Recipe: Red Pepper & Lentil Soup

Soup-with-spoon-to-use_Fotor1

Soup’s great, isn’t it?  It’s basically a warm smoothie; it’s tasty, you can idly ladle into your mouth for a couple of minutes, and by the end of it you’ve ticked off the majority of your 5-a-day in one go.  
Since the beginning of this year I’ve been trying to get creative with recipes for soup that I can pop into my Thermos and bring to work as an alternative to school dinners – so far I’ve experimented with Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato Thai Curry, Stilton, Apple & Parsnip, and Split Pea & Mint (Recipes for all of these will be available soon, but there are some clues in their names).  While they’ve been universally delicious, anything made with a lot of root vegetables tends to turn into a Genie made of farts after spending 6 hours trapped in a Thermos – or, to complete the metaphor, a magic lamp – waiting to be rubbed out at lunchtime.

Seeing as my office is a studio without any ventilation this obviously won’t do, and so I’m facing the challenge of making a soup which is a satisfying viscosity, healthy (so no cream of tomato), and doesn’t contain too many root vegetables which cause awkwardness when a colleague comes into my office half an hour after the last evidence of the soup has been slurped away.  I’ve been playing around with lentils since getting Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem book for Christmas, and so red lentils seemed like they’d be the perfect thickening agent for any soup with a fairly delicate flavour that would otherwise be overpowered.  I wouldn’t normally use Red Peppers as a main ingredient in something like this as they’re ridiculously expensive to buy individually, and being the most coveted of Supermarket Peppers you only ever get one of them compared to three green ones in bags of assorted peppers.  As chance would have it though I found 6 of them in a bag for 80p, just because they weren’t cosmetically consistent, obviously I’m against the thought of food being wasted because of Supermarkets’ vanity, but as long as there are people like you and me to buy them at a mark down then everybody wins.


Ingredients
  • 6 Red Peppers
  • 2 Onions, quartered (Note: I used leeks in my recipe just because I had a couple that needed using up, so feel free to use artistic license with this part of the recipe)
  • 3 Carrots, sliced lengthways
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 1 litre Vegetable Stock (2 Stock cubes and a litre of boiling water)
  • 100g Red Lentils
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Tsp Paprika
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Natural Yoghurt (Optional)



Method
  1. Remove the stalks and seeds from the red peppers and cut in half down the middle.  Put them on a baking tray skin side up with the cloves of garlic, give them a generous drizzle of Olive Oil, sprinkle with Salt & Pepper and roast at 200°c for about 30-40 minutes or until they start to char around the edges.
  2. While the Peppers are roasting, start to soften your onions in a big saucepan or stockpot, it should realistically take about 10-15 minutes over a Low-Medium heat
  3. Take your peppers out of the oven when they begin to char and the skin starts to bubble, leave them to cool, and peel off the skins.  If you’re anything like me, use this time to lament the fact you didn’t place them skin-side up on the baking tray because that would have made them a lot easier to peel.  It’s a fiddly and messy job, but it’s well worth it so do persevere.
  4. Add the pepper flesh and the garlic cloves to the onions and stir together, then add your vegetable stock, lentils, carrots, bay leaf and paprika.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the carrots are fully cooked.
  5. When the carrots are tender (but not mushy) remove it from the heat and allow to cool a little bit, then remove the bay leaf and then blend until smooth.

This should make about 4 portions, which is the magic number of consecutive servings before I start to get bored and crave something slightly different.  It’ll keep for about a week in tupperware in your fridge, just dish it out, heat it up, and stir a spoon of natural yoghurt or creme fraiche through before serving.

Any more ideas for soup recipes that won’t make my office smell like butt?  I’m all ears.

Recipe: Sesame Peanut Noodles

Noodles1
At the end of last Summer I got to visit New York with my Girlfriend Lucy, on a mission to see places from the telly and eat like food bloggers for 10 wonderful, but increasingly sluggish days.  We spent the first five days in Williamsburg; acting like a slightly more bearable version of the characters from Girls, and when we got that out of our system we decided to head more central so we’d have better access to tourist places.  We didn’t count on it being one of the hottest days of the year, and against all better judgement, we hauled all of our luggage from Brooklyn to Harlem on the Subway.  That was a lot to take for the kind of pale, hairy guy who gets flustered on a scorching 15°c day in England, so when we reached the new apartment I was ready to pass out.  LUCKILY this was a Sunday, and we wanted to watch the episode of Breaking Bad that was airing that night, so we decided to spend the night indoors, asked our host for some take-away recommendations, and took the opportunity cross “New York Chinese-food in those little cartons” off my food-bucket list.

The experience was everything I’d ever hoped for while watching Friends as a fat teenager, and the one dish that stood out was a cold salad with green noodles (I do not know why they were green, spinach maybe?) and a sesame peanut dressing.  Neither of us had tried anything like it before, and it was just a nice break after 5 days of eating Chicken & Waffles and Chicken & Waffle flavoured crisps.  We tried to find something like it when we got home, but after checking the menus of the more credible Chinese takeaways back home we soon lost all optimism.  After a bit of experimenting though, I managed to come up with a recipe which is pretty similar.

This recipe is enough to serve two, with another two decent portions left over for lunch-boxes.
Ingredients
  • Dried Egg Noodles
  • 1 Red Pepper
  • A slack handful of Mange Tout
  • A similarly slack handful of Beansprouts
  • 1 Bunch of Spring Onions
For the Dressing
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Sweet Chilli Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Sriracha
  • 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Peanut Butter
  • Sesame Seeds
Method
  1. Julienne all of the vegetables in advance, because the rest of this really won’t take long at all.
  2. With the vegetables sufficiently julienned, boil your noodles in plenty of lightly salted water.  While they’re boiling, combine all of the dressing ingredients and mix until they’re emulsified.
  3. When you think your noodles are ready, YOU’RE ALREADY TOO LATE.  Take them out about a minute before you usually would.  Drain them in a colander immediately, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil so they don’t stick together,  and add all of your vegetables and beansprouts so they soften a little in the noodles’ residual heat.
  4. With your noodles still in the colander, add your dressing and mix well.  Don’t worry if a little bit of the dressing escapes through the colander’s holes, if there’s any more than we need to coast the noodles then it could just sit at the bottom of the bottom of your bowl when you serve it, and that’s not what this is.
  5. Plate up, and garnish with sesame seeds and spring onions.  Pro tip: Cut your spring onions lengthways rather than into little disks.  It looks fancier, and it spreads the flavour of them out rather than biting into a tiny capsule of concentrated spring onion flavour.
It’s as easy as that.  I usually serve this with steamed broccoli or something similar, which is easy because you can just steam the vegetables in a colander over the noodles while you cook them.
I’m no closer to finding those elusive green noodles though, any ideas?