Well, I spent my bank holiday weekend in four days of intense but enjoyable labour over at West Lexham in Norfolk – how far away is that place?? Sadly never quite made it to the coast, sad as I can’t think of any particular reason to go back there…although it was really pretty in a bucolic idyll kind of a way. But so is Dorset. Anyway, I did consistently enjoy being uplifted by the view up a very long straight farm track, stretching back from a 5-bar wooden gate between stone gateposts surmounted with stone spheres, seemingly always warmly reflecting the sunshine, stretching up to the horizon between dark scots pine and sunglow August fields.
Anyway, I spent the weekend cooking for eighteen people – all lovely people, doing an AdventureYogi yoga retreat, plus myself, our beatific yoga teacher Corinna and our delightful hostess Michelle. It was a really charming and affirming experience – I haven’t catered for a big group for years. I used to cook for permaculture courses, willow weaving courses etc at Ragman’s Lane farm in the mythical Forest of Dean every year but gave up when I went to study and work in fashion. I’d forgotten how enriching it is to give people a pleasing experience and be appreciated for something you love doing. Group dynamics can be so healing and full of willing energy – everyone willing to enjoy and make friends and create positivity.
As at Ragman’s I was asked a few times for recipes and, just like back then, I still have never gotten around to printing up a little recipe booklet or anything… always a pipe dream, a little hand drawn cookbook of my very own. Kind of where this digital cookzine came about, trying to make a stab at doing it without having to bother with printing or whatever… So, hopefully I will add some illustrations and things but for now, writing recipes and their little stories will at least commence!
Courgette, chilli and coriander.
This delicious soup has a rather lovely history… when I lived in Edinburgh with a couple of very good girlfriends, the kitchen was the centre of our home. We held huge free-for-all dinner parties every week and welcome all kinds of rag tag and bobtail beautiful characters in to stay, hippies, protesters, rainbow brothers and sisters, people known and unknown. It was quite a mad house sometimes. Two of us enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction of churning out food for people, we had a magic kettle for donations towards the cost of food and things. I think some of our neighbours hated us, while some of them found us fascinating. Gwen, legitimate house dweller no 3, was not a fan of cooking (funnily enough not of washing up either…) but to our great delight she decided to teach herself the art of soup making and this was her star recipe. It may have come from a compendium-of-soups, but I have no idea which one so I can only credit it to her!
12 small courgettes
2 medium onions
1 red chilli
4 cloves garlic
large handful fresh coriander leaves
1.5 litres of vegetable bouillon
several tablespoons olive oil
Gently fry chopped onion, garlic and chilli until translucent with a bit of salt and paper. Do not let to brown. Add chopped courgettes and continue to fry gently for about 15 mins. Add the hot stock and simmer for about another 15 mins or so. Liquidise. Chop up the fresh coriander, throw it in, give it another final whizz with the blender and serve.
*Chillis – use as hot as you like, perhaps deseed if they are particularly hot. If the end result is a little too pokey, add a slosh of soya milk. A good way to test chilli is to chew a little slice and if it really burns then its damned hot, but if its only mildly firey then it won’t do too much. Obviously, as we discovered in Norfolk, this is a pretty inexact science. Although I often muse on the idea of whether chillis have a cumulative heat effect or what exactly happens… I leave it up to you.
Czech Beetroot Soup
This is a really, really simple, delicious and wholesome recipe. I learnt it off a particularly entertaining housemate I had for a while in a complete mad house in the back end of Easton, Bristol.. an insalubrious little hole populated by Tesco warehouse packers (the house, not Easton in its entirety). Anyway, one of these poor unfortunate slaves to corporate horror was Jarda, a half czech/half Scottish giant – literally, he would open the kitchen cupboards and look straight into the top shelf (I had to employ a chair) and could rest his elbow comfortably on my shoulder. Well, this fascinating creature, when not listening to underground techno on the internet, would mainly cook vast one-pan-wonders full of all day breakfast (eek) but he did impart his family recipe for beetroot soup to me, to my eternal joy…
3 large fresh raw beetroot (never substitute with pickled or pre-cooked ones – these are such travesties)
2 large potatoes
3 cloves garlic
enough vegetable bouillon to just cover ingredients
enough unsweetened soya milk to make the soup up to volume (at your preferred consistency)
salt and pepper
Fry the chopped onions and garlic until translucent, in olive oil, with some salt and pepper. Add the root veg, chopped into small dice so that they cook reasonably quickly. There is no need to peel the beetroot – just wash well and top and tail to ensure no grit gets into the soup. Stir frequently and keep frying until all things are warmed through nicely. Add enough stock to just cover everything, then lid the pan and simmer until root veg are cooked through properly – about 10 mins. Tip in the soya milk and liquidise, add more depending on how thick you want the end result. Add more salt and pepper to bring out the taste if required.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
This is a winner – I grew up hating mushrooms, the texture and colour being far too close to garden slugs for them to pass my lips. Mind you, I wasn’t allowed to ‘not like’ many vegetables but these were a definitely a big no no. My mum, however, still managed to slide them in in the form of mushroom soup and this is her recipe, albeit converted to vegan (if you want her more traditional version fry in butter and use wholemilk). I have wonderful memories that I think of every time I make this soup. My dad would come home in the winter dark after shooting ducks (for dinner rather than for the sheer fun of it) and I would run and hug his cold clothes, the cold smells of outside and musty oilcloth and the little billows of frosty winter air escaping from his pockets, filling my nose. And sometimes he’d swing down a big grain sac on the kitchen floor, triumphantly happy, and mummy would look by turns charmed and horrified by the fact that the sack was chock full of big field or horse mushrooms he’d picked and that she’d have to deal with. And that night we’d eat lots of mushroom soup. mmmm.
Lots of mushrooms – perhaps 500g – 750g? I have no idea how much they weigh actually! – of an ordinary variety, but fresh
2 med – large onions
4 cloves garlic
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
pinch of mixed herbs
up to a carton of unsweetened soya milk
Fry the onions and garlic gently in olive oil for a couple of minutes and then add the mushrooms and continue frying. They will reduce down hugely so don’t stint on the mushrooms! They will also leach out a lot of juices so will probably start to simmer more than fry. Add the herbs, salt and pepper when they are about halfway cooked and stir in. When all the mushrooms and onions are soft, remove from the heat and pour in the soya milk. It may curdle a little at the heat and vegetable juices but just ignore it. Liquidise and taste – if its lacking bite add more pepper or if lacking substance, perhaps chuck in a teaspoon of bouillon powder and mix again. Serve with crusty bread. I guarantee all people who dislike mushrooms will like this soup. Michelle does.