Lentil soup just got simpler….

It was easy enough before. But I’ve been reading Leanne Browne’s free download cookbook Good and Cheap written for all the Americans who rely on foodstamps to eat. It motivated me to see just how basic I could get. Yes, it’s nice to have a bacon bone or ham hock or similar for lentil soups, but lentils are so robust, they really don’t need to be pampered like that.

Having been away for a week, I managed to rustle this up:

Ingredients

a cup of lentils washed
2 smallish onions and half a large shallot that was lurking in the fridge, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and finely chopped
2 chillies sliced
several rather sorry looking potatoes peeled and diced
2 carrots that had seen better days peeled and diced
one vegetarian chicken stockcube
olive oil

Method

Fry the onion in the olive oil gently for a few minutes and then add the garlic and chilli. Add everything else, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer until cooked.

The one thing I bought on the day was a bunch of parsley to add when serving and bread for toast. I’d happily eat this on a regular basis and really didn’t miss the meat I usually add.

Cost? Next to nothing.

Chickpea and spinach soup

subtitle: or how to make something good and then spoil it.

In its perfect state
In its perfect state

Ingredients

1 tin chickpeas drained and rinsed
2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped or pressed
1 tin tomatoes or 500g fresh tomatoes chopped
2 teasp sweet paprika
500g potatoes peeled and diced
500g spinach washed, stemmed and roughly chopped
a couple of generous glugs of dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Fry the onion in the oil in a soup pot until softened – not browned. Add the garlic and paprika, stir a few times and add the tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas and salt, not to mention several cups of water. Once all this is cooked, probably about 30 minutes, add the spinach and as soon as it is wilted, it is ready to serve. If you are adding bread to the soup, which you can douse in vinegar first, do that at the same time as the spinach.

The original recipe from which I took my ingredients adds saffron – I was too stingy to do this. I did, however, find it bland enough to figure a vegetarian chicken stock cube would be a sensible addition. Apparently it is normal to add all sorts of things to this while serving including pine nuts, parsley, hard-boiled egg, bread. I decided to add a pesto of olive oil, parsley and pine nuts right at the end, and serve with toast.

So far so good.

Come day two and I was looking for a thermos lunch soup and I didn’t really figure this combination of chunky bits in a very watery stock was the thing, so I pureed it, adding the pesto at this stage. Unfortunately the combination of red, white and green – so I discover – looks more like something making a speedy retreat from your body, rather than something you want to shovel into it. You may say this is too much information. I say it may save the reader from a similar fate. At any rate, it was most enthusiastically eaten by my most loyal fans. What can I say? One of the advantages of living in Geneva is that even egregious cooking faux pas can be overlooked.

I daren't show you the aftermath.
I daren’t show you the aftermath.

Rough notes for carrot soup

I guess the thing here is to decide on your persona for the cooking – or eating. You can do this European/English style, with variations on nutmeg, dill, leeks, cream. Or there is the South Asian, maybe even verging on Thai way, which is the path I’ve taken for today.

For three desiring a thermos lunch

Ingredients
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
ginger and garlic pureed/minced/pressed
chopped fresh chilli
ground coriander and cumin, maybe a teasp
oil or ghee for cooking
water maybe one litre
coriander
salt
pepper

Method

In a saucepan, gently fry the onion and carrots for 5 minutes or so, add the ginger, garlic, chilli and ground spices, stir for another minute or so, then add water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes or so – I imagine if I were in a hurry I’d cut that down. Puree in whatever way you do that. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I wanted to leave this one really plain to see how that worked with a view to variations in future, so the only other addition was freshly chopped coriander when serving.

To keep the idea of the tastes of this one, I imagine variations would include adding plain yoghurt, and curry paste/powder instead of cumin and coriander.

By the way, there is an Indian idea that if you freshly grind coriander and cumin together and then keep them for a while, they will develop a new taste which won’t be quite the same as tossing in each spice at the time of cooking. I don’t think I’m up to being able to tell the difference, but nonetheless, I follow the tradition when it is called upon.

We took this to a Swiss cafe for lunch and the girl serving our drinks declared it to be ‘strong smelling’. I imagine that was a criticism, but maybe hereabouts that’s no bad thing. Could one get expelled from a coffee shop in Switzerland for the smell of one’s food? In fondue land? I hope not! All the people eating it gave it the thumbs up.