Category Archives: Soup


Chestnut vendor When we were on holiday in Madrid a few years back I remember buying the most amazing roasted chestnuts (pictured right) – freshly roasted in vast cauldrons – from the many street vendors around the city.

They were dished out to us piping hot in small paper bags – often selling for as little as 1 Euro per 100g (a large handful).

Here in the UK, since the chestnut season is so brief (September to December) I think it’s always useful to take advantage whilst we can.

Types / availability

· Whole peeled chestnuts, canned or vacuum-packed, are available from most UK supermarkets. 450g fresh chestnuts (weighed in their shells) are equivalent to 175g dried, reconstituted chestnuts or 350g tinned or vacuum packed nuts.

· Canned chestnut purée, plain or sweetened, available in tins, is a godsend as it saves hours of preparation for use in pudding recipes.

· Chestnut flour (gluten-free and with a slight earthy smokiness) is often available from speciality food stores and delicatessens. This is useful as a substitute for flour in cakes (see below), pancakes or as a thickener for soups and stews.

Chestnuts roastedCooking with fresh chestnuts

Fresh chestnuts should be cooked and never eaten raw – due to their high acid content. I find the oven to be the most effective way of roasting them.

First, pre-heat the oven to 200 C / 390 F.

If you are using fresh chestnuts which contain the outer shell / husk then one of the most important steps before roasting is to cut an incision in the shell using the end of a sharp knife.

Alternatively you can roll your foot over them until they crack slightly. This prevents sudden explosions of chestnut shrapnel from inside the oven due to a pressure build up in the shell.

Next, place approximately 200g chestnuts on an oven tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the papery thin skin underneath. Peel the nuts whilst hot – it’s impossible to peel a cold chestnut – to ensure the complete removal of the inner brown furry skin, called the ‘tan’, which is bitter.

Alternative recipes

A great cake recipe of Italian origin is Montebianco – using chestnuts, chocolate and coffee, with layers of mousse, praline and almond meringue. Who could say no to that?Chestnuts aerial view

If you prefer something a bit more homely then I cannot think of anything more inviting than steaming ladlefuls of hot chestnut soup.

First, take 1kg fresh, cooked and peeled chestnuts (or 600g pre-packaged and vacuum-packed), 1 onion, 1 garlic clove (finely chopped), 25g butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 litre stock and 1 tbsp brown sugar.

Next, In a saucepan, heat a the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat, then add the garlic and onions. Cook them for about 5 minutes or until they become soft and begin to brown.

Add the stock, brown sugar and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and blitz with a hand blender until smooth, then adjust the seasoning to taste.

The soup is naturally creamy so there is no need to add cream.

Serve into soup bowls and enjoy.

How to make… Tarka Dal

Over the last few weeks I’ve had an incredible craving for lentils. Creamy red, yellow or green lentil recipes always remind me of the hearty broths I used to have growing up: mixtures with the consistency of porridge – largely due to the amount of pearl barley and vegetables – and a great all round flavour.


Combining this craving with my love of India (and Indian food) can result in only one outcome: creating the perfect Tarka Dal recipe.

How to make Tarka dal

Ingredients (from left) – ginger, garlic, coriander leaves; (tea spoons) – chili flakes, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric and yellow split peas.

The recipe below is simple and can be done in two stages: the lentils are cooked in turmeric-infused water and left to rest while preparing the seasoned spice mixture or “tarka” as it is known in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.


  • 250g yellow dried split peas
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2cm/¾in piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • ¾ tsp ground turmeric
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 Scottish oatcake (optional)


  • Bring the lentils to the boil in a pan with enough cold water to cover them two inches over the top. Stir in the turmeric and leave to simmer for 40 minutes (whilst skimming off the scum that rises to the surface every so often) until the water has been absorbed.
  • In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds over a medium heat.
  • Remove the seeds from the pan and grind into a powder.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in the same frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped garlic, with the chili flakes and the ginger.
  • Fry for 1 minute.
  • Once the garlic is golden, mix in the ground cumin and coriander. Add some water as necessary to loosen the mixture.
  • Give the lentils a stir.
  • Add more water as necessary before finally mixing in your aromatic fried ‘Tarka’ mixture.
  • Season to taste, then serve topped with coriander and an oatcake on the side.


This wonderful root vegetable is one of the main culprits of perhaps the most overused word in modern foodie vocabulary: ‘earthy’. I’ve been looking for a definition of this term in most modern dictionaries but none exists. I think we can safely say that the word is associated, in food terms, with any vegetable that is grown in the soil. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, carrots; they all have that ‘earthy’ quality.

There’s no getting away from it: beets are the epitome of ‘earthiness’, however you choose to define it. Not only that, there’s also an inherent sweetness of this bulbous and violently purple vegetable. Nutritionally, they are full of anti-oxidants known to reduce to levels of free radicals in the blood, with good levels of magnesium, sodium, potassium and vitamin C.

For cooking, beetroot lends itself to so many dishes: beetroot soup (or ‘borscht’ in Eastern Europe), spiced Indian dishes, risottos or simply roasted in the oven with some good oil, salt and pepper. It also goes exceptionally well with fish: smoked salmon with beetroot and crème fraiche or a warm mackerel and beetroot salad would be my pick (beets are incredible when shredded raw into a salad with creamy goat’s cheese, thinly sliced Granny Smith apple and a honey and mustard dressing).

I’ve suggested two of my favourite recipes involving beetroot: one delicious soup recipe alongside one inviting salad, both of which can be eaten anytime throughout the year.

Beetroot, carrot and ginger soup

This is one of my favourite soup recipes, with great restorative properties and incredible flavour. The ginger is very subtle and the tomatoes add sweetness.

Note on preparation:

If using whole beets scrub or peel the outside to remove the outer layers, trim the stems down to about 2cm from the and combine with the rest of the ingredients within the broth.

Once cooked, this soup freezes for up to three months.

Beetroot soup (1)


  • 4-5 medium beetroot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 4-5 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (or a 400g tin chopped tomatoes)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped.
  • 1 tbsp ginger, chopped
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • Salt & pepper  Beetroot soup on hob


  • Heat the oil in medium/deep pan over a medium heat and add the onions
  • Sauté gently for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and sauté for a further minute.
  • Add the carrots, ginger and tomatoes season to taste.
  • Pour in the vegetable stock and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked (soft).

Roasted beetroot, barley, tomato and walnut salad

This fantastic salad makes a filling lunch and is an excellent way to showcase beetroot alongside other flavours and textures. I’ve used barley in this recipe but you could easily substitute it for other grains like quinoa, spelt or lentils.

Beetroot, barley and tomato salad

Serves 1 – 2


  • 150g pearl barley, washed
  • 250ml water
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 4 raw beets, roasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 gem lettuce, shredded
  • 6 – 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • a small handful of walnuts
  • Salt and pepper

for the dressing

  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 2 tsp honey


  • To make the dressing, whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl and season with salt and pepper
  • For the salad, place they barley, water and salt, if using, in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, until the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Fluff grains with a fork and cool.
  • Combine the cooled barley with the other ingredients and the dressing.