Getting ample protein in a veggie diet isn’t hard – just a matter of ensuring that your diet includes both grains and pulses, the amino acid content of which complement each other (details in this post).
For me, though, that’s a not a great idea, as carbs, in both grains and pulses, don’t just make me drowsy, they render me unconscious (a doctor who knows why would be extremely useful), but, right now, I need to bump up my food’s protein content as my right leg has started leaking again. Actually, what it’s currently leaking is blood, copiously, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before my protein-heavy and corrosive lymphatic fluid makes another bid for freedom. If I then have a repeat of last year, I’ll be making a bid for oblivion – I won’t go through that again.
Obviously, then, I needed an ingredient that would add protein more than carbs and, preferably, not too many kcals either (my steroids can cause weight gain at about a kilo a day!). The answer appeared to be fish.
I have a basic soup recipe – veggies and pulses – which I tweak with spices and fruit (dried cherries, both sour and sweet, dates, and black olives), and sometimes passata, as the mood takes me but, essentially, it’s a soup of root vegetables and pulses, and very good it is, too, in any of its forms.
I also have a Spanish-inspired recipe for a stew of hake and giant butter beans in a tomato sauce – it was easy enough to combine the best elements of both recipes while trading the fresh cherry tomatoes for passata to reduce the work needed. And no, it doesn’t taste overwhelmingly fishy. The fish tastes fishy, naturally, but the other ingredients taste of themselves, as they should, even in a soup.
Hake is hard to come by, and good-quality hake harder still – because we ship the good stuff off to Spain and we’re left, as I’ve mentioned previously (see the link in the last para), with the crap. So I used pollack (Pollock was an artist!), as that’s what I had in the freezer, from Asda, skinned and boned, and not bad quality. This is 23% protein and 1kcal per gram, which seems a pretty good ratio, so this is what I did with it.
3 large Echalion shallots, finely chopped
3 cooking onions, ditto (or use half a dozen small-to-medium onions, I just like the combo of shallots and onions)
3 medium carrots, quartered lengthways and sliced
Diced swede, roughly the same amount
2 tablespoons tomato purée
3 Kallo organic veg stock cubes
2 teaspoons Marigold bouillon powder
1 tablespoon of rich (or dark), soy sauce
1 tablespoon HP sauce
A knob of butter, clarified if possible
A splash of olive oil
200g frozen peas
1 500g pack Napolina passata
1 teaspoon sugar – I use golden caster, but use what you’ve got as long as it’s not strongly flavoured
2 cans Napolina cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
400g Pollack fillets, skinned, cut into bite-sized pieces and excess water gently squeezed out
Maldon sea salt, and white pepper,** to taste
2 scant teaspoons Harissa, or more, to taste. Optional. I use my own blend – commercial blends will give different results. I also have some, very finely ground, then sieved, in a salt cellar for use as a condiment.
Parsley, fresh or dried (I use – you guessed! – Schwartz). Optional
**For some reason, white pepper tastes better in this, Schwartz, of course, not the floor-sweepings you get with other brands. Seriously, Asda pepper, for example, smells of very little compared to Schwartz, Tesco, too (as with all spices, store pepper in glass, tightly capped, and in the dark).
And the poor, if erroneous, opinion most people have of white pepper these days stems from the dusty, one-dimensional (heat and nothing else), Lion Brand that was ubiquitous, at least here in the northwest, before black pepper took over the culinary world. High quality white pepper, though, deserves its place in your kitchen just as much as black does. Indeed, I use more white than black now, after decades of using exclusively black.
Melt the butter with the oil (I used my usual 3-litre pot – scale the ingredients up or down if yours is a different size), and sweat off the shallots and/or onions over a low heat until soft.
Add everything down to and including HP sauce, add enough boiling water to just cover, stir well to dissolve the stock cubes, return to the boil, cover, and simmer until the carrots are soft.
While waiting, prepare the fish.
When the carrots are still a little firm, add the peas and boil gently until cooked. Check the carrots too.
Once the carrots are done, add the passata, sugar, and the purée.** Stir well to dissolve the purée, then add the beans, and the fish and top up with boiling water to about an inch from the top. Bring back to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow the residual heat to finish the job – as long as you don’t over-cook the pollack it won’t fall to pieces. Stir in the Harissa and parsley, if using, then allow to cool somewhat before checking and adjusting the seasoning. I found, as I often do with veggie dishes (OK, fish isn’t veggie, but the recipe mainly is), that it takes more salt than I expected.
**NB: Do not add the tomato items earlier, or the veg won’t cook properly – the acidity inhibits the cooking of all root veg and, in my experience, pulses too.
Cool fully, then refrigerate until the next day to allow the flavours to fully develop.
Two Spoonie spoons. (Newbie note – the spoons indicate the effort involved for disabled (Spoonie) cooks, not the technical difficulty; 1 spoon, very easy, to 6 spoons, get someone else to do it.)
You could use – and I have so I know it works – Aunt Bessie’s Carrot and Swede Mash (frozen). Gives a smoother texture but still tastes good. Add pre-prepped onions, too, and you’d be down to one spoon.
And you could use Coley if Pollock isn’t available. Hake is very good if you can find it, and I suppose you could even use salmon. Go for the cheaper species (not all Salmon are the same fish), and it’ll be firmer and less prone to breaking up. Doesn’t really matter if it does – it is soup, after all.
Reheat gently next day, stirring occasionally, taking care not to break up the fish, and serve with good bread for the protein hit, but not as much bread as you’d need without the fish.