For reasons I’m not entirely certain of because, in hospital, my consultant was obsessed with the “fact” that I had colon cancer – I didn’t, as it turned out – to the exclusion of almost every other aspect of my condition, I’m supposed to have a high-protein diet. And, because my diuretics cause me to pee for Britain, I need high calcium, too (a lot is lost in urine).
As I’m a veggie – mostly – that means, for the calcium, a dependence on dairy foods, and that gives me a problem. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved cheese. Apparently I wouldn’t eat meat and got most of my protein from cheese – left alone I’d have probably been a natural vegetarian, but this was the 1940s, deep in the post-war slums of Manchester, and I doubt anyone had heard of vegetarians, despite the fact that the movement had gained its first formal existence in nearby Salford.
Anyway, despite my life-long love affair with cheese, I seem, of late, to have developed an aversion to it. This is partly because two of my favourite cheeses, Parlick Fell Sheeps’ Cheese, and St. Helen’s Farm Goats’ Cheese, have fallen to Sainsbury’s predators and, as usually happens in these cases, quality has suffered (time was that St. Helen’s, kept unopened for a month or so beyond its BBE date, would mature wonderfully; now it just goes mouldy).
I also like the more seriously mature offerings from McLelland’s, but these are hard to find since being re-branded as “Seriously Strong”. No idea what they were thinking. I assumed it had gone off the market, as searching Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s websites came up blank – it was only today I discovered the name change. Of course, for those shopping in person the distinctive pack remains, but the quickest way to find anything when shopping online is to run a search and McLelland, as I said, come up blank.
So, anyway, I wanted to move away from a dependence on cheese, though most days I have a tub of Longley farm cottage cheese for lunch (excellent stuff, but I can get it only at Sainsbury’s or Asda, and I mostly shop at Tesco**). I – you’ve probably noticed – make a lot of vegetarian soup, as the combination of beans in the soup and the accompanying bread (yep, I know you don’t have to eat pulses and grains at the same time, but who doesn’t have bread with soup?), gives me a solid protein hit. Then I spotted that pulses are also high in calcium, and looked at a way of increasing the pulse content of my soups without it being bean overkill.
**Tesco is the only one to allow customers to select their substitutes, and I wish others would follow suit as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy what I want from Tesco and I’m seriously considering switching permanently to Sainsbury’s.
But I digress – as usual! This week I was going to make a soup with organic red lentils when I had a thought – why not incorporate the lentils into my usual soup? So I did.
This is my soup for this week. It differs slightly from my usual, partly because I have a surplus of chickpeas and partly because it was, initially, going to be curried lentil soup.
So, this is what you’ll need (makes 3 litres – scale down if using a smaller pot):-
3 or 4 Echalion shallots, depending on size (mine were absurdly small so I used 8), finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped (You can, of course, use all shallots or all onions, should you wish, but the shallots are stronger)
5 Sweet Spear carrots, peeled and sliced (these seem to be seasonal again this year – last year I bought them year-round but now they’ve gone)
½ a small to medium swede, peeled and diced
2 Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes
2 tablespoons Schwartz Mild Curry Powder
1 tablespoon tomato purée
A knob of butter, preferably clarified (or ordinary butter and a little olive oil)
1 teaspoon Schwartz Garlic Granules
1 tablespoon Schwartz Coriander leaf at the start
Another when adjusting the seasoning at the end, just to perk it up
If you feel it needs more curry powder, stir some in at this point, too but be aware it’ll not have its full effect until the next day
Maldon Sea Salt and black pepper to taste
Low Salt Marigold Bouillon Powder, to taste
2 cans Napolina Chickpeas, rinsed and drained
I have a technique for red lentils, which can have a gritty texture when cooked. This gives them a really smooth, silky, texture. I’ve written about it before, but this is how it goes. NOTE: Do not add salt or a stock cube – just plain water.
Melt a generous knob of clarified butter (or ordinary butter and a little olive oil), in a pan and stir in the lentils (the lentils I currently use are much cleaner than those I get from Sainsbury’s – don’t really need washing). Stir until all are coated, then sweat gently over a medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Some lentils change to a much paler colour during this process, and some don’t. It really doesn’t matter.
Then pour in enough boiling water to cover, adding more as you go – the lentils will expand greatly and absorb a lot of water – put on a lid and simmer, keeping an eye on the water, until they start to disintegrate, then beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and silky. At this point the previously orange lentils will be butter-yellow. This is normal.
I rather overdid the butter, but it seems not to matter at all. Probably better too much than too little as it’s important that all the lentils get their share.
Melt the butter or butter/oil and gently sweat off the onions and shallots until soft but not coloured. Stir in the curry powder, adding a little more butter if it’s too dry, and cook off for a few minutes, then add the carrot and swede. Add enough boiling water to cover, plus everything else down to and including the first tablespoon of coriander leaf. Stir very well, bring back to the boil, cover and simmer until the veg is soft.
During that time you can cook the lentils as described above.
Once the veg is soft, stir in the cooked lentils, in batches, ensuring that each is thoroughly mixed before adding the next. If you followed my instructions all the lentils will go in and still leave room for the chickpeas and more water.
Add the chickpeas, top up with boiling water to within an inch of the top – don’t overfill or stirring it will get messy – and return to the low heat to allow them, and the lentils, to heat through. Stir occasionally. The soup won’t be very thick, so it shouldn’t stick, but stir anyway.
Remove from the heat after 15-20 minutes, stir in the second spoon of coriander, and leave to cool.
Taste when it’s cool enough and adjust with the Marigold, plus salt and pepper, as needed.
Stir one last time and leave to go cold.
Refrigerate overnight – all soups and stews benefit from allowing the various flavours to rub up against, and get to know each other really well, in the dark.
I chose chickpeas for this as they stand up to stirring without breaking up, plus I think the taste goes well with lentils.
Next day, reheat gently, stirring frequently being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot, and serve with a hunk of good bread. I use this wooden spatula with a straight-edged tip, £2.50 from Sainsbury’s.
or a rice paddle – a wooden spoon is useless and, frankly, I don’t know how they’ve survived for so long. Anyone using one for serious stirring, like a jam maker, is likely to cut the end off to give a straight edge.
As I said yesterday, this is a really robust soup, and it’s also very nice. If you don’t like curry – I find it goes well with lentils – try two tablespoons of sweet paprika and one of ground coriander instead.
Not a great deal of prep, but the need for cooking the lentils separately gets it a third Spoonie spoon.
You could just toss in the lentils when the veg are about half cooked, but the texture would be nowhere near as good. And there’d be a lot more stirring to do.