B’s lettuce, mint and pea soup

When I first started growing things, I never had much luck with lettuces – they either got totally slugandsnailed or I ended up with too many and got sick of the sight of them. My friend B made me this soup several years ago, and together with a Chinese recipe for braised lettuce with oyster sauce, I am no longer put off by the thought of a glut – ‘though I’m still struggling with the slugs.
This is the essence of summer in a bowl, for those days when we have a hot spell and even if you water twice a day, all the lettuces threaten to bolt and turn bitter overnight or, as has just happened down at the community garden, a heavy summer storm has beaten them up really badly. It’s not unlike petit pois à la française as a puréed soup, but the mint gives it an extra zing.
You could of course, use your own homegrown peas – I usually only grow mangetout, so I use frozen peas, which also need less cooking.

Ingredients – to make 1 ½ – 2 litres
The proportions can be pretty flexible, but if you’re using an iceburg lettuce, it’s probably a good idea to be more generous with the peas and mint, ‘cos they can be a bit bitter.
If you are using homegrown peas, then after you’ve shucked them, boil the pods in the water for about 10 minutes for more flavour in your stock. Strain and use.

1 onion, or 3 – 4 spring onions, finely chopped.
2 generous handfuls of frozen peas/petit pois – or homegrown, as young as possible.
Lettuce, finely shredded – (2 little gem, or ½ an iceberg, or 1 cos or equivalent amount)
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1.5 litres water
Pinch of salt or to taste
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh mint tips

Over a low heat, sweat the onion with the salt and oil, until softened. Add the lettuce and wilt for a minute or two, add water, bring to the boil and add the peas. Cook until tender, but still bright green. Turn off the heat, add mint leaves, and whiz or put through a mouli. Taste for seasoning and serve.


Tuppence ha’penny Tomato soup

I want to create a new name for this month – I’m torn between Jucember and Juvember… 😉

This recipe is cheap but cheery, to make you feel summery even though you’re still wearing a cardigan.tuppenceha'pennytom

The best value, and best flavoured tomatoes on the market at the moment are little thin skinned cherry toms – there were about 100 in the bowl I bought for £1, and very toothsome they are too. The recipe below can be made even cheaper/more cheaply by leaving out the fresh tomatoes and just using (a little more) puree, but then you might want to add a pinch of dried oregano or mixed herbs – still tasty with a chunk of bread and a salad for a quick lunch, and better than a packet.

I made mine in the rice cooker, because I was running out of gas, but it should be cooked over a medium heat.

Ingredients – makes 2 large bowls or 3 small ones

2 tablespoons oil, preferably olive
2 heaped tablespoons tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
20 cherry tomatoes, washed or 3-4 normal tomatoes, deseeded and chopped.
1 level tablespoon plain flour
600ml water
½ teaspoon sugar, or to taste
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste


Mix the flour in a little water in a glass, then top up with the rest of the water, so it’s ready.
Over a medium heat, fry the puree in the oil for a couple of minutes, stirring until the oil turns red and the puree darkens. Add the garlic, stir until fragrant, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the skin begins to split on one or two tomatoes. Add the water and flour mix, bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens slightly and the flour taste has cooked out. Remove tomatoes and roughly mash/chop with scissors.(At this point, you could pass them through a sieve, but I like some texture) – and return them to the soup. If you want to blitz your tomatoes in a machine, do so with just a ladleful of the soup…you do get a deeper colour if you do it by hand.
Add salt, taste and adjust with sugar, if needed.

粥 glorious 粥 – rice porridge, Cantonese style

Having made so much pepperpot soup, I ate it for lunch and dinner Saturday, Sunday and Monday – but it was a bit full on to have for breakfast as well.
Sunday morning I made 粥 – zhōu – rice porridge – congee. It is one of my favorite ever breakfasts whatever you call it and it costs about 25p for a litre, including spring onion and ginger for the topping – bargain.
If you look on wikipedia, there’s names for it in 24 or so languages from all over Asia, and in Chinese cooking it is cooked in various styles, both sweet and savoury, (also sometimes with other grains, ground or whole, such as millet, corn etc) – lots of Chinese shops in the UK also sell a multi grain mix. Nearly everywhere, though, it is recommended for the elderly, the sick and young children, as well as for breakfast – it is generally great comfort food, with a sweet, fragrant yet clean taste. I know I always think of making it when I feel old, or ill….or childish 🙂
It’s also often served with a dim sum meal.
Different recipes use different types of rice, and for ages I thought this was down to which region or community the cook came from, but a few months ago, in a lazy moment, I counted how many porridge recipes were in my chinese cookbook from the Jilin Cookery School – a whopping 167, it turns out, and they use a variety of methods and rice types – I had been, for years, using half glutinous and half normal rice – which usually turned out just fine, but not always 😦 so I asked the lovely bloke who works at Hung’s on Wardour St (he’s in charge of the bbq meat and noodle section at the front, but he also does the porridge) and after a bit of confusion, ‘cos we were using different words for the same thing and my chinese is not perfect – he told me they use short grain ‘japonica’ rice – if you’re English, and you’re reading this – this is not short grain pudding rice – it’s everyday japanese rice or sushi rice. Don’t buy the tiny packs for making sushi in the supermarket either – it costs a bomb. In a Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Japanese store an unbranded bag should cost about £1.99 a kilo, and you only need 100g to make a litre.

Ingredients for 2 big bowls
100g/ 2 handfuls short grain rice
Approx 1 litre of water
5-6 fine julienne of fresh ginger
chopped spring onion
salt or something salty – to taste

anything else you fancy – coriander/mushrooms/greens/seasoned freeze dried tofu/chinese sausage/fried shallot/fish/ chilli bean paste – sky’s the limit.

you can adjust the level of water to make it thinner or thicker, but it should be at least 8 parts water to 1 part rice for the thickest kind, and then you’ll have to stir it constantly near the end so it doesn’t catch and burn. To make a thinner version use 12-14 parts water.

Wash the rice to get rid of excess starch dust, place in a heavy bottomed pan with water and bring to the boil – stir a couple of times to make sure no grains have stuck to the bottom, and turn down to the lowest simmer possible – the secret is cooking it slowly and gently, so that the starch comes out of the grains without breaking up – cook for an hour, hour and a half, stirring a few times near the end to make sure it doesn’t catch – make sure you only put the lid on the pan half way, because it will bubble up and mess up your stove even at such a low heat. Season with salt or bouillon powder or what you will, pour into your bowl, add ginger and spring onion and whatever you’re using and enjoy. Often for breakfast, the porridge is just seasoned, and pickles/fermented beancurd or whatever are served on the side, but you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen so you can do what you want.

Poor Ting Pepperpot

So, when I first met Mr.Benz (I will stop talking about him soon, but it’s just that this next recipe is both Jamaican and vegan), if he came to visit when I was cooking something vegetarian, he’d say things like ‘poor ting’ and give me a charitable look and be very solicitous, offering to buy me a beer or lend me a fiver – clearly, this was back in the day, when he was still working hard to impress me – but he just couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp the fact that a person can choose to eat vegetables out of choice not poverty – whatever – I don’t mean to sound like a hypocrite…I do appreciate that if you grew up as the youngest child of 6 in a working class single parent family where money obviously didn’t rain down like manna from heaven, as an adult meat or fish could easily become a lifetime fixation – I got brought up in an adopted family as an only child and they were so class obsessed that they thought  ‘one should eat meat three times a day, if one was anyone’, even though there was often not enough cash around for bills, school uniform, rent etc…and I blatantly ‘fess up to still liking and consuming dead flesh myself, albeit just once a week/occasionally  – but I love my veg, love love love my veg.

Like I said….whatever……… 🙂

 All the same, I’d love to see his face if he knew I was making this pepperpot with weeds.

 Poor poor ting…

…which is where this version got its name 😉

 Anyway, recipe time.

 So, a few things first – 1, pepperpot soup has many, many varieties, evolutions and re-inventions from Nigeria and West Africa, through the Caribbean and parts of South America up to Philadelphia – I was quite surprised about the Phili link, but when you think about it, it maps human footprints across the horrid history of the slave trade 😦 – my recipe, which I first learnt from a book by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, r.i.p. is a Jamaican version, although it’s so long since I owned her book, I may have corrupted it – she is/was generally regarded by other food writers as an excellent recipe writer, so any ‘uck fups’ below are all my own <:-0 – that said, my version is nice enough for me to have been cooking it for the past 15 years or more.

2, Callaloo, in most of the Caribbean, refers to the leaf of dasheen or taro (largest of the edible Colocasia family) but in Jamaica it means green leaf amaranth – which is what I’m substituting dead nettle leaves for – you can buy/grow green amaranth in the UK, but not this early in the year unless it’s imported, and then it’s expensive… otherwise, and in other parts of the world, you could substitute spinach, collard greens or whatever your local version is.

3, it’s called ‘soup’, but really it’s a one pot dinner with a lot of sauce and attitude – robust only begins to describe it.


Loads of other recipes you’ll find in books and blogs say it can be made with flesh, fish or fowl as a foundation, but the signature flavours come from the marriage of thyme, coconut, callaloo and scotch bonnet chilli and if you have a reasonable enough variety of nice vegetables, I challenge any carnivore living to complain.


Ingredients for 4, 40 minutes – this time round I made a massive pot (4 litres, enough for a small army), but if you have equal amounts of your chosen leaf to each of all the starch/major veg, and 1 part thick coconut milk to 5 parts water, then you can scale it up or down without going too far wrong – adjusting onion/thyme/chilli/seasoning notwithstanding.


So, for 4

For ‘Spinner’ dumplings – completely optional

1 part water to 2 parts plain flour, pinch of salt – and some ppl add half a pinch of sugar – mix into a dough and set aside. A teacup’s worth of water and 2 of flour would be more than adequate for 4 ppl.

For the soup

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 onions, chopped

Garlic (optional)

2 scallion/fat spring onion (optional)

500g tops of white dead nettles/ amaranth- callaloo/ greens of choice, washed, picked over and hand shredded or roughly chopped – if your green of choice is stinging nettles, then wash and wilt or blanch them separately first, to get rid of the sting bit

1 Scotch Bonnet chilli or to taste

3-4 decent sized sprigs of fresh thyme

1 can thick coconut milk or 4 cm x 4 cm block of creamed coconut or equivalent.

Any or all of the followingchoose at least 3-4 starch veg and 2 pumpkin/other vegetables for texture and interest

2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large (3 cm x 3cm ish) chunks

2 eddoes, peeled and quartered (optional)

2 green bananas, washed, ends trimmed, a knife run down the skin so it splits open when it cooks and chopped into 4-5 cm lengths (optional)

500g yellow or white yam, cubed like the potato (optional)

Tan skin, orange flesh sweet potato, ditto

Purple skin, white flesh sweet potato, ditto – n.b. when you peel this it needs to go straight into acid water, ‘cos it will discolour really quickly.

1 cho cho/chayote, ditto peeled and seed removed,

,500g West Indian pumpkin or Kaboucha or Butternut squash, – any dense fleshed kind will do, ditto, peeled and seeds removed

Per person, 4-5 whole small okra or fresh green string beans if you can’t find okra.

Salt to taste

2 ½ -3 litres of water or enough to cover the vegetables comfortably..


I used potato, eddoes, banana, sweet potato – both kinds, butternut and okra for mine.



In a large pan, sweat onions, garlic, scallions for a couple of minutes, add greens and a pinch of salt and wilt, add chilli – I bunged in a whole one, uncut, but it’s a matter of taste/tolerance – and thyme as whole sprigs. Add coconut milk/cream and water. Add potato and bring to the boil, then reduce to an active simmer – after 10 mins, add the rest of the vegetables, return to a simmer and cook for a further 10 mins, then, pinching off a small amount of dough, roll between the palms of your hands to make a small oblong about the size of the okra to form a flour dumpling – do this until the dough mixture is used up – plop them in the soup as you go. Cook for a further 15 minutes – and it’s done. Check that the veg are tender with a knife – the potato will usually take the longest if you cut everything the same size. Check for seasoning. Remove thyme twigs – the leaves will have fallen off into the soup. Remove whole chilli – if you like things hot, then remove stem from chilli and return it to the soup, mashing it against the side of the pan with a spoon. If you have used beans instead of okra, they will need less cooking so maybe add them 5 minutes before the end.

 I generally use coconut cream which you can buy in a block – TRS or Dunns River – there’s lots of brands, because it keeps for ages without going off– coconut milk from a can goes off in a few days if you don’t use it all up, which is a pain for a single person 😦 – the way to check if it’s thick or thin when you buy it is to shake the can – if you can hear liquid moving, it’s probably thin, although it depends on how warm it is/the weather. In the UK, Vitasoy brand from lidl is thick, Island Sun, widely available is medium to thin, again there are loads of brands. You can also buy coconut milk powder – but read the ingredients list, because some brands have starch and sugar in them – the best brand I know is Santan, from Malaysia, often found in Chinese or Vietnamese stores.

old, cold, french fry soup

Obviously, I am not suggesting anybody goes and buys french fries to try this recipe, but if you ever find you have been entrusted with the care of an abandoned box of french fried waifs and strays with rigor mortis setting in, don’t call social services, don’t arrange a funeral 🙂 MAKE THIS SOUP! Even day old fries work fine.

2 parts water to 1 part old french fries, a clove of garlic chopped. Place in saucepan, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer until all hard leathery bits have gone completely soft – usually about 10 minutes. Blitz. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
Eh, voilà, before your very eyes will appear a velvety soup of honeyed gold – maybe it should be called cinderella soup – it is more properly a ‘Purée Parmentier’ – undoubtedly it’s the high oil content in the original fries that makes it taste so silky and delicious.

Mr Benz used to do this to me so often -ie, come home with uneaten/unwanted fries (like a bloody cat bringing you dead mice), that I had to come up with variations……
Nasturtium leaves added 3-4 minutes before the end – like watercress soup
A sprig of thyme, rosemary, sage or marjoram added at the beginning and removed before blitzing.
A few leaves of basil added just before blitzing.
A 1/4 of a porcini stock cube added to the cooking water, and a dribble of truffle oil added upon serving – a particular fav.
A dribble of olive oil you’ve fried with paprika and garlic, upon serving.

On this occasion, I added some of the wild garlic leaves about 2 minutes before the end of cooking.

Baked Bean Soup

I don’t actually like british baked beans very much – they’re too sweet and bland – unless they get a serious make over. My ex’s blindingly good Jamaican style baked beans for a fry up (a recipe for another day) and this soup are the two recipes I use a lot…and you can use the cheapest beans going.

Ingredients makes two bowls (800 ml-1 l), 15-20 minutes

2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 slices of fresh red chilli – optional
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or a quarter of a can, if you don’t have fresh)
1 can cheapest baked beans going
1-1 1/2 cans water
Salt to taste
2 sprigs sweet marjoram (other herbs are available 😉 )

To serve – dribble of olive oil (optional/only if you’ve got some)


In a pan big enough for the finished soup, soften the onion over a low to medium heat for 2-3 minutes, add garlic, and chilli if you’re using it, cook for a further minute, then the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes soften and begin to release their juices. Add beans, bring up to heat, add a canful/ canful and a half of water. Add majoram leaves. Bring up to heat again and simmer for 5 minutes and then blitz. Taste for salt.

If you haven’t got a machine to blitz with, mash the bean mix before you add the water, then pass through a sieve with the back of a wooden spoon at the end…
I particularly like sweet marjoram and I’ve got some in my garden – fresh thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano would also work or dried oregano, herbes de Provence…you get the idea!
If you serve this to guests, I suggest you call it haricot bean soup – somehow makes it sound more grown up.

This was lunch last Wednesday week.

Soup for a springcleaning day

A cheer-you-up-in-winter/nice-bright-spring-day-but-still-a-bit-nippy-outside soup

The first time I made this soup, I’d bought a reduced price 700g bag of winter casserole veg mix- which is sometimes called winter soup veg mix- and when I’d made it, it was nice but a bit bland, so I mixed in (reduced price!) bearnaise sauce, and the tarragon really did the trick….all supermarket veg is vastly overpriced, and it’s much cheaper to buy it on the market – so, now the recipe is vegan and it has evolved thus………

To make roughly 2 litres of finished soup

About 700g (pound and a half) of swede, carrot, leek and onion, in equal quantities – this translates as 1/2 a swede, 2 or 3 medium carrots, 1 leek, and 1 large onion or 2 small ones.

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 level teaspoon dried tarragon

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1.5 litres (generous 2 1/2 pints) water

salt to taste

Method -takes about 20-25 minutes to cook

Peel and chop the root veg into smallish cubes, slice and chop onion and leek finely – if your leek has a lot of dark green leafage, chop this off whole and either save it for veg stock or boil it whole in the soup for flavour and remove it before you blitz the soup, so your finished soup stays a bright and cheery apricot colour – the green will make it look too muddy.

In a small cup, immerse the dried tarragon in the lemon juice and set aside.

In a pan big enough for the finished soup, put all the chopped veg and the oil and stir to coat – set over a low to medium heat to sweat until the veg begins to soften – you can put a lid on to speed this up, but do check it and stir every couple of minutes, because you don’t want anything to go brown…this should take between 5 and 10 mins, depending on the size of your pan.

Add water and leek tops, if you’re using them, and a generous(thumb and two fingers) pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil, and then turn down and simmer for 15 -20 minutes – when you can squish a piece of carrot or swede easily against the side of the pan, it is done.

Remove leek tops if you’ve used them, add lemon and tarragon and blitz. If you haven’t got one of those handheld soup whizzers, I recommend you pour most of the liquid off into another clean pan before you either put it in a liquidiser or mash it by hand, then add it all back together.
Check for salt, and adjust to your taste – serve with fresh bread, or if you’ve only got horrid white sliced, then toast. If your lemon was unwaxed, toast can be zipped up a notch by rubbing first with the lemon skin, and then with a clove of garlic.

If you want to add cream (I don’t think it needs it, but..) or you too have a jar of bearnaise you can’t think what to do with, add it at the end and don’t let it boil when you bring it back up to heat, because it will curdle. Using bearnaise would mean that you leave out the lemon and tarragon. 😉

If you want to make more or less, it’s about 500g/1lb veg for every 1 litre/2 pints water you use, and adjust your lemon tarragon accordingly.

If only spring cleaning was so easy….