday, November 12, 2007

12.11.07: Spacey Carrot & Coriander

I got over my cold but am still feeling a bit spacey and the Soup Kitchen is back in the business of dispensing its goodness. I opted for carrot and coriander today because: it's a solid gold classic with a recipe that's close to perfection; I wanted to use the new blender to make it quicker; and I could easily get the carrots from Oli's, the Turkish supermarket in Walworth Road, since East Street market doesn't wasn't on. Plus I wanted to celebrate the return of the Mighty Boosh, if not quite to the extent of serving croutons.

It's amazing, the goodwill generated over the past month by the simple expedient of making fresh soup and serving it for whatever people are willing to give in return.

To take just one pertinent example, I'd expected to pay around a hundred quid to get our liqudiziser, AKA the liquidimifier, fixed. This industrial stick mixer was donated to the Soup Kitchen, but was on its last legs: it worked, just not very well.

Gaynor, at Denton's, opposite Clapham North tube, identified its manufacturer over the phone by its orange handle as Dynamic and said it would be sent away for servicing. The inspection fee would be sixty quid and then there'd be the cost of the parts: new blades and a lead. I took it down there the afternoon we closed, on October 31, as my cold was brewing. But then they reckoned it also needed new barings and a new handle, too: two hundred quid at least! Gaynor reckoned I'd be better off buying a new one. Except I couldn't afford a new one. I'd have to pay sixty quid to get the old one back in bits! There had to be another way.

Happily, when I explained that the Soup Kitchen isn't a commercial enterprise and its operation absolutely depends upon the soup-making machine, Gaynor was sympathetic. She said she'd have a word with the engineer and he's sorted us out with an ex-demonstration PMX98 Mini-mixer (300W, 40L, 300mm shaft) for fifty quid! Plus VAT = £58.75. I picked it up morning and, as Monday is Gaynor's day off, I didn't get to thank her in person, but will name the appliance she supplied in her honour. Or maybe I'll call it Gloria. Thanks too, of course, to the anonymous engineer from Mitchell & Cooper. What a gent.

Here's my almost definitive Pullens Soup Kitchen recipe for Spacey Carrot & Coriander:

From the greengrocer: I big onion, weighing at least half a kilo; a flowering head of celery; six kilos of carrots, roughly; and two bunches of fresh coriander.

Also: half a 200g block of creamed coconut - that's 100g! - dissolved in a litre of boiling water; a couple of dessert spoons full of coriander seed, dry roasted over medium heat in a cast iron pan, then powdered in an electric coffee grinder.

Plus: Five litres of Marigold bouillon. A dusting of nutmeg, or allspice.

1. Dice the onion and start cooking it in the bottom of the soup pot in a little oil over low heat, lid on.
2. Chop the leafy top off the celery and reserve it. Chop up all the rest of the celery stems and add them to the pot.
3. Cook for five minutes while peeling and chopping carrots, then add the powdered coriander seed to the pot and cook for a further five minutes while continuing to peel/chop carrots.
4. Add the carrots you've peeled/chopped to the pot and cover with two litres of Marigold bouillon.
5. Peel the rest of the carrots and chop 'em all up, save four big ones. Add the chopped carrots to the soup with another two litres of bouillon and simmer for fifteen minutes.
6. While the soup simmers, coarsely grate two of the reserved carrots.
7. Chop the leaves from the bunches of coriander and reserve them. Put the coriander stalks through a masticating juicer, chasing them through with the two remaining carrots, and reserve the intense green liquid.
8. Turn off the heat under the soup pot and leave it to stand for ten minutes with the lid on before blending the soup using a stick mixer like our very own glorious Gaynor.
9. While waiting for the soup to cool before blending, finely chop a generous handful of the reserved coriander leaves for garnish and, when it comes to blending, add the rest of the coriander at the last minute with a further litre of bouillon and whizz the leaves into the soup.
10. Finish the soup by blunding in the creamed coconut, the grated carrot and the coriander juice returning the soup pot to the heat to warm it through.

Another marvellous thing happened today with the soup. We've got great big pepper grinder that came from the same donor as the original stick blender. It's been on the counter for the past month and we've all been merrily twisting 'black pepper' over everything. But today that mill turned out to contain allspice! Just what was needed to garnish this soup as it was served.

bowl by Daniel Reynolds

Today, Pullens Soup Kitchen served 23 bowls of spacey spicy carrot and coriander soup and, although our regulars were reticent in the log bok, one anonymous soul wrote: 'Good to see you back in good health. The illness has not affected your ability to make fantastic soup. This is my favourite so far!' That's what they all say, all the time!!