I won’t be able to get into my flat during the day for the whole of next week as I’m having a wet room installed at last. I’ve not been able to use a bath for years as, even if I managed to get in, I don’t have the strength to get out again. A wet room and a shower wheelchair will solve that problem.
Today I’m making the following soup and tomorrow, all being well, I’ll make a cherry-laden fruit cake.
The idea of this soup, and my previous Chunky Beef and Bean Soup, is that by combining elements of a vegetarian recipe with meat, I can maximise my protein intake. As regulars might know, I have only one meal a day, and getting sufficient protein in a veggie diet is impossible, no matter how desirable it might be.
This, then, is my solution and if the last soup was anything to go by, it’s a damn good one. Actually, I have made a version of this before. A couple of weeks ago I liberated a couple of frozen packs of the casserole I made at Christmas (Venison, pork liver, meatballs, heavy on the fruit), to which I added bean stock and soya beans to make it into a soup. I don’t think the fruit worked in soup, and the venison was still disappointing, other than that it was fine, so what we now have is a simplified version with the emphasis on pig bits and a pig-appropriate herb, fresh sage.
Update:- While making this I found I had too little Touch of Taste in both flavours so wound up using a Knorr Chicken stock cube and a scant desert spoon of Bovril for the flavour adjustment at the end. It worked extremely well and allows the flavours of the ingredients to shine through.
As ever, makes 4 litres. Feel free to scale up or down according to the size of your pot/pan.
And bring the ingredients up to room temperature before starting.
1 pack Sainsbury’s British Fresh Pigs Liver (approx 420g), soaked in cold water for 15 minutes to remove excess blood. Not essential but if you don’t do it the gravy can be a little granular.
175g (½ pack) Tesco Finest British Pork Sausage Meat
5 to 8, depending on size, Echalion (banana) shallots, finely chopped**
3 Sweet Spear carrots, sliced about as thick as a £1 coin
Swede, diced, about the same quantity
600g cooked organic soya beans,*** or 3 cans, rinsed and drained. Avoid supermarket o-b beans – they tend to be a tad crunchy.
Fresh sage leaves – about a dozen, depending on size and on how much you like sage. Sage, like rosemary, is better fresh than dried in my view. It also freezes well, in a little oil to prevent freezer burn
½ teaspoon celery salt
3 Kallo Organic vegetable stock cubes
3 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Chicken
2 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Beef
Towards the end you can add more ToT if you feel it needs it, to taste, and/or a little
Marigold Bouillon Powder, also to taste. Always adjust the flavour before adjusting the seasoning
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes and Schwartz black pepper, to taste
45ml Olive oil
Entirely optional: 6 dried apricots, the yellow kind, finely chopped – I find the brown type goes mouldy long before they’re used (yes, the yellow are sulphured but cooking drives off the sulphur so it’s not a problem). Why apricots? Well, partly as a side-effect of all the drugs I have to take, and partly an age thing, my sense of taste isn’t what it was, and I find a little sweetness brightens up the entire flavour spectrum. I’ll also use dates if I have them, or even sugar in a pinch. The fruit here isn’t a feature ingredient so it doesn’t matter that it contributes little flavour – it’s the sweetness I’m after.
** I cut each shallot in half lengthways, then cut each half, also lengthways, into 2, 3 or 4 pieces depending on how fat they are. Then I slice them across – thinly for soup, about half the size of a postage stamp for a casserole.
***Beware of the cooking advice on the website – it contradicts itself wildly. Stick with my method if you have a slow cooker – the Spoonie’s friend.
There’s no significance in my choice of Tesco and Sainsbury’s for the meat, it’s simply what I happened to have in stock
As I’ve said previously, combining several different stock products will give you a stock to suit almost any ingredients – what I’m aiming for here is a generic savoury stock that allows the flavour of the main ingredients to come through. Kallo cubes give a very light stock, as does Touch of Taste, but be aware that the latter can be a bit salty so use with restraint. Marigold, like Kallo, is also quite light. It also comes in vegan and low-salt varieties. Sadly, no matter how worthy, both are very low on flavour.
When the liver has soaked, tip it into a colander to drain. Once most of the water is gone, cut it into bite-sized pieces. You might want to do this at the end of your prep as it will make a mess of your workspace.
Liver can have a fair amount of tubing running through it. Cut out the worst and ignore the rest. Unlike fried liver, this will soften in cooking and will be pretty much undetectable. Unlike lambs’ liver which goes very tough with long cooking, pigs’ is very tender when cooked in soup or in a casserole
Set aside back in the colander.
You can use meat from sausages for the meatballs if you wish, in which case be aware that they will do their utmost, no matter how assiduously you shape them, to revert to their original bits of sausage shape. The problem is purely cosmetic – they still taste the same.
Anyway, whatever you use, shape the meat into balls about the size of cherries, and brown them either in a frying pan in about a centimetre of oil or, as I do, drop them into a deep fryer at 170C, until browned. Drain on kitchen towel and set aside.
As for beans, I’ve given upon canned as even my favourite brand, Napolina, is now unreliable. Instead I cook my own every couple of weeks. I tend to use Judion de la Granja Spanish butter beans, expensive at almost £9 a kilo but way better than anything else available, or organic soya beans in the main, and occasionally Cannellini beans as, being white, they don’t impart any unwanted colour to the finished dish. For tomato-based dishes I might use Borlotti or Pinto beans, as the murky pink colouration they give off will be obscured by the tomato.
500g of dried soya beans will yield a little over 1.2kg of cooked beans – enough for two portions. When soaked, and with the addition of a chopped carrot and onion, this is enough to fill a 3.5litre slow cooker. Soya beans benefit from a long soak (8 hours), and take a long time to cook in a slow cooker, 10 hours, maybe more, as crops vary. Soak them during the day, cook overnight and into the next morning. Apart from stirring the pot once or twice – most slow cookers heat from the bottom – bringing the bottom beans to the top evens things out.
Even buying organic dried beans, and factoring in the electricity for the slow cooker, plus the minimal cost of the carrot and onion that goes in with them, it’s still cheaper than buying canned, unless they’re on offer. And – Spoonies will love this – beyond peeling and chopping the carrot and onion no work is involved.
I soak the beans during the day and cook them overnight, then allow them to cool in the cooking liquid. They’re then drained weighed and portioned, and frozen for future use, as is the stock. Bean stock, it has to be said, isn’t deeply flavoursome, but it has some taste and adds a little body too.
So, sweat the shallots in the oil over a low heat until soft but not coloured. I know I always say that, and there’s a valid reason. Onions and shallots are sweet when softened over low heat, but if they brown it dramatically changes the flavour, adding an unwanted bitterness. There are times when bitterness is desirable, in which case I’d use bitter cherries which are more controllable, and I like the taste of fried, browned, onions in, say, an omelette or in onion gravy, but I feel onions give of their best when gently cooked to a pale, yielding, sweetness.
Once the shallots are soft, snuggle the Kallo cubes among them, scoop some over the cubes, and leave for 5 minutes to soften (Kallo is the only brand I know that this works with). Then stir into the rest of the shallots and pour in a litre of boiling water (or if you have it, bean stock), add the carrots and swede, the sage, and the Touch of Taste and more boiling water, if needed to just cover, and stir well. Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the veg is tender.
After half an hour, add the beans, liver and meatballs, top up with boiling water to within about 3 cm of the rim of the pot, stir, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the veg have finished cooking, by which time the liver will be cooked (the meatballs are already cooked but will exchange flavours with the rest of the dish.
When everything is cooked to your satisfaction (soya beans won’t overcook, they’re pretty much indestructible, but giving them this extra time will eliminate any rogue beans that aren’t fully cooked), check and adjust the flavour (adjust with Touch of Taste and/or Marigold, both to taste, then when you’ve done that, adjust the seasoning.
Set aside to cool then, when cold, refrigerate overnight to allow the various flavours to snuggle up and get to know each other. You’ll thank them for it.
NB: I tend not to thicken soups – where thickening is desirable it’s left to the primary ingredients to provide it, not added flour. You, constant reader, might look at things differently, so feel free to whisk in a little flour should you feel the need. Strain some of the liquid into a smaller pan, heat. Whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of plain flour (I prefer organic bread flour, it doesn’t go lumpy), and bring to the boil whisking constantly and paying particular attention to the bottom of the pan. When boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook out for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally, before stirring it back into the pot. Do remember to make it much thicker than you want the finished dish to be, as pouring it back into the pot will thin it out.
I’ve also been thinking of using ready-made gnocchi as dumplings, though home-made would be more versatile when it comes to adding flavours to them (a nugget of good cheese tucked into the centre with a few fresh thyme leaves would go well with a tomato-based vegetable soup). Not today, though, as there’s enough in this soup already, but soon.