Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup*

*bonus points to anyone who gets the literary reference

I like soup for a tasty, filling and nutritious workday lunch, especially because I can make two or three different ones at the weekend then freeze it in portion sizes, and then – ta-da! – I have a selection ready to take out of the freezer and take to work.

As already stated, it can sometimes be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get different sources of protein in their diet. Pulse-based soups are fantastic for easy protein, so here are a few of my favourites.

Black bean & carrot soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 6-8

  • 250g/9oz dried black beans, soaked overnight
  • 110g/4oz butter
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 500g/1lb2oz carrots
  • 25ml/1fl oz jalapeno tabasco sauce, or 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno chillies, or one green chilli, chopped
  • 150ml/1/4 pint sherry or fortified wine (I don’t like sherry, but it’s fine in this, and I use the rest of the bottle instead of wine in risotto)
  • 75g/3oz tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints water

Boil the soaked black beans in water rapidly for 15 minutes then simmer them while you make the rest of the soup. Melt the butter and sauté the onions, garlic and bay leaves in a large saucepan until the onions are soft. Add the carrots and jalapeno sauce/chillies, cover the pan and let sweat for 5 minutes. Pour in the sherry and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the drained beans, tomato purée and seasoning, cover with the quantity of water, bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaves, and purée in a liquidiser. Reheat, serve garnished with grated cheddar.

Bengal Lancers’ Soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 4

  • 225g/8oz red lentiils, rinsed well
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 1 large red and 1 large green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 15g/1/2oz fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon each ground coriander, cumin and turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 275ml/1/2 pint stock (recipe says chicken, I use vegetable)
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 100ml/4fl oz coconut cream
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • 1 dessertspoon tamarind purée
  • 15g/1/2oz fresh coriander, chopped

Put the lentils into a saucepan and pour in water to cover by 4cm. Bring to the boil and simmer fairly rapidly for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time and skimming off any scum from the surface. Remove from the heat, cover tightly and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil and fry the onions over a moderate heat, stirring, for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Reduce the heat and stir in the chillies, ginger and garlic. Cook gently, covered, for 3 minutes. Stir in the ground spices and black pepper, and cook gently for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the stock, lentils, tomatoes, coconut cream, salt and tamarind purée and stir well. Increase the heat and bring almost but not quite to the boil. Cool a little, then blend in a liquidiser until the soup is almost but not quite entirely unlike tea. Sorry, until the soup is fairly, but not completely, smooth. Reheat the soup, stirring, until almost at boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander, and garnish with a spoonful of natural yogurt.

Brown ale, mushroom and lentil soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 4

  • vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 50g/2oz brown lentils, well washed
  • 110g/4oz chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 110g/4oz flat mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 15g/1/2oz dried cepe or porcini mushrooms, soaked in 200ml/1/3 pint warm water for 20 minutes, drained (reserving soaking liquor), roughly chopped
  • 275ml/1/2 pint brown ale

Heat the oil and cook the onion over a moderate heat until beginning to brown. Reduce the heat, add the garlic and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and lentils, then the flat and chestnut mushrooms. Increase the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the brown ale and 850ml/1.5pints stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the reconstituted mushrooms and their soaking liquor to the pan, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce if liked, season and serve.

Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups) – this is one of the nicest soups I have ever eaten

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 150g/5oz dried apricots, chopped
  • finely grated rind of half a lemon
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1.5 litres/2.5 pints vegetable stock
  • 250g/9oz cooked chickpeas – the drained weight of a 400g tin is 240g, so I just use one of those
  • 200g/7oz fresh spinach, shredded
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil and cook the onions gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the garlic and spices, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato purée and cook for 3 minutes. Add the apricots, lemon rind and juice, stock and chickpeas. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes until the chickpeas are tender. Cool a little, then purée in a liquidiser. Return to a clean saucepan, stir in the spinach and simmer for a further 5 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Season to taste and serve garnished with a swirl of natural yogurt.

Black-eyed bean soup with oregano (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups)

Serves 6

  • 350g/12oz black-eyed beans, washed and soaked overnight
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 stick celery, roughly chopped (I leave it out because celery is the devil’s penis and not in a good way)
  • 1.4 litres/2.5 pints vegetable stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 3 teaspoons Mexican chilli paste (or, 3 red or green chillies, whole, with slits cut in them)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Place the drained beans, onion, carrots and celery (NO!) in a large pan with the stock, garlic, tomato purée and chilli paste/whole chillis. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender, adding the salt and oregano 10-15 minutes before the beans are completely cooked. Purée half of the soup in a liquidiser, mix with the other half in the saucepan, reheat and serve.

Lentil and Lemon Soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups)

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 150g/5oz red lentils, washed
  • 570ml/1 pint vegetable stock
  • 1 400g/14oz tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of half a lemon, or to taste

Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic gently for 10 minutes without colouring. Ad the lentils and stir to coat well in the oil. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and 3/4 of the thyme. Bring back to the boil and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, add the remaining thyme, add the lemon juice and serve garnished with thyme sprigs.