Friday, January 18, 2008

18.01.08: Harira + Café Cairo

Café Cairo in Landor Road was a fixture on the South London landscape, renowned for the unique atmosphere of its tent-out-the-back, where one could recline on cushions and smoke a hookah while sipping mint tea. That's all past tense though because, after a succession of break-ins, the tent went up in flames last November on the night before Bonfire Night. While its operators seek new premises, the Cairo crew came to the Pullens Centre for a fund raising evening and, seeing as it takes them so long to set up their extraordinarily rich interior decor, I suggested that they should make soup at lunchtime, too.

Harira - extolled on as 'quite possibly the best soup in the world' - is the Middle Eastern meal-in-a-bowl that's traditionally served to break the day's fast during Ramadan. This is Daisy's hand-written recipe for a vegetarian version:
(Heat oil and fry onions and garlic 'till soft. Add parsley, ginger, black pepper, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, ground coriander. then add potatoes, carrots, celery, green lentils, tomato puree. Stir well and add processed tomato (i.e.: fresh or tinned tomatoes that have been whizzed in a food processor), then stir again and add enough water (or light vegetable stock/Marigold bouillon) to cover all ingredients well and bring to boil. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, concentrating the flavours and reducing the volume of liquid to make a thickish broth. Then add chickpeas, white beans, and vermicelli. Cook for a further 5 minutes, until the vermicelli softens, and add lemon juice and salt to taste.)

Not only was this soup was a great success, so too was the evening's event, with many people remarking that they'd never seen the Centre looking so fabulous. Café Cairo will return to 184 Crampton Street on February 15th (that's Valentines' Day + 1) while Daisy and Rhiannon will return to the Soup Kitchen next week.

17.01.08: Gingered Royal Yellow Peas + Pasta Night

Carlo made a terrific, gingery soup with yellow split peas that inspired an artist whose style is strongly reminiscent of Mr Natty Bo to draw a picture of it with the comment appended: 'Cool man! O'Reety!!' Someone else wrote, '"Really rather yummy," said the Princess with a pea up her arse', while a third commented that it's 'so good to have real food so close to work, the soup gets better every day'. Which is frightfully gratifying, but the sad fact is that too few people tasted today's soup and quite a lot got thrown away.

In the evening, Carlo served a pasta dish he called Penne Kemptonaise, after the town in Germany where his girlfriend lives. Sigh. He bought organic ricotta and made a cream with avocado and diced hottish red peppers. Not only that, but he curried the rest of the new potatoes left over from the previous day to amazing effect. Wow. Sadly, hardly anyone turned up to eat this fantastic fare, so Carlo had to throw food away and he probably lost money. So, it looks like that's the end of Pasta Night:-(

Thursday, January 17, 2008

16.01.08: Freegan Soup

I haven't foraged for free food at the Nine Elms wholesale market, New Covent Garden, since 02.10.08, but Sebastien inspired another go this morning and equipped himself for the expedition with a bicycle pannier improvised from a plastic bin that he somehow managed to strap to his rear wheel, as seen on the left. He was ever so apologetic at arriving 15 minutes late for our rendezvous, but I was too amused by his ingenuity to care.

We scooted round the market on our bikes, looking for viable produce that had been dropped, or thrown away. Although Sebastien didn't say so, specifically, I got the impression that one advantage of the bike is that it facilitates a quick getaway in the event of being challenged by authority figures. Not that any were in evidence. By 9.30am, I expect they're all in the pub. I did see several other scroungers on bicycles, much like ourselves, often with added dreadlocks, and I guess there's going to be a lot more 'em as Babylon crumbles.

First, we found a trove of new potatoes, then some yellow peppers. Tomatoes, in various states of decrepitude, were all over the shop. The rule of picking up such things off the concrete or out of a skip is that mud can be washed off and bruises can be cut out, but if the skin is broken, it's not worth the risk of contamination. By the bins, where we were sorting through boxes of discarded plum tomatoes, we met this chap in the Royal Mail waistcoat, Jacob, who had a big bag of peeled garlic cloves, going slightly brown.

With the garlic, peppers and tomatoes, this soup was shaping up to be remarkable similar to the soup that emerged from my last foraging expedition. Only this time, instead of thickening the soup with red lentils, we found a nice butternut squash and a couple of parsnips to put with the potatoes. We also found a big bundle of very good quality flat parsley, a couple of bundles of chives and a sealed bag of oregano. Oh, and a big bag of shallots. All of which went into the soup.

Back at base, between us we cleaned and roughly chopped the tomatoes and yellow peppers, mixed with then with some of the garlic and shallots, and roasted the mixture in the oven for about half an hour over medium high heat, to concentrate the flavours. Meanwhile, we chopped and sweated a mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery with more of the garlic, adding a lot of parsley - a couple of two handed bunches - chopped with stalks and all. To this cooked mix, we added the roughly diced root veg. and squash, covered it with four litres of Marigold bouillon, brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for twenty minutes or so, until the veg were soft enough to meet Brenda the blender.

I took the roasted tomatoes and peppers out of the oven and boiled them up with another couple of litres of bouillon before liquidising the mixture and passing the resulting liquid through a sieve to remove the pips and bits of skin. Then I amalgamated the contents of the two pots, the fresh, sharp flavour of the toms and peppers meeting the creaminess of the potato and squash. Finally, I added the chopped oregano and gave the soup a last little whizz before serving it garnished with generous amount of finely chopped parsley and chives.

Today was a lot of fun and we'll definitely do this again. In fact, we're going to do it next Monday, 21st, and you're welcome to join us foraging in the bins of Covent Garden and then making soup. Call 07863 100 711 first.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

15.01.08: Red Lentil

Dismal day, it was pissing down all morning. Lou made a red lentil soup along the lines of her triumphant Ezo Gelin from 10.10.07 and once again it seems to have hit the spot. Comments included, 'warm, filling, hearty and tasty just like something...' A Soup Kitchen regular - whose hand writing I recognise - put 'much nicer than Russell's' and then goes on to say it was 'truly warming and filling'. Yer well, next time I'll fill you with something hearty and fulfilling, don't you worry about that.

I was in a shitty mood, myself, and got told off for souring the air in the Pullens Centre, so I do find it a tad sus that three people should have been inspired to remark on the friendly atmosphere. One wrote: 'Absolutely delicious - Lou has always a smile which warms the soul also'. Yer well, she may have a Saintly radiance but she only served 18 bowls of soup, five short of the usual 23. I dunno why our numbers are down in the second week of January, when the weather's diabolical and people are broke after Xmas. You'd think they'd appreciate hot soup for whatever they want to pay and those that manage to prise themselves out of their flats and offices do. But we need more custom.

Monday, January 14, 2008

14.01.08: Cauliflower, White Bean & Fennel

As it appears in the Soup Bible, this recipe utilises canned flageolet beans and Oli's are currently offering three cans of Sofra brand beans for a quid, but for some perverse reason I chose to buy a 2kg bag of 'white beans from Argentina' (cannelli beans, I guess), which are bigger, and to soak the lot overnight. When combined with five heads of cauliflower, this made a lot of soup and, although I counted out 21 bowls, litres of the stuff was left over.

First, I put the beans on to boil for half an hour. I diced a bulb of fennel and into the mirepoix with all the cloves of a head of garlic, squashed and peeled; one very large onion, roughly chopped; and about half a head of celery. No carrot. To the cooked mirepoix, I added a generous sprinkling - two dessert spoons, lets say - of fennel seed. I trimmed off the cauliflower florets and saved then for later, diced the stems and added them to the soup pot. Added two litres of Marigold bouillon. Then added two thirds of the cooked beans and two litres more Marigold and simmered for about fifteen minutes.

I left the cooked soup to stand while I went to collect my laundry (from the launderette on Kennington Lane, where the New Year has brought dramatic prices rises, but that's another story). When I came back, I got Brenda to give it a whizz. When the soup was well blended, I added the cauliflower florets and another couple of litres of bouillon (six in total), returned it to the heat and cooked for a further ten minutes. Then I gave the soup another quick whizz - enough to break up the florets, but not liquidise them - and added the remaining beans to finish the soup, which I served with a sprinkle of paprika.

Those who tried it were appreciative and there were some nice synchronicities today. First, I was talking to Iaxte, who regularly comes in with little Irene, about looking for a high chair on Freecycle and the folks sitting at the round table in the corner piped up to say they had a couple of high chairs to give us!

Later, a woman came in who told me that she'd last lived on the Pullens 16 years ago but had just moved in to Oyster Court, the new development across the road from the Pullens Centre. While she was telling me this, Crispin came in and recognised her as his former upstairs (or downstairs) neighbour. But he's long since sold the drum kit;-)

She wrote in the log bok, 'lovely soup and stimulating gossip'. He wrote, 'Pukka soup - very nice, Russell. Keep up the good work'. Cheers, m8. I've frozen what's left, so it won't go to waste.