Well the festive season officially ended yesterday and I don’t know about you, but I could use some dietary fibre. I would like to blame my sluggish bulginess on no less than three Christmas dinners, one boxing day buffet, one boxing night cheeseboard and a new years day roast but in truth, I think it’s the little extras that do the damage at this time of year. You know, that left over turkey begging to go into a triple decker sandwich with some emmental and plenty of cranberry sauce. Or that little lump of roast beef, those sausage rolls you can’t just throw out, the Quality Street that need eating. My Mr is massively fond of food that ‘needs eating’, and in the days after Christmas and new year that covers almost everything. Not to mention the couple of bottles of wine that we didn’t get to, the third of a bottle of gin which isn’t going to go off but the tonic will be flat by the weekend and the baileys which we shouldn’t really keep unfinished and the sloe gin and the brandy and the rest of it. Urgh. If I could just stop after the big dinner and go back to normal eating until the next big dinner of significance, I’m sure I wouldn’t hit the usual early January wall of self loathing and spotty skin.
So, detox? Botox? No. Soup.
January is a marvellous time for soup. It uses up all those vegetables (which are somehow less appealing to finish off than that wheel of stilton), is simple to make and cheap at this time of year to boot, which we could all do with. It’s a good way to get at least three, if not more, of your five a day into one piping hot meal to warm your abused and probably backed up innards with lots of fibre, hydration and nutrition. A lot of people don’t like soup. It’s boring, it doesn’t taste of anything. Well if that’s you, I say that you are boring and you don’t cook it properly. I think quantities and over cooking are where people tend to go wrong. Would you serve a dinner with half a potato and one small onion per person? No, so why if you mix it with water and mush it down would that suddenly become an acceptable portion? You need plenty of veg, and you don’t need to cook the hell out of it either. It is a rule for most kind of vegetables (apart from carrots and tomatoes) that the more you cook them, the lower the nutrient content becomes. Of course you do need to cook them, but boiling them for hours on end is counter productive to taste and benefit. Just because anyone who can stir a pot can make soup, it doesn’t mean you get to be lazy about it.
So go on, make some soup. If you’re not happy conjuring your own mix then get ye to google and find a copy of The Soup Bible or one of the sequels for hundreds of ideas. Otherwise get a pan, get some veg and have a go using the instructions below. This recipe gives a comically toxic looking bright green dish but obviously this will alter depending on ingredients. But before we begin, some fun science which might talk you into the idea if you’re not sold yet.
Garlic: Antibacterial, antiviral AND antifungal; anti-oxidant (that’s cancer fighting talk to you and I); high in allicin which promotes relaxation of blood vessels and prevents the formation of clots; high in potassium (healthy heart), calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and selenium, dietary copper and vitamin C; tastes yummy; deters vampires.
Courgettes: High vitamin A, folates, potassium, moderate levels of most B-complex vitamins.
Thyme: Antioxidant; high in volatile essential oils with antiseptic properties; high folate, manganese, potassium; Vitamins A, C, E, K and B-complex; provides vitamin B-6 or pyridoxin which invades your brain and stops you from stressing out.
Spinach: High vitamin A, C, K, E, B1, B2 folate (for baby growing) potassium and manganese (though vitamin c content reduces with cooking); antioxidant; high lipoic acid thought to regulate blood sugar levels; helps you build big muscles like Popeye.
Very Green Soup
Quantities are per person
Sunflower oil to fry
2 large cloves of garlic
1 medium leek
1 small white potato
Half a courgette
One block of frozen spinach or two cups fresh leaf
450ml vegetable or chicken stock
White pepper and sea salt to taste
I like to blend this soup so don’t worry about chopping too prettily, but don’t chop to huge rough chunks or it wont cook evenly.
Heat some sunflower oil in a pan with the garlic (crushed or chopped) and chopped potato (peel if you must but the skins have extra nutrition, fibre and give a more satisfying texture). As the potato starts to soften, add your white pepper ( I like about 1/4 tsp per portion) and leeks which should be finely chopped and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Then in with the chopped courgette, stir, then add the stock. Cover and leave on a gentle simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potato is well cooked and soft. If using frozen spinach, add now and simmer for another 5 minutes. If using fresh spinach, shred it finely and add to your soup, stir then take it off the heat.
In a separate pan heat a little more oil and fry off your mushrooms in either chunks or slices, however you prefer.
Allow the soup to cool slightly then blend in a food processor or with a hand mixer to desired consistency. Taste and season as liked and add some fresh thyme. Heat through and serve with the mushroom pieces added on top and some crusty bread if you’re carb loading!
Variations: You could swap pretty much any of the constituent ingredients for onions, cabbage, peas, carrots, any kind of squash, celery, you get the idea! I’d keep the potato in there though it gives such a lovely, velvety texture on the finished soup. Parsley or basil could swap with the thyme if you’re not a fan. The hardcore carnivore could add some crispy bacon bits with or instead of the mushroom pieces. If you don’t have a blender or just can’t be bothered, keep all your chopping fine and even and serve as a broth, though you may find it needs a little more seasoning.