Like a lot of people in UK at the moment with the cold weather storming in in a flurry of sharp winds and lots of rain, I have a cold. Now I’m not expecting sympathy – it’s really not that bad – but the point is that ‘nursing’ my cold is what led to me making this soup for lunch today. It’s the kind of simple vegetable soup I learned to make as a schoolgirl, now rather refined from those far back days of experimentation but still basically the same. It contains simple vegetables always on hand: carrots, potatoes, celery and onion.
I added in some garlic and chilli flakes too as these are not only wonderful flavourings but packed full of health-giving things: garlic is antibacterial, antiviral and a decongestant; and I always crave chilli when I have a cold, which makes sense as in Chinese Medicine chillis aid spleen energy. Then, of course, chicken stock adds depth and goodness. And what could be better than your own homemade chicken stock? Answer: your son’s – an excellent cook – homemade chicken stock that he kindly brought round in little containers for my freezer last week, ready for making soups or risotto.
I cut the vegetables into small bite-sized pieces as I wanted them mostly left whole in the soup. I chopped 1 medium onion, 2 medium-large carrots, 1 stick of celery, 2 small peeled potatoes and 1 small clove of garlic. I melted about a tablespoon butter with same amount of olive oil in a saucepan then added the onion, garlic and about 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes.
I gently cooked these until the onion was beginning to go transparent but not brown. Then I added the other chopped vegetables and continued to cook gently till softening. This gentle cooking before adding liquid deepens the flavour of the soup. Meanwhile, I was defrosting the tub of chicken stock (500ml) ready to add to the pan. I was immediately reminded of the Jewish Chicken Soup that is credited with many health-giving properties. The Food Doctor, Ian Marber, in his Healing Foods for Mind and Body says chicken is a mild antibiotic and helps break down mucus so it makes sense it’s good for a cold. I remember when I first moved to my current home six years ago and my son was living here and had flu and was too ill to move from his bed, his friend Rob raided some genuine Jewish chicken soup from his mother’s freezer (though I think with Miriam’s consent!) and brought it round to Jonathan. It was absolutely delicious (I managed to sneak the tiniest taste) and such a kind gesture and really – assuming you’re not a vegetarian! – can anything be better to help restore health? I didn’t have any chicken to add to my soup but there were still going to be plenty of good things in it, and the stock was rich and full of wonderful flavour.
Next up I skinned, deseeded and chopped a large tomato that was lurking, somewhat sadly, in my fridge and needed using up. I chopped a large handful of fresh herbs – there’s little left in the garden but I found some thyme and had parsley and basil in the kitchen. Once the vegetables in the pan were tender – but still retaining their shape – I added the hot stock, tomato and herbs and let it all gently bubble together for just a couple of minutes. I tasted to check seasoning – I didn’t want to add salt until the end as the stock was seasoned. Then I blended it very briefly with my hand blender – just enough to thicken slightly but so at least half the vegetables were still whole. I think there’s something more heartening and soothing in a thicker soup.
Now it was all ready to eat. I’d ventured out briefly to buy fresh bread from the Twickenham Farmers’ Market where there’s an Exeter Street Bakery stall that sells fabulous ‘Integrale’ bread. (They also sell fabulous fresh panettone but I managed to resist those.) With a couple of thick slices of this wonderful bread, some good French butter and a large bowl of my gorgeous but simple vegetable soup, I had a very soothing and warming lunch that will hopefully set me on the road to recovery … though you really don’t need a cold to enjoy it! … and there’s plenty left over for tomorrow’s lunch too.