Friday, December 7, 2007

7.12.07: Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash

I visited Lidl in the Old Kent Road, to stock up on paprika-flavoured crisps and confectionary that incorporates hazelnuts, and I noticed that they also sell quite a wide selection of veg. So, I bought a couple of kilos each of sweet potatoes (@ £1.45/kg) and butternut squash (99p/kg), which translated as three big potatoes and four small squashes.

I also bought carrots. onions, celery and garlic at Lidl and, on the way back to base, picked up a handful of plump green chillies and a packet of creamed coconut from Oli's and a stick of very fresh ginger (30p) from the Sino-Viet grocery store in Walworth Road. I searched for sage, but had to settle for a bunch of thyme (50p) from a stall on East Street.

Back at the Pullens Centre, I peeled probably a dozen cloves of garlic and roughly chopped two of the largish, mild onions, which I spread onto a roasting tray with a little oil and cooked in a hot oven until they turned brown and started to caramelise. I thought to do it that way rather than cook the chopped veg in the bottom of the soup pot, but I'm not sure it made any discernible difference to the eventual flavour, so I probably won't bother again.

I minced the ginger and half a dozen chillies, peeled and chopped the carrots and washed and sliced half a head of celery. Then, with my sturdiest peeler, I peeled and diced the squashes and sweet potatoes into roughly 3/4 inch cubes.

Over a moderate flame, I first tipped the partially roasted onion and garlic mixture off its tray into the soup pot, adding the chillies and ginger and cooking for a few minutes before adding the carrots and celery. While continuing to peel/chop of the other veg, I cooked this base with the lid on the pot for a good fifteen minutes before adding the diced orange roots and squashes, covering with four litres of Marigold bouillon and whacking the heat up to bring the pot to a boil.

I simmered the soup for half an hour until the sweet potatoes were soft, added a 200g block of coconut cream dissolved in a litre of boiling water, and left the pot to stand for ten minutes before going to it. I tried to use Gaynor, but Gaynor was no-go. So, I had to decant half the soup into a smaller pot and use a hand mixer to blend it. Which worked fine, with one commentator in the log bok remarking that the soup's texture was 'smooth as silk'.

Ken - in his first visit to the Soup Kitchen - wrote that 'the sweet taste of these veg. together is exactly what my acupuncturist told me to eat'. To which I say, 'hurry back, Ken!'

Later, I got Jan to see to Gaynor and she opined that - apart from the blown fuse caused by a loose lead - the basic problem was that she had been mis-named. Apparently, one cannot call a stick mixer 'Gaynor', no matter how glorious the soups she swirls. It's like there's a law against it. Especially when the blender's name is quite obviously Brenda. Like the Queen in Private Eye. So, from now on, it's Brenda the blender, innit.

6.12.07: Tamarind 2 + Silent Pasta Night

Tim Hutchin's Christmas window in Iliffe Street.

Carlo extended yesterday's soup with the addition of pureed Brussels sprouts, which fooled Jan, who had two bowls despite her loathing of those baby brassicas. Later, when I texted to remind people that pasta was being served in the Pullens Centre, Jan texted back to ask if Brussels were involved and I had to assure her that, although they were present, they were easily avoided.

The crisply-boiled sprouts were served cold, dressed with spiced yogurt as an accompaniment to the pasta, billed as Fusilli Green Costa Rica with a touch of sultana and pineapple. The green was derived from a can of Natco spinach puree, naturally, and the dish also included cubes of swede and shreds of curly kale, seasoned with Carlo's distinctive style. As Daisy wrote in the log bok, 'Amazing food... in the evening'.

Daisy just happened by and saw the sign and I texted all the Pullens people in my phone, but still Carlo served only about half a dozen people. One of them, Graham, came back at noon the next day to ask if here was any pasta left and, indeed, there was loads. Next week, hopefully, there'll be a few more takers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

5.12.07: Tamarind Peas & Pearl Barley

Soak a kilo of organic dried green peas and 500g pearl barley over night. Start by putting the peas on to boil for an hour. Simmer the pearl barley separately and keep an eye on it, since its rate of cooking will be affected by the soaking. The grains of barley are added to the soup at the end, so should be cooked as soft as you wish them to be, perhaps retaining a little chewiness.

This soup depends for its flavour on tamarind, which comes in various forms. It's worth seeking out a good quality tamarind paste, or you may have to faff about soaking the dried fruit and cleaning it of any remaining seeds.

When it comes to cooking, this soup recipe needs to be taken slowly, very slowly. First, you need carrots chopped into cylinders and chopped onion - mixed chunks, small and big - celery and a couple of bay leaves, sautéed until golden in sunflower oil in the bottom of the soup pot.

Then add a generous mix of spices: curry powder; paprika; ground coriander, two or three teaspoons full of each, mixed with 50g of coconut cream melted in a cup of boiling water. This is followed into the pot by a couple of dessert spoons of piquant red pepper paste, Aci Biber Salçasi, plus three more cups of hot water.

Now add the cooked peas, with their cooking liquid and 100g of tamarind paste dissolved in hot water, plus two dessert spoons of mango chutney, and puree the soup, using a stick mixer, like our Gaynor, or a domestic blender or food processor. Finally, incorporate the pearl barley and add more hot water to thin the soup, if you think it's necessary.

Log bok tributes included: 'that was lovely and meaty-tasting again (although it was veggie) - yummy!' 'Beautifully seasoned and seasonal soup.' 'Quite interesting. Chef smiled today, too, which was nice.' Carlo will be smiling again tomorrow and, in addition to soup, branching out by offering pasta and salads for dinner tomorrow evening from six...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

4.12.07: Mushroom

This was the same minimalist recipe Lou deployed on November 6th and it produced the same result: deep boskiness. Natty was so overwhelmed by the flavour that he compared it in this log bok sketch to Fat Man. Or Little Boy?

Monday, December 3, 2007

3.12.07: Red and Black Bean

Today, the start of our third month of operations, was quietly significant in the evolution of the Soup Kitchen since Brian O'Neill, senior Resident Involvement Officer let me know that our small grant application to buy equipment has been approved by the Tenants Fund Management Committee. So, I can start buying stuff! Brian came in with a couple of his colleagues from Southwark Council and all three of 'em had second helpings of today's beany soup.

Despite the weather, the Open Yards Weekend seemed to have gone really well and the community art exhibition mounted @ the Pullens Centre, showing works by about two dozen residents, was a great success. Daisy Kelly Granger (below) sang to a packed room on Friday evening and returned on Saturday, somewhat hoarse, to delight a more relaxed house. A really soulful singer, Earl Green, also performed, backed by Les Back on guitar and joined by an amazing harmonica player whose name I didn't get. Cold drinks were served. Which was nice.

Daisy's outfit is by Linda Brooker

Because the weather has been so morose, I thought I'd do a hearty soup, not unlike Day 21's Spicy Bean. Recently, it seems like there's been a dearth of black beans around these parts, but I managed to score a couple of 500g bags in an ethnic grocery down the Walworth Road. Overnight, I soaked 1kg of black beans and 500g of red kidney beans. This morning, I started by washing my hands and boiling my beans, in separate pans, simmering for an hour.

I minced most of a head of garlic - probably ten cloves - and roughly diced one very large onion, starting to cook these in a generous splash of vegetable oil over medium heat at the bottom of the soup pot. I diced half a dozen carrots and half a large and leafy head of celery, adding the diced veg. to the pot, and continued cooking over medium heat with the lid on, stirring every few minutes.

When the veg. mix cooked down and was starting to caramelise, I added about a dessert spoon full of paprika, a teaspoon of chilli powder, a teaspoon of garam masala and a sprinkling of cumin seeds. I mixed these spices into the cooked vegetables, allowing the flavours to mingle for a few minutes before de-glazing the soup pot with red wine. I used the end of a bottle of claret left over from the weekend, boiling off the liquid before adding the secret ingredient: Aci Biber Salçasi.

I used a couple of good-sized scoops of this piquant red pepper paste, stirring them into the cooked mirepoix before adding the red kidney beans and half the black beans, covering them with three litres of Marigold bouillon and bring the pot to the boil. While the pot simmered, I continued to boil the rest of the black beans and, in the pot used for the red beans, I boiled another 500g of urid, black lentils, which take about 25 minutes to boil until soft.

Finally, I assembled the soup. I turned off the heat under the soup pot and left it to stand for ten minutes before blending with Gaynor the stick mixer, adding 100 creamed coconut dissolved in a litre of boiling water. Then I added the separately-cooked black beans and urid and returned the soup to the heat to warm it through before serving with chopped fresh coriander, a swirl of yoghurt and a sprinkle of cumin seeds.

While the soup was cooking this morning, parties of primary school kids from Crampton Street school (which isn't actually in Crampton Street) came in to look at the art exhibition. Among them was Jack, Daisy's youngest brother, who was evidently so tantalised by the aroma that he came back for a bowl after school. Hopefully, he agreed with the verdict written in the log bok, that this one was a hearty, filling, winter-warming sooooop. Jan Pun: truly beanificial.