Soup, heart-warming comfort food

Nothing beats a bowl of soup when you are craving real nourishment and some heart-warming comfort food. It can be as simple as a potato and onion soup, or a mixture of seasonal vegetables, or a more complex and aromatic broth enriched with chicken or seafood . …
Add some cumin or coriander to a carrot soup and one is transported to Moroccco, mint or tarragon is more reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Some coconut milk or a blob of curry paste will liven up a basic soup and introduce flavours of Thailand or Malaysia.
The addition of spices can introduce the flavours of the East or far East, the Mediterranean, or Morocco depending on your choice of herbs and spices.

Many of the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on a basic formula that Myrtle Allen devised in the 1970’s when she was perfecting recipes for the first edition of the Ballymaloe Cookboook.

1 cup of chopped onion
1 cup of chopped potato
3 cups of any vegetable of your choice, chopped.
5 cups liquid, generally stock, but occasionally water and sometimes a little creamy milk.

With this formula one can make a myriad of delicious soups, the onion and potatoes are sweated in butter or a mixture of butter and olive oil, this forms the flavour base and the potato also serves to thicken the soup.
One vegetable may be used, eg parsnip or spinach or a mixture of vegetables, eg pea, bean and zucchini.
Apart from the basic seasoning of salt and freshly ground pepper, one can add fresh herbs eg rosemary, or spices or even curry powder.
These basic soups are usually pureed – a liquidiser seems to give the smoothest result but a hand held blender is also a terrifically useful gadget to have in your cupboard. Stand it upright in the pot of soup, press the button and the little blades puree as they whizz around at speed. The texture is not as smooth as a blender but many prefer the slightly more rustic texture.
If you are using a green vegetable for soup, eg cabbage, kale, spinach, lettuce or watercress, add it close to the end of cooking and don’t cover the saucepan, otherwise the fresh green colour will be spoiled.
Its also fun to add lots of bits to a soup, either as a garnish or just before you tuck in. Potato crisps and sizzling garlic butter are a delicious addition to a simple potato soup, crispy onions or spicy French fried onions add excitement to a creamy onion soup, whereas Gruyere toasts are the classic accompaniment to French onion soup.
Diced avocado, tortilla crisps, shredded chicken breast and lots of fresh coriander add a Mexican note to a spicy chicken broth.
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil is just a perfect foil for a bean or lentil soup. 
Basil or parsley or coriander pesto also add extra oomph to some chunky vegetable soups or even a simple potato soup.
Chilli also hits the spot as does harissa oil, crisp croutons add texture and crunch as does crispy bacon, pancetta or chorizo sausage. The latter release lots of paprika flavoured oil to drizzle over a soup and don’t forget just simple freshly chopped herbs, even parsley, add a fresh note to many soups.
I have included five totally different soups here just to whet your appetite. 

Bacon and Cabbage Soup

Serves 6
55g (2 oz) butter
140g (5 oz) peeled and chopped potatoes, one third inch dice
100g (4 oz) peeled diced onions, one third inch dice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1L(2 pints) light chicken stock or vegetable stock
255g (9oz) chopped Savoy cabbage leaves (stalks removed)
50-100ml (2-4 fl oz) cream or creamy milk
225g (½ lb) boiled streaky bacon
2 tablesp. chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, and turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil until the potatoes are soft, then add the cabbage and cook with the lid off until the cabbage is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Add the creamy milk. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender, taste and adjust seasoning. 
Just before serving cut the bacon into lardons. Toss quickly in a very little oil in a pan to heat through and get a little crispy. Add to the soup. Sprinkle with some parsley.
Useful tip: If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.

Variation

Cabbage and Caraway Soup

Add 1 –2 teaspoons of freshly crushed caraway to the potato and onion base.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

Serves 6 approx.
A little freshly toasted and ground coriander adds a Moroccan flavour to carrot soup.

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
45g (12oz) butter
110g (4oz) onion, chopped
140g (5oz) potatoes, chopped
560g (13lb) carrots, preferably organic, chopped
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1.1l (2 pints) Home-made Chicken or Vegetable Stock
150ml (¼ pint) creamy milk, (optional)
Garnish
A little whipped cream or yogurt
Freshly ground cumin
Coriander leaves

Heat the coriander seed on a frying pan, just for a minute or two until it smells rich and spicy. Grind in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, when it foams add the chopped vegetables and coriander seed. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and toss until coated. Cover with a butter paper and a tight fitting lid. Allow to sweat gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Remove the lid. Add the stock, increase the heat and boil until the vegetables are soft. Pour into a liquidiser add and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a little creamy milk if necessary.
Garnish with a blob of whipped cream, sprinkle with a little ground coriander and coriander leaf.
Note: If you would like a more pronounced coriander flavour, increase the amount of coriander seeds to three teaspoons.

Carrot and Cumin Soup

Substitute cumin for coriander in the recipe above.

Aztec Soup

Serves 6
1 tablespoon oil
1 chopped onion
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
900ml (2 pints) home-made chicken stock
3-4 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 free-range organic chicken breast (get at Dan Aherne’s stall in Midleton Market)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 avocado
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 chillis, roasted, peeled and torn into strips
3 cup chopped coriander leaves, 

Garnish: fresh coriander leaves
Strips of corn tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a stainless steel pan, sweat the onion until soft. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another one or two minutes. Add the chicken stock and Tabasco and simmer for five minutes. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken if necessary. Cut it into 3 inch strips. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. * Add the chicken to the simmering broth and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes until white all the way through. Add the avocado and tomato dice, half the coriander and the strips of diced roasted chillies. Do not overcook or the avocado will dissolve. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and strips of corn tortilla chips.
To roast the chillies.
Put them either over an open flame or under a grill broiler until quite black and bubbly. Put in a bowl and cover with cling film for five minutes. Peel off the black skins with your fingers. Pull into little strips for garnish.
*can be prepared ahead to this point

White Turnip and Marjoram Soup

Serves 6
I adore white turnips and am always trying to encourage people to eat more of this under-valued vegetable.
White Turnip and marjoram is a wonderful flavour combination. Kohl rabi could also be used here.

55g (2oz) butter
140g (5oz) potatoes, chopped
110g (4oz) onions, diced
340g (12 oz) white turnips, peeled and diced
1L (1: pints) homemade chicken stock 
2 tablespoons chopped annual marjoram
stock and 150ml (3 pint) creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes, onions and white turnips. Turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and 1 tablespoon of marjoram. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Add the remainder of the marjoram. Liquidise, until smooth and silky. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh flavour. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Back to Top
Thai Chicken Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Soup
Serves 6-8

8 fl.ozs (800ml/3½ cups) coconut milk
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 x 4 cm/1½ inch) piece of ginger, peeled and sliced finely
20 fl.ozs (550ml/2½ cups) coconut milk (or more if necessary) We use Chaokah brand.
28 fl.ozs (800ml/3½ cups) home-made chicken stock
6 kaffir lime leaves
300g (11oz) pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed and cut in small cubes
2 x chicken breasts- (approx. 400g /14oz) (free-range and organic), sliced finely
2 tablesp. lime juice (or more to taste)
2 tablesp. fish sauce, (Nam pla) or to taste 
2 teasp. palm sugar or brown sugar

To serve:

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle
fresh coriander leaves
1 large red chilli, seeds removed and sliced finely (optional)


Pour 8 fl.ozs (250ml) of the coconut milk off the top of the can, into a medium-sized saucepan, and simmer over medium to high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the ginger, remaining coconut milk, stock, lime leaves and pumpkin and simmer over medium heat until the pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thinly sliced chicken breast to the soup and poach for approximately 2-3 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Taste and correct seasoning.

To serve: Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the spring onion, coriander leaves and sliced red chillies.

Foolproof food

Potato and Sweetcorn Chowder

A satisfying and filling soup made in a short time. This could be a supper dish if eaten with a few scones and followed by a salad.
Serves: 4-6

2-3 medium potatoes, parboiled for 10 minutes, drained, peeled and finely chopped
450g (1 lb) sweetcorn kernels
30g (1 oz) butter
170g (6 oz) approx. onion, finely chopped
300ml (10 fl oz) home-made chicken stock
300ml (10 fl oz) milk
salt and freshly ground pepper
250ml (8 fl oz) light cream or creamy milk
Garnish
roasted red pepper dice or crispy bacon dice
sprigs of flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and potato and sweat until soft but not coloured. Gradually add in the stock and milk, stirring all the time, and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, add the corn, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and cook gently for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Add the cream and heat through gently without boiling.
Serve in hot bowls with a little dice of roasted red pepper or crispy bacon and parsley on top.
Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it out with a little chicken or vegetable stock.
Back to Top
Hot Tips

Shaken not Stirred – the Ultimate Cocktail Course with Desmond Payne at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday 6th December 9.30-2pm -
Learn how to make an exciting repertoire of cocktails including some really cracking ones for Christmas and New Year celebrations. Tel. 021-4646785. 
www.cookingisfun.ie  

More honey news – Our local honey producer Michael Woulfe has just come back from the International Honey Show in London having come second in the Honey World Cup Class. The first place went to another Irish beekeeper, James Power from Carrick on Suir – there were entrants from all over the world. Michael also got a couple of thirds and a highly commended The Irish contingent scooped about 40 prizes in all in this prestigious show – so well done to all concerned.

The National Farmhouse Cheese Competition recently took place at Listowel Food Fair - Tom and Lena Biggane’s Clonmore Goats’ Cheese from Charleville was a Gold Medal Winner in the Hard Goats and Sheeps Cheese category. Tel 063-70490.


Denny Breakfast Awards - here are the recently announced winners
Dublin - Pat Halpin Aberdeen Lodge, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 Leinster - Kevin and Catherine Dundon, Dunbrody House, Arthurstown, Co Wexford Munster - John Sheedy, Sheedy's Hotel, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare Connaught - Stella Maris Hotel, Ballycastle, Co Mayo Ulster - Olive Nicholson, Ravenhill Guesthouse, Belfast National Winner: Dunbrody House, Co Wexford