Yellow Split Pea Soup

I have eaten many forms of this cheery soup; London Particular, German Split Pea Soup made with bacon or wurste, and most commonly in (for me) Amsterdam, where it is known simply as ‘snert’ and is almost everywhere during the winter months. In fact, it’s a cultural tradition that is almost everywhere in the northwestern corner of Europe in the winter months. This soup  is usually made with ham stock and ham or smoked pork of some variety, but I’ve started to prefer to make a vegetarian version and then ring the changes throughout the week when having the soup for lunch. This also means I can give a bowl of soup to a greedy vegetarian. You can put sliced frankfurters in, a la Nigella Lawson (as I have here), or off cut chunks of ham,you could grill some bacon and serve it on top, some crumbled feta, or you could just sprinkle with paprika and olive oil. If you are not bothered about keeping this veggie, then I would make it with ham stock.

Makes 4 generous bowls, very easily doubled.

  • 250g yellow split peas (follow instructions on packet if they need pre-soaking)
  • glug olive oil
  • small carrot
  • small onion
  • small stick celery
  • 800 ml vegetable stock or water
  • bay leaf
  • 1 blade of mace, slightly toasted in a dry pan and bashed up or a good pinch of powdered
  • pepper

Cut the onion, celery and carrot into a fine as dice as possible, or blitz in a food processor until finely chopped. Warm a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat and put in your olive oil. When the pan is hot, put in the vegetables and cook them over a low heat until they have started to soften. If they start to fry or colour, the heat is too high. Add your bayleaf and mace, and then your peas and give everything a good stir. Pour in your stock, bring to the boil and then turn heat down, and gently simmer for an hour with the lid on. Keep checking throughout the process that the water hasn’t all been absorbed by the peas – you may want to top up with hot water from the kettle. Serve with desired accompaniments, as above.

Carrot and Lentil Soup

Another genius soup. Cheap (serves 4- 6 for about a quid in total), warming and naturally sweet, this is an easy to make low effort wonder. Lentils and carrots both cost almost nothing, and I had everything else in my cupboard. You’ll want a blender for this.

  • 600g carrots, washed but not peeled. Chopped as finely as you can
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (from a cube is fine)
  • 140g split red lentils
  • 125 ml milk
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds or a generous tsp ground cumin
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger (optional)

If using cumin seeds, heat them in a dry frying pan with the chilli flakes for a few moments until they start to jump around or release their aroma. Remove around half of them to a large saucepan. In the same saucepan, put in the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer for about 30 minutes until the carrots and lentils are cooked. Leave to cool slightly and then either use a handblender in the pan or put the soup into a blender and whizz until (almost) smooth. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add a couple of hundred ml of hot water from the kettle and blend again. Scatter over the remainder of the cumin seeds and chill flakes, heat through and serve.

Mushroom Lasagne

Apparently, there are people out there, who don’t like mushrooms. I can imagine few things as inoffensive myself, and mushrooms don’t lack potential if you think about working to their strengths. The only type of mushroom that I don’t have any room for is the anaemic white button but I’m sure if pushed I could find a use for them too. I don’t know if its the time if year, but its not particularly to find wild mushrooms around here at the moment, so I used some dried porcini in this along with chestnut, ‘exotic’ and flat field mushrooms. All available from the supermarket. I know this might sound like a fair few mushrooms, but believe me, this amount will reduce down to very little and you don’t need to buy the combination of mushrooms that I’ve suggested, but don’t get any less in weight. You can add more garlic if you want to, but I didn’t want overpowering, just background. Serves 4.

For the mushroom filling:

  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 150g flat field mushrooms, chopped
  • 200g exotic mushrooms, sliced
  • handful of dried porcini, rehydrated as per instructions
  • one clove of garlic, crushed
  • half a large onion, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • shake of worcestershire sauce
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • olive oil

In a large pan with a lid, pour in a good splosh of olive oil, add your onion, garlic and thyme, salt & pepper and cook over a medium-low heat, lid on, but stirring regularly until the onions are golden and completely softened. Then a handful at a time, add the chopped mushrooms, mixing thoroughly after each addition until the mushrooms are thoroughly mixed with everything else. Turn the heat up a smidge and start to cook the mushrooms, stirring briskly, until they start to break down and release their water. If the mixture seems very dry, you can add some more olive oil but very soon, the mushrooms should be softening and releasing their juices. You want to cook the mushrooms down for about 30 minutes over a low heat, until the mushrooms have shrunk right down and the pan is dry of the juices. Set to one side.

To assemble the lasagne:

  • 1 quantity of white sauce (I don’t have my own recipe, after making it by sight for 17 odd years. Can’t beat Delia for the basics though)
  • packet of lasagne sheets
  • 150g parmesan cheese, grated
  • 100g strong cheddar, grated
  • quantity of mushroom filling

Preheat oven to gas 5. For me, lasagne is all about the pasta, so I always make lots of thinner layers rather than a couple of big ones. Divide the mushrooms roughly into 4 equal quantities. Put a little white sauce into the bottom of a lasagne pan and place on your first layer of pasta. On top of this, put on your first bit of mushroom filling,  about a  fifth of the cheese and an approxmate fifth of white sauce. Add another layer of pasta and repeat the process until you’ve used your mushrooms. Put on a final layer of lasagne, top with the remaining white sauce and finish off with grated cheese.   Put the lasagne in the oven and cook it for 30-40 minutes. Goes nicely with green veg. Scoff.