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A Recipe Fable with Relevance:
The story of stone soup is well known, perhaps because of its intrinsic charm. In regional variations an old man/woman/priest or beggar claims to be able to make fantastic soup with just pebbles and water.
‘But of course, it’s much improved if you add a few ham bones’
So the neighbours rally round to find bones to add
‘A few onions make all the difference…sadly I don’t have any to hand’
‘Just the odd potato will make this soup perfect’
And so on, until it is obvious to the reader that the soup is a rich recipe of left-overs and oddments, which everyone eats and declares to be miraculously tasty for ‘just a few stones’
Now, I think those of us who cooks indulge in our own ‘stone soups’ quite regularly. My most recent attempt was the result of some leftovers from my Abel and Cole box. I had a handful of carrots, a few shallots and a lot of chicken stock. I also had a tablespoon or so of dried red lentils, a slightly decaying red chilli and some left over tomato jam. And a lot of fresh coriander that was just starting to wilt.
So…this stone soup was a red lentil, carrot and coriander soup.
2 or 3 banana shallots peeled and diced finely
4 or 5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into even chunks
1 tablespoon of dried red lentils
750 ml or so of chicken stock
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, ground finely in a pestle and mortar
Salt and pepper to taste
A little oil
Fresh coriander to serve
Soften the shallots in a large pan with the oil, stirring constantly till they start to go translucent. Now add the carrots and caramelise everything a little so the edges of the carrots and shallots start to go golden brown.
Add the ground coriander and warm through.
Pour in the chicken stock and then add the red lentils.
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 -45 minutes until the lentils and carrots are well cooked.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Blitz with a stick blender till smooth
Serve with a dollop of crème fraiche and some finely chopped fresh coriander.
Simple but delicious…and lasted me for four lunches!
The point of this post though is really not the recipe itself, just a message that home-made soup is easy and forgiving. Start with a good stock, either home-made or using a quality ready-made. Include something starchy if you want a thick soup – lentils, pearl barley or potatoes. And match your flavours exactly as you would when making a side dish for the Sunday roast. If you would happily eat courgettes and piccalilli together, well they will probably make a half decent soup. If not, stick to matched flavours you do know work. Taste as you go along and adjust the seasoning with care. Remember you can balance flavours if you do make a mistake. I’ve been known to add a finely diced potato or half a pint of milk to ‘soften’ a soup that I think is too sharp.
And then sit back and enjoy your stone soup, knowing that you’ve used up a whole lot of food that would otherwise have just rotted in your vegetable box.