Friday, January 11, 2008

11.01.08: Split Pea & Pumpkin

Today, I was joined by Sebastian, a new face in the Soup Kitchen, who I hope will become a regular, even though he insists he needs to get a paid job. I picked this recipe for yellow split peas and pumpkin out of Debra Mayhew's Soup Bible and purchased a bag of dried yellow split peas and a couple of nice looking chunks of pumpkin from an Afro-Carib grocery in the Heffalump shopping centre yesterday evening and soaked the split peas overnight.

This morning the weather was diabolical again but that didn't stop me dragging Sebastian down Walworth Road in the sleet and bluster to show him round the shops. In East Street, I bought a head of celery and half a kilo of carrots (onions I had), plus a couple of extra bits of pumpkin to make the total weight up to 3kg and a bunch of coriander.

Back at base, I put the split peas on to boil for twenty minutes while Sebastian cleaned, peeled and diced the pumpkin into small, bite-sized chunks. He also had a good go at roasting the pumpkin seeds, which I've never managed to do successfully. The trick, apparently, is to clean and then dry them them thoroughly before spreading them onto a roasting tray with some good quality oil and roasting slowly, turning the seeds in the pan often so that they cook evenly and adding salt, or paprika, or whatever flavouring you desire. S'nice.

Although the Soup Bible doesn't call for the full mirepoix, I made one anyway and seasoned it with two dessert spoons each of freshly ground dana (coriander seed) and jeera (ground cumin). The recipe calls for tarragon and chilli, but I didn't have any tarragon and I chose to do without chilli (although, on reflection, a couple of fresh green chillis would have been nice) and, instead, to emphasise the great flavour of coriander, both ground and fresh.

Those who tasted the soup enjoyed it, at least there were no complaints, but there weren't many of 'em and nobody wrote in the log bok. After a week in which we've consistently served 23 people every lunchtime, today there were only 17. Go figure.

I neglected to take any photographs, but in the evening, the soupers enjoyed an exeat to Dex, in Brixton, where our good neighbour and regular soup lover, Mr Natty Bo, led his Topcats once more through their rhythmic paces. So here's a couple of pics of that:

Next week's soup kitchen rota: it's Russell on Monday, serving a soup of Cauliflower, Flageolet and Fennel Seed; Lou. is on Tue, probably re-rocking the Turkish red lentil soup from day ten; on Wednesday, Russell & Sebastian plan to forage in Nine Elms for a freegan soup; Carlo will be smiling throughout Thursday and going into the evening with Pasta Night; and on Friday, a crew from Stockwell's legendary but sadly fire-damaged Café Cairo will make soup at lunchtime and go on into the evening, weaving magic carpets. See you there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

10.10.08: Tomato & Crunchy Celery + Pasta Night

Hard though it may be to believe, over the past three months, we've somehow not got around to doing a creamy tomato soup à la façon de Heinz. Until today, when Signor Atif - who didn't grow up in Britain and isn't intimidated by the cultural status of Heinz 57 Varieties - produced a soup so stupendous that someone wrote in the log bok, excitedly, 'Best soup every BINGO!'

Carlo wasn't about to start with fresh tomatoes, but he refuses to use purée, which he reckons has a tinny, industrial flavour, and insists upon the best quality Napolitana brand tins of chopped tomatoes (70% flesh!) He made the soup by slowly sweating a mirepoix of onion, celery and carrots in plenty of oil, adding rosemary, mixed herbs, coriander (all dried) and two mild green fresh chillies.
I reckon he probably sneaked a bit of garlic in there, too, but maybe that goes without saying?

The key to incorporating the tomatoes, apparently, is to do it ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. Add a can of tomatoes and allow it to cook down thoroughly, then add another can every five minutes. Since this soup used eight cans, this process took forty minutes, but the results were more than worthwhile. Carlo thickened the soup with pureed chickpeas.

Rewind: before you do anything else in this recipe, you've got to soak half a kilo of organic chick peas! They've got to be organic, see, because organic chick peas are the sweetest. If, for some reason, you don't soak your dried chick peas overnight, you can take a shortcut by soaking them for just an hour with a teaspoon full of bicarbonate in the water. Change the water before boiling them, or it's liable to start foaming;-)

Carlo finished his soup with 100g creamed coconut dissolved in hot water and served it with crunch diced celery, which was a really neat final flourish, I thought. And the number of potions served, inevitably, was 23.

In the evening, Carlo stayed on for Pasta Night, which I reckon will become an established fixture on Thursday nights as we move into the New Year. So far, it's not been easy to establish a clientele because it's been hard to get the word out and attract peoples' attention in the pre-Xmas period. Anyway, about 15 people did get the message and enjoyed one of Sgnr. Atif's idiosyncratic pasta dishes: penne with tofu, sweetcorn and green peas in a wonderful, rich and spicy coriander sauce. Seriously, if you live on the Pullens and you're at home next Thursday, don't bother cooking for yourself but come and join us @ the Centre.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

09.01.08: Curried Parsnip

Cheap wine can turn out to be a false economy. I only paid £2.50 for this bottle of Spanish red - 'a rich, rich blend of Bobal - a traditional Spanish grape and the well-loved Shiraz' - and didn't even finish it last night, but woke up this morning with the blues around my bed and a buzzing in my head. Oh yeah.

So, I started late and opted for a straightforward recipe, indeed a contemporary classic. In East Street, I purchased about 4kg parsnips, plus carrots and onions to go with the head of celery I already had to make a mirepoix, spending a grand total of £5.50. I then nipped across the road to Somerfield to stock up on tea bags and suchlike and picked up three of their baguettes to go with the soup.

At the checkout I saw Rob, a resident of the Buddhist Centre on Manor Place, who was also stocking up on tea bags and suchlike, as well as a large quantity of fruit. Not only is he a committed Buddhist, Rob's also possibly the only policeman to pound the Peckham beat in possession of a philosophy degree. New Year's Eve, he told me, he'd been working. On the stroke of midnight, he was in the casualty department of King's College Hospital holding the hand of a bloke who'd been bottled. Bloodied and shocked as he was, the geezer still wished Rob a happy new one. Happier.

I made the soup in the usual way: by sweating a mirepoix of chopped onions, celery and carrots in a little oil in the bottom of the soup pot with the lid on; adding a dessert spoon and a half of 'medium' curry powder, plus one of garam masala and another of turmeric. I peeled and roughly diced all the parsnips, adding each to the pot as it was chopped, stirring the contents and moistening with a little bouillon from a litre jug, to prevent sticking. When all the chopped 'snips were in the pot, I poured over a further four litres of Marigold bouillon, brought the soup to the boil, and simmered for twenty minutes before blending with Brenda. I added a further litre of stock (making six in total) and finished the soup by grating in about 50g of creamed coconut to tone down the curry flavour and give a creamier mouth feel.

This to me is a classic, basic Soup Kitchen recipe: mirepoix flavour base + main vegetable ingredient + Marigold bouillon + creamed coconut. However, I felt there was something missing from this particular soup that makes me reluctant to nominate it an Almost Perfect Recipe. It really did have the texture of baby food and I thought it needed some slight element of crunch. Also a green garnish, which I somehow omitted. Anyway, Kadett wrote in the log bok: 'legs were frozen and they're not anymore, so (this soup) must be good stuff'.

As it goes, several mothers with babies and toddlers enjoyed the soup today, including little Irene, with her big blue eyes and high beam smile, who was the last customer today and made the numbers up to 23.

08.01.08: Carrot & Ginger

loopylou@soupers_united.not writes:

A cold grey wet morning was just the thing to inspire me to cook up something warm and perky - Carrot and Ginger soup leapt out at me from Russell's Soup Bible, so I bimbled off to East Street to buy the ingredients - well most of them. In the words of Ol Blue Eyes, I Did It My Way. Had to wait a while to get served, but was entertained by the trader on the next stall punting out duvets with patter like "it's got a 25-year guarantee - as long as you never use it", etcetera. If any of these people go out of business, they can always take up writing the gags in Xmas crackers! Markets always cheer me up, but supermarkets have the opposite effect...

Once back in the Centre, I got cracking and sweated 2lbs/1kg onions with 2lbs/1kg of carrots and a smallish head of celery for about 20 minutes. Then I added 6 cloves of garlic and a large lump of ginger - about 2 thumbs' worth - and continued cooking while I peeled and diced 5lbs/2.5kg of carrots. I added them to the pot with about 7 litres of Marigold vegetable stock, brought the soup to boil and let it simmer for approx 15 minutes. I stirred in lots of black pepper during and, after the cooking, and got our colleague Brenda the Blenda to do the business with her blades. I'd bought 8lbs/4kg of carrots in total, so had 1lb left, which I grated straight into the pot as the soup was bubbling away. I simmered the pot for another 5 mins and finally added about 50g of creamed coconut: just enough to make it creamy and give it a bit more body, as I didn't want the flavour of coconut to be obvious in this soup.

I served the soup with bread from the Old Post Office Bakery in Landor Rd, Stockwell (left). This is a worker's co-operative that makes organic bread which you'll find in many wholefood shops in South London, as well as Fareshares. You can also buy from the bakery direct, which is what I do as you get it slightly cheaper and can choose from their whole range. They sell a large loaf for about £1-20 as opposed to anything up to £4 in some (WARNING: IMMINENT RANTING) poncey rip-off wholefood delicatessen. But let's keep it friendly. As well as the staff of life, I also recommend their delicious cakes, biccies and pizza. In fact, just thinking about it is making me ravenous, so let' me finish this blog entry so I can go there now and stuff my craw.

My sole New Years Resolution is to get the soup ready by midday, but today I fell at the first hurdle by failing to get out of bed in time. I am going to try harder, I promise. Luckily there's some kind of magic in the Pullens Centre and one of the myriad of ways this manifests itself is that, no matter what time the soup is ready, that is the exact moment the first punters arrive. This time, it was a pair of our stalwarts, Linda Brooker and Bruce Webb. Every time I do this, I worry that no-one's going to turn up and I'm going to be left with a whole pot of soup, but every week it all gets eaten - hooray !

Soon the place was busy and warm and full of life. There was plenty of second portions and cups of tea all round. I love coming to the Centre every week to make soup. The Pullens' community is sadly unique (not the other way round thankfully). There's no communities left like this in London and, as someone who doesn't actually live on the estate, trust me, it's a very special place. I know the spirit of the place is the result of the Pullens community having been born from the squatting movement, while all the other large local squatted communities were broken up years ago and the buildings either demolished (e.g.: St Agnes Place, R.I.P) or evicted, gentrified and none of its' original guardians living there (e.g.: Oval Mansions).

So Big Up all the Pullens ex-squatters who through sheer hard work and bloody-mindedness ensured that neither of those things happened here.

One of the people working in Peacock Yard offered his services in the near future to help cooking/serving one day. This was in response to the flyers asking for volunteers. We are delighted with any offers of help - don't feel you have to be here all day - a few hours you can spare even only as a one-off is most welcome and this is the spirit of the whole enterprise: to encourage a feeling of ownership of the Centre by the community. So if you have an urge to get involved, don't be shy - it's great fun.

The other way the Pullens Centre magic manifests itself is that we nearly always serve 23 bowls of soup. Today it was 22, but as I was locking the door, a woman came along asking if we were still serving... (cue Twilight Zone music).

Monday, January 7, 2008

07.01.08: Has Bean

This blog got a bit scrappy in the week before Christmas, when a memorable Leek 'n' Sweet Potato concoction, courtesy of Carlo, went unrecorded and the Red and Black Bean Soup that I provided on Friday 21st went largely uneaten. I made masses in the expectation that demand would be strong on our final day, but it appeared that our regulars were all doing their Xmas shopping and so only about a dozen bowls were served.

I froze the uneaten soup from 21.12.07 in three litre-sized portions and served it again today, providing continuity to our enterprise and acting in the spirit of thrift that's surely appropriate to the age, is it not? I extended with more black and red kidney beans, biber salçası - red pepper paste - plus a can of borlotti beans, making a thoroughly rib-sticking bean soup, which I served with a swirl of fresh Greek yoghurt, to cheer everybody up on what was for many their first day back to work.

Intended to be more unctuous than spicy, this soup didn't contain any chilli and utilised the sweeter paprika paste rather its more piquant alternative. The frozen soup incorporated sweetcorn and the fresh one would include a can of meaty borlotti beans (although I did think of using the rest of the urid black lentils left over from making Dal Makhani) making for a really hearty soup. You can gauge how successful it was from this picture of Daisy and Annie, who have evidently been inspired to draw a heart in the condensation on the window:
Overnight, I soaked half a kilo of red kidney beans and another half kilo of black beans. To make the soup, I started with a mirepoix. Actually, I roughly chopped three purple onions, a white onion and a shallot and peeled the cloves of most of a head of garlic (all of which I found in the bottom of my fridge) and left them roasting in a medium oven, with the beans simmering in separate pot on the top, while I popped down the shops for bread, spread and milk.

Back at the Pullens Centre, I transferred the cooked onion and garlic to the soup pot, with a splash of hot oil in the bottom, added most of a head of celery, roughly diced, and the best part of a pound of carrots, also chopped. Continuing to cook this mixture over low heat with the soup pot lid on, I added a dessert spoon full of cumin seed and another spoon full of ground cumin, plus half a jar of paprika paste (let's say three dessert spoons full) and a splash of Marigold bouillon from a litre jug to keep the mixture moist and prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan, adding more liquid as necessary. Meanwhile, the beans carried on simmering.

To the flavour base in the bottom of the soup pot, I added half the cooked beans from each pot with the rest of the litre jug of bouillon, plus a further two litres (making three in all) and carried on cooking until the beans were soft enough to blend. I turned the heat off and left the pot to stand for five minutes before blending its contents with Brenda the blender until it had a fairly smooth consistency. I assembled the finished soup by tipping in the rest of the cooked beans, the 3 litres of left over soup that had been defrosted and the 500ml can of borlotti beans (with their liquid).

Finally, I returned the soup pot to the stove top and reheated the soup, stirring well, and added another litre of bouillon to thin and make it more soupy. The soup was served with a swirl of fresh Greek yoghurt and some two dozen people enjoyed it. One wrote in the log bok, 'Lovely hearty soup - come on the New Year, let's have you!!