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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
  • Time: 10 mins prep + 40 mins cooking
  • Difficulty: easy
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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?!

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
  • Time: 50 minutes: 10 minutes prep + 40 minutes cooking
  • Difficulty: easy
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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.

A Meaty Treat: Sausage Jambalaya

16 Sep
Warm yumminess on a plate! Sausage Jambalaya. © Jess Bruce 2015

Warm yumminess on a plate! Sausage Jambalaya. © Jess Bruce 2015

Boy are you guys in for a treat. I have such a treat of a recipe to share with you all today. What kind of a treat? A meaty treat.

Yes I said meaty. Regular readers may remember that for the last year or more I have been eschewing animal products and turning instead to sea food and more plant based protein sources. I will save a ‘should I / shouldn’t I’ discussion on whether to eat meat or not for another day.

Today all I will say is that I have been eating more meat. I try not to go overboard on it as I genuinely think my body behaves more nicely without it. But what can I say, I like the taste and flavour of meat dishes and in small amounts it doesn’t seem to be too detrimental to my digestion or ME/CFS symptoms. So for now I am trying to shut out all the ‘meat is harmful for your health and the environment’ voices and give my body what it craves a couple of times a week.

Sausage, rice, tomatoes and vegetables, yum © Jess Bruce 2015

Sausage, rice, tomatoes and vegetables, yum © Jess Bruce 2015

Out of all the meats, the one I am the biggest sucker for is pork. Yes I know not the best meat for me what with it being the most dense and difficult to digest. Great. And to add insult to injury I love fatty pork belly , sausages, hams, bacon and salamis more than anything. Again, yes I know, really not good for me. Highly processed, full of saturated fat etc etc.

Moderation and balance is key. The watchwords of good health. I do not eat pork (or any meat for that matter) 3 times a day, 7 days a week (as much as I would like to at times….bacon sarnie for breakie, salami filled deli salad for lunch and the delightful sausage jambalaya recipe that I’m about to share, for dinner anyone?)

Meat is a treat. Something I enjoy once or twice a week, preferably not more, though it depends on whether the angel or the devil wins out when I’m meal planning.

So today’s recipe is a treat in my eyes. And a yummy one at that.

Sausage Jambalaya.

A classic Cajun dish, jambalaya recipes are a dime a dozen. A Google search for the words ‘sausage jambalaya’ gives  478,000 results. Arguably the world doesn’t need another one!

© Jess Bruce 2015

© Jess Bruce 2015

So why should you make my jambalaya recipe, I hear you ask?

My answer:

  1. It is a legendary recipe in my family. A true family staple. Tried, tested and trusted. We have been making this for at least 12 years.
  2. Mr B loves it. He has fond memories of it. On his first ever visit to see me at my parents house during our Easter break from University in our first year, we had this meal for dinner on his first night. He would add here that he had to cook his own dinner that night since I was cooking, and then as now, he is always my sous-chef if home whilst I’m cooking.
  3. Since we lived in Halls and ate in our College refectory (‘Buttery’ to us Cambridge-ites) during our first year at University, I guess, in light of #2, that would make this the first meal I ever made my husband to be. Ahhhh. A recipe of love.
  4. Love mush aside, the reason you should make this jambalaya is because of its ingredients: wholegrain low GI  basmati brown rice, inflammation fighting turmeric and nutrient dense fresh veggies.
  5. And then of course there’s the sausages, the stars of the show. Delicious herby pork sausages paired with spicy paprika spiked chorizo. What more could you want. The perfect balance of good for you and delicious treatyness (treat-i-ness – a new word).
  6. It’s quick and easy.
  7. It’s delicious.
  8. Perhaps not an entirely authentic jambalaya recipe, it is however a great twist on a classic.
  9. Did I mention it has two kinds of sausages in it?

As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. Buy the best quality sausages that you can afford. This is never more important than when eating a processed food product. I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to what I eat (with good reason, read about my migraine theory here) and if I could, I’d make everything from scratch. But sausage making is a little beyond my energy levels at present (and probably skill level too to be fair). So I buy the best quality gluten and dairy free sausages  I can afford and find, from a local butcher where I know that they are 100% pork and herbs/spices without any added fillers. Always ask questions and/or read labels, you’d be surprised by how few ‘normal’ sausages are allergen friendly – it’s just pork right? Wrong)

So with the sausage lecture over, I will add one more point. If you don’t eat pork, you could try this dish with chicken, white fish and/or prawns, you could marinade your protein in some chilli, garlic, smoked paprika and fresh parsley to replicate the flavours of my original recipe. I should add a #10 above, this dish is massively versatile, switch the protein and/or vegetables and amount of spice to suit your own taste.  10 whole reasons why you should make this tonight! What more could you want?!

Here’s the recipe:

Sausage Jambalaya

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 15 mins prep + 30 mins cooking time
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Gluten, dairy, egg, nut and soya free

Ingredients

  • 4 pork & herb good quality sausages (I used Lincolnshire sausages, honouring my roots, which are flavoured with sage)
  • 4 good quality cooking chorizo sausages
  • 1 cup of basmati brown rice
  • 1 + 3/4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (adjust for own spice tolerance!)
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 6 spring onions
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 red pepper
  • 8 chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh curly leaf parsley
  • rapeseed oil
  • spray oil

Steps

  1. Preheat oven to 210ºC (190ºC fan oven)
  2. Lightly grease a baking dish with spray oil and arrange sausages into dish. Stab each sausage a couple of times with a sharp knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, turning a couple of times, until golden brown.
  3. Rinse your rice and add to a small saucepan with the stock. Cover, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is just about gone and the rice is fluffy. Once done, turn off the heat, leave the lid on the pan so the last drops of stock steam dry.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables: dice the onion and peal and crush the garlic; chop the spring onions into small chunks; cut the courgette into half moon slices and the red pepper into small pieces; slice the mushrooms and finally chop the parsley.
  5. Heat a splash of rapeseed oil in a large pan; add the onion, garlic, chilli powder and turmeric. Sauté until the onions are softened. Then add the red pepper and spring onions, cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly and then add the courgette. When the vegetables are nearly done, add the mushrooms and cook for a couple of minutes.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes, season, stir well and then place the lid on the pan and allow to bubble away on a low simmer for 5 – 10 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked. Turn the heat right down and then add the tomato purée and parsley and stir well.
  7. When the sausages are done, remove them from the oven and slice into bite size pieces. Add them, along with the rice, to the tomato vegetable sauce and stir well to evenly distribute the sausages and coat the rice in the sauce.
  8. Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of more fresh parsley and a dollop of dairy free coconut yoghurt if you desire.

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