saturday soup session

Cooking is one of the things I enjoy the most in life. I don’t have any cheffy pretensions; I mean, I know enough professional chefs to be bowled over by their dedication and creativity, which is a far cry from what is achieved in my home kitchen. I’m a home cook, and proud of it. There are a lot of things I love about home cooking; it’s about making the day-to-day that bit more ceremonial and special. It’s about self-care; I know I’m happy and on top of things if I’m regularly cooking, and luckily, cooking makes me happier as a practice. My favourite way to cook is for other people, I like the generosity aspect, and the feeling of creating abundance, but cooking for the self is a good way of celebrating the self, as far as I’m concerned. The things I show here therefore are not likely to be earth-shattering feats of culinary achievement, but things I create to try and add more colour and flavour to my everyday life. It’s partly about documenting what I do, and partly about trying to engage more with other people who enjoy the processes as well as the products of cooking.

So anyway, yesterday was as grey and cold in North London as it has been today, but without the pre-emptive grit and hysteria that comes before impending snow. I can handle cold, I mean I’m as English as they come, so I’m hardwired for it. But I can. not. handle. grey. I am one of those Colour People. Everybody knows one. Everybody has at least made a sideways glance at one. I can’t do neutrals, or minimalism, or quiet. Loud, bright, bold things make me happy and relaxed. Hell is having to look at endless grey skies, with endless people walking around in grey raincoats. I have to get colour in my life anywhere and everywhere possible, especially in the face of grey. The kitchen is a great place to start for that. Not least because it’s cheap, easy, and fun, but it’s also good for your body as well as your mood. Everyone knows the more colours your diet includes (that don’t have an official chemical number beginning in E), the more vitamins and nutrients you get. I could be dishonest, and pretend that my obsession with colour in food was primarily health based, but truthfully, there’s something satisfying to my inner child about that ‘hey, I made something bright orange! from plant pieces!’ feeling.

And on that note, that is precisely what I did yesterday afternoon. I made bright orange, spicy soup, to chase my greys away. Now I improvised what I did a bit, so this is more of a rough guideline than a recipe, but I will do my best to represent what I did accurately:

Spicy Sweet Potato and Squash Soup

You need:

2 x sweet potatoes

1 x squash (I used a type called paquitos)

2 x cloves of garlic

2 x onion

1 x fruity, spicy, red chilli (I used a Serrano)

700ml vegetable stock

fresh thyme, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, olive oil.

So it’s basically really easy, this is absolutely not mind blowing stuff. First, preheat your oven to 180 degrees c. peel and slice your sweet potatoes and squash, and peel and quarter your onions. Bang them all in a roasting tin with plenty of space (cos if you don’t give them space they will just steam instead of catching and caramelizing and getting all those big bold flavours you get from oven-roasting). tuck in your garlic clothes, unpeeled. tuck in a few sprigs of thyme, and sprinkle with chilli flakes, salt and pepper to taste (I dig heat, so I am pretty liberal). Add your olive oil and toss liberally. It should look like this, so feel free to do what I did and spend a few minutes being pleased by the crazy colours nature gives you to cook with:

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pretty, no? who needs grey? so basically you pop this in your preheated oven, and roast it for about 30-35 minutes, turning it halfway through so nothing burns. When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for a while while you get your stock on to simmer. While that’s happening, see how hardcore your asbestos fingers are, by popping the garlic cloves out of their skins, and discarding the thyme sprigs. When your stock is simmering, scrape in your veg, making sure to catch any precious, flavourful pan juice as you go. like so:

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so you pop in your red chilli (stalkless, obviously) let this simmer for a few minutes, and then blend blend blend! and really, that’s all there is to it. I served mine the first time with some really strong stilton and pumpkin seeds for added crunch:

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it was absolutely amazing. Just the right level of heat, sweet and smooth bodied, and the melting, salty stilton was the perfect touch. I love soup made from roasted vegetables because you get a really amped up flavour; it’s like the oven intensifies the veg and makes them taste more of themselves. What a total mood-boosting Saturday lunch to set me up for a chaotic night’s shift. I liked it so much that rather than wait until later in the week, I served up the rest tonight with some stilton and sauerkraut toasts:

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to make the toasts I just toasted some raisin bread my friend alice made for me under the grill on one, side, flipped it and crumbled stilton on top, then when nicely melted, added some sauerkraut. It seems like too much of a strong-flavoured thing but what you get is complementary, big, bolshy flavours for Sunday evening comfort food when potential snowclouds loom and you’re spending the evening on the sofa with your flatmates. Like I said, hardly rocket science, but definitely some beautiful bright colours and big bold flavours for brightening up a winter’s day. Not bad for an off the cuff afternoon in the kitchen trying to beat the winter blues, eh?

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