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Italian Lentil Soup

18 Feb
© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

I think this may be my favourite soup ever. And for a girl who loves a big bowl of steaming soup, that is a big call.

Creamy aubergine, hearty lentils, meaty mushrooms and fresh tomato, all topped with a generous spoonful of delicious basil pesto – perfect. It may not look that pretty but it tastes soooo good. Looks can be deceiving!

When I made this soup for Mr B and I last weekend, we spent much of the meal discussing whether it was actually a soup – yes our meal time chatter is highly entertaining 😉

Is it a soup or is it in fact a stew?

It is chunky and hearty enough to be a stew I think but it is cooked on the stove top in a broth so technically it is probably a soup.

To settle the debate, we turned to almighty Google and looked up definitions of soup v stew – really entertaining dinner chat!

Here are our findings:

Soup: a liquid dish, typically savoury and made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables etc. in stock or water.

Stew: a dish of meat and/or vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan.

So our Italian ‘Soup’ is made by boiling vegetables and pulses in vegetable stock meaning it is a soup?

But our Italian ‘Soup’ is made of vegetables which are slowly cooked in liquid in a closed pan…so maybe it is a stew?

Clear as mud.

Wikipedia had the last word:

“Generally, stews have less liquid than soups, are much thicker and require longer cooking over low heat. While soups are almost always served in a bowl, stews may be thick enough to be served on a plate with the gravy as a sauce over the solid ingredients”

Given my recipe is not thickened in any way, definitely needs to be served in a bowl and does not require hours of long cooking, I’ll stick with it being a soup I think.

But to be frank, who cares. Stew or soup. Semantic shenanigans aside, it is a hearty, filling, healthy and downright delicious meal. I was just pleased to get a plant based meat free meal passed Mr B’s lips and to receive compliments as a result! High praise indeed, you gotta try this one!

© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

Let’s turn to the crowning glory of this meal, the pesto. Homemade fresh basil pesto is always best but use your favourite store bought if you prefer. I admit I did not make my own this time. Instead we added giant dollops of a jar of green pesto that I had picked up in Wholefoods – Seggiano Raw Basil Pesto Genovese. I had to sneak it into the basket past Mr B’s astonished gaze because, shall we say, it wasn’t the cheapest option on the pesto shelf. Ahem. But it was worth every penny. Vegan, gluten free and raw. Nothing but extra virgin olive oil, cashew nuts, fresh basil, sea salt and pine nuts. As clean eating as homemade. Delicious.

I served the soup with paleo flatbreads, recipe from the excellent new book, River Cottage Gluten Free by Naomi Devlin.

Now for the ‘soup’ recipe to which you add that giant dollop of basil pesto joy.

Italian Lentil Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten, dairy and soya free, Vegan (using dairy free pesto as I did)

Ingredients

  • 15g dried mushrooms (+ boiling water)
  • Splash of rapeseed oil
  • 1 potato (I used Maris Piper)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 leek
  • 1 aubergine
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g can of green lentils, (265g drained weight)
  • 850 ml hot vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Basil pesto to serve

Steps

  1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with boiling water, set aside for 10 minutes.
  2. Dice the potato (no need to peel) carrot, aubergine and tomatoes and thinly slice the leek.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pot over a medium  heat on the stove.
  4. Add the potato, carrot and leek and saute for a few minutes
  5. Add the lentils, mix well and then add the aubergine and tomato.
  6. Add the stock to the pan to cover the vegetables (reserve the rest to add later if more liquid is needed), cover the pan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  7. After 20 minutes, add the dried mushrooms, their soaking liquid, the tamari and the dried basil. Add more stock if you think necessary.
  8. Cover the pan again and allow to continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, approximately 30 – 40 minutes total cooking time.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Serve in bowls, topping each with a generous spoonful of basil pesto.

If you use traditional pesto, i.e. one containing parmesan cheese, then this recipe is no longer vegan and dairy free. Adapt to your own dietary requirements.

So do you think it’s a soup or a stew?!

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A Healthy Hot Chocolate

26 Jan
© Jess Bruce 2016

© Jess Bruce 2016

Winter has finally hit in the UK. Last week was absolutely freezing. Okay so perhaps not cold compared to Alaska or the Antarctic (or most of North America at present for that matter) but temperatures close to freezing are incredibly chilly, and came as quite the shock, compared to the balmy December we enjoyed (and moaned about at the time, daffodils blooming by the roadside in December? What has the world come to!).

What’s all this weather talk about? Well cold weather means only one thing in my mind…..hot chocolate baby!

I spent most of last week with the heating on max but still cold, wearing a scarf, quilt over my lap and fingerless gloves encasing my hands in order to sit and type. Yes really. It was VERY cold!

There are only so many cups of green tea one girl can drink in a day (and I definitely push it to the limit) in order to keep warm. And so enters hot chocolate.

Sometimes you need a sweet hit and you don’t have any cake or biscuits to hand – damn that January resolution of no cake for a month….(definitely not stuck to that one). Hello hot chocolate.

And sometimes you want a sweet treat without totally blowing your blood sugar; craving a hint of sweetness without endangering your health kick. Is this you? Well say hello to this little miss healthy hot chocolate.

She will satisfy your sweet tooth, warm you up and sate your appetite. All without blowing off your new years resolution to be more healthy.

The recipe below is for an au natural version. Simple, clean, pure hot chocolate. However, you could take things to the next level and pimp your delicious hot drink. Though I think if you go for the ‘enhanced’ version using some of the following suggestions (brandy, chocolate and marshmallows I’m looking at you…), we should perhaps tack the qualifier ‘ish‘ onto the title healthy – healthy-ish hot chocolate. But why not. It’s the last week of January, you deserve it.

So if you want to ‘enhance’ your drink, you could try:

  • Melting a handful – this isn’t an exact science, so much the better if you have big hands 🙂 – of 70% cocoa chocolate chips into the saucepan.
  • Top your drink with some coconut whip (I use this method to make whipped cream from coconut milk) and marshmallows and some chocolate shavings….oh boy that sounds good!
  • Toss a chai tea bag into the saucepan and allow to infuse with the milk for a hit of aromatics. Maybe throw in a cinnamon stick for extra measure.
  • Add some finely grated orange zest (that’s healthy… vitamin C anyone?) for a drink reminiscent of the ubiquitous orange shaped and flavoured chocolate.
  • Add a few drops of mint extract for an after dinner digestive aid (see healthy…maybe a stretch?)
  • If you like things chilli hot, then a sprinkling of cayenne pepper would spice things up nicely.
  • For an adult version, you could add some brandy or whiskey to taste (and blow dry January out of the water).
  • For a ‘Snickers’ inspired drink, sub the almond butter for peanut butter, adjusting the quantity to taste.

That said, simple is satisfying to me. I enjoyed the natural beauty of the hot chocolate recipe as set out below greatly and didn’t need any additions (though perhaps that’s because I hadn’t thought of them yet and didn’t have any marshmallows in the house….)

Here’s the recipe, hope it warms you up. Let me know if and how you enhance it, healthy or otherwise!

A Healthy Hot Chocolate

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten and dairy free, Vegan

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of gluten free oat milk (or other plant based milk of choice)
  • 2 rounded tsps of cacao powder
  • 2 scant tbsp brown rice syrup
  • 1 tsp almond butter
  • 1 tbsp coconut milk yoghurt

Steps

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over a low heat.
  2. Whisk well to dissolve the almond butter and yoghurt.
  3. Allow to simmer until just boiling (about 5 minutes) whisking every so often.
  4. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

A Simple Soup

27 Oct
My Perfect Lunch © Jess Bruce 2015

My Perfect Lunch © Jess Bruce 2015

The simplicity of today’s recipe, with its short ingredient list and method, belies its true depth of flavour and sheer deliciousness. Warm, hearty, nourishing, quick, simple, versatile. This recipe has it all.

As much as I love making and eating dishes with many layers of spices and herbs and exotic ingredients, sometimes the most satisfying meal is actually quite simple. Here the fresh produce is allowed to sing for itself, enhanced merely with salt and pepper and a smattering of fresh parsley.

Hearty Vegetable Soup © Jess Bruce 2015

Hearty Vegetable Soup © Jess Bruce 2015

This soup is perfect for this time of year (it being Autumn in the northern hemisphere) bringing in the heavy hearty flavours of new season winter veg, with the  carrots, suede and sweet potato, vegetables akin to warming stews and soups of cold blustery days, whilst still showcasing the tail end of summer produce with courgette and green beans. You can of course switch up the vegetables you use depending on season and market availability. But stick to the principle of a lovingly melted down hearty base of root vegetables combined with a couple of handfuls of fresh green goodness and you’ll keep the happy outcome of a clean wholesome meal that will nourish you from the inside out. Seriously this is a dish you can feel virtuous eating without feeling any deprivation. Clean eating at its very best.

Use the freshest veg you can get your hands on and, if you can, make your own vegetable stock as the liquid base. Your taste buds will thank you. That said, I admit I used a cheat method on the stock, saving the water from boiled potatoes and carrots and enhancing it with a spoonful of vegetable bouillon powder to round out the flavour.

I like to serve a big steaming bowl of this soup with a slice of gluten free bread to dunk and soak up all the lovely veg flavour. Most perfect lunch ever.

A Simple Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten, dairy and nut free, vegan

Ingredients

  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced, skin left on
  • 1/2 a large suede, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • Handful of green beans, cut into bitesize pieces
  • 1 courgette, cut into bitesize pieces
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped curly leaf parsley
  • Splash of olive oil

Steps

  1. Sauté the onion in the olive oil in a large saucepan for a few minutes until golden.
  2. Add the sweet potato, suede and carrots to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking to the pan.
  3. Pour in the vegetable stock. I used 1.5 litres in total (including the extra stock added at step 5) but here you really just need enough to cover the vegetables. Pop a lid on the pan, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and leave to cook for 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are fork tender.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and lightly mash with a potato masher until the root vegetables are broken down. (You could pop it all into a blender or use a stick blender if you prefer a smoother finish to your soup but I prefer the coarser texture of mashing. Up to you).
  5. Return the pan with the mashed vegetables to the hob and add in the courgette and green beans and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through. You want to retain a little bit of bite to the green veg so it contrasts with the softness of the mashed roots. You may need to add a little more stock when you add the courgette and green beans depending on how thin/thick you want your soup.
  6. Season to taste with a generous grind of black pepper and a good pinch of sea salt.
  7. Sprinkle in the parsley, stir and you’re ready to serve.

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