Homemade soups are nutritious, cheap and easy to make. There are no added colourings, preservatives or chemical flavour enhancers as found in most shop bought soups, just real food. Like my approach to making jams & jellies, soups are a wonderful way to use up any small quantities of odds and ends and turn them into something unique, delicious and full of nourishment. It’s a great way to introduce infants and young children to vegetables! Young children should not have added salt, so remove their portion before adding stock cubes and seasoning, and liquidise or mash to the desired consistency.

Some recipes include specific herbs & spices but do take the opportunity to include anything you fancy anyway. Thyme and Winter Savory are particularly useful as they’re available fresh right through the winter. Parsley can be kept in the freezer simply by chopping it coarsely and bagging it. And then there’s my favourite, Lovage leaves, (which can also be frozen like Parsley). It’s delicious, adds an extra bit of ‘umami’ to any soup, and brings out the flavour of everything else.

A good hearty soup can make a full meal in itself when accompanied by a nice thick doorstep of fresh crusty bread – or use up some of the day-before-yesterday’s bread in the form of toast.

Anyway, at the time of writing it’s a cold November day, so I’m off to make some soup!

Carol Church

Leek & Potato Soup

This one is one of our favourites, and such a good winter standby, as leeks are so easy to grow and will sit there waiting to be used from September to March.

3 medium leeks

4-5 medium potatoes (I like King Edwards)

1 onion

Water

Sunflower oil and butter

Salt, pepper (1 vegetable stock cube if preferred)

Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Peel and finely chop the onion. Prepare the leeks – strip off the outer leaves and remove the top growth an inch or two above the main stem. Run a knife through lengthways from the root to the green top. Half turn the leek and repeat. Run under cold water to get rid of any soil trapped between the layers of the leek. Shake off excess water. Chop crossways into small pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat approx 1 tablespoon sunflower oil and a knob of unsalted butter. Add the onion and potato and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring to prevent the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the leeks and continue to cook gently for a further few minutes until soft. Add approx 1½ pints (850ml) water, (and a stock cube if you’re using one). Stir, bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 25-30 mins. Add salt and pepper as desired.  Serve.

Can be eaten either as a chunky soup, or liquidised (in a food processor, or using a hand blender) to a smooth creamy soup.

Onion Soup

Good on a cold day served with cheese on toast!

3 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

Oil and unsalted butter for frying

2 tablespoons plain flour

1½ pints (850ml) of vegetable or beef stock (or water and stock cube)

Salt, pepper and thyme (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and a knob of unsalted butter in a saucepan. Add the onions and cook gently for 10-15 mins until soft and lightly coloured. Add the flour and stir (this thickens the soup). Gradually add the stock, stirring continuously.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 25-30 mins, adding more water if necessary. Check for seasoning. I like to add some fresh thyme a few minutes before serving.

Onion soup (especially with the thyme added!) is very therapeutic for coughs and colds.

Mushroom & Onion Soup

Nice for a change.  Freezes well too.

½ lb (250g) mushrooms, wiped clean and finely chopped

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon of plain flour

2 pints (1L) of stock (vegetable or chicken)

1 bouquet garni (parsley and thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf)

Butter, unsalted, for frying

To finish(optional): –

¼ pint (150ml) milk (optional)

¼ pint (150ml) single cream (optional)

Freshly chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms and the onion, cover and cook gently for 5 mins. Stir in the flour and continue cooking for 2 mins, stirring constantly. Gradually pour in the stock, stirring continuously. Bring to the boil. Add the bouquet garni. Lower the heat, half cover with a lid and simmer gently for approx 20-30 mins. Remove from the heat and discard bouquet garni. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. (If you want a creamy soup add milk and cream and heat gently without boiling). Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve.

Lettuce Soup

I was taught how to make this soup by an Indian friend 30 years ago.  Happy days! Growing your own lettuces always produces a glut at times –- this is a great way to use them up.

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

Lettuce leaves, washed and shredded

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1oz (30g) unsalted butter

1½ pints (850ml) vegetable or chicken stock

Heat oil and butter in a heavy based saucepan. Add onion and potatoes. Cook gently for 10 mins, stirring occasionally to prevent potatoes sticking. Add the shredded lettuce and cook for 5 mins. Stir in the stock gradually. Bring to the boil, and then simmer gently for a further 20 mins. Transfer to a food processor (or use a hand blender) and liquidise. Place in a clean saucepan, reheat, check for seasoning and serve.

And another thing…

Use outer leaves of lettuce, saving the heart for salad.

This is a good opportunity to use up some spring onions or that last stick of celery in the fridge!  Add chopped with the potatoes and onions.

I particularly like to add a handful of chopped lovage to this one.

Minestrone Soup

One version of a classic Italian soup.  Use whatever vegetables you have to hand.  Filling and satisfying, especially on a wintery day.

1 large leek, prepared

2 carrots, chopped

1 courgette, thinly sliced

4oz (115g) green beans, chopped

2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2½ pints (1½ litres) water or vegetable stock

1 x 14oz (400g) can of chopped tomatoes (or better still, use fresh tomatoes)

1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Salt and ground pepper

1 x 14oz (400g) can cannellini beans (or beans of choice)

2oz (50g) small pasta shapes or macaroni

Fresh parmesan cheese, finely grated, to garnish (optional)

Fresh parsley, chopped to garnish (optional)

Put the fresh vegetables into a large saucepan with the olive oil. Heat until sizzling, then cover, lower the heat and sweat the vegetables for 15 mins, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. Bring to the boil, replace the lid and simmer gently for 30 mins.  Add the beans and the liquor together with the pasta and simmer gently for a further 10 mins. Check for seasoning and serve hot, sprinkled with parmesan and parsley.

Tomato Soup

Always a favourite at bonfire parties, made with fresh tomatoes it is quite a delicacy – shockingly nicer than canned tomato soup. We grow both outdoor and greenhouse varieties of tomato and I use them fresh whilst in season, then skin and chop the remainder and freeze them for soups, sauces, etc.

5 big tomatoes or approx 10 medium variety, sliced and chopped

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

1½ pints (850ml) water

Olive oil

Salt, sugar and basil leaves (optional)

Heat approx 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan. Add the chopped onion and potato and cook gently for 10 mins until soft. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the skinned and chopped tomatoes. Stir, cook gently for 5 mins and then add the water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 25-30 mins. Blend in a food processor, pour back into clean saucepan, add salt and pepper as required.  If the tomatoes are very acidic, add a teaspoon of sugar. I like to add a handful of fresh basil leaves at the end.

How to peel tomatoes: –

Make a shallow slash in each tomato with a sharp knife. Place into a saucepan of boiling water. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of cold water.  The skin will rub off.

Pumpkin or Squash Soup

This very tasty vegetarian soup is all the better if allowed to stand overnight for the flavours to develop – so it’s really handy for ‘entertaining’ where you can do this bit of the work in advance.

2 large onions, finely chopped

Olive oil

1 x 3lb (1.4k) pumpkin or squash

¼ teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

2 pints (1L) vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

1lb tomatoes

1 medium tin sweetcorn

Leave skin on the pumpkin or squash, cut into thick slices, removing seeds and ‘stringy’ material. Place slices on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in a hot oven until soft and almost caramelised at the edges (approx 30 mins). At the same time, cut the tomatoes in half and place on a baking tray. Cook in the oven until soft. Once the pumpkin is cooked, take out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Cut the skin from each segment and cut each slice into chunks.

Take a large lidded pan. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add chopped onion and cook until soft. Add pumpkin chunks, and tomatoes and cook for about 5 mins. Then add the spices, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, making sure the vegetables are evenlycoated with the spices. Cook for 5 mins. Add the sweetcorn and stock and simmer over a gentle heat for about 30 mins, then remove from the heat. (If you’re leaving it to stand overnight, do so at this stage). Blend in a food processor until smooth, place in a clean saucepan and reheat.

Red Lentil Soup

A cheap, nutritious, quickly-made soup for lunchtime

Red lentils, washed, picked and drained (approx 1½ oz/40g per person)

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Knob of unsalted butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, diced

2 sticks of celery, chopped

1 medium potato, diced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 pints (1L) vegetable stock

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and potato and cook gently for 10 mins. Add the washed, drained lentils and the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 25-30 mins, or until lentils are soft. As lentils swell up when cooked, add extra stock or water if required. Serve hot as it comes, or puree in a food processor for a thick smooth soup.

I like to sprinkle the top with crispy bacon pieces.

The vegetables recommended here are just a guide; use any vegetables that you have available. Experiment – it’s fun!

Green Lentil Soup

Green lentils take a little longer to cook than the red variety. This recipe is almost a stew, and super-nutitious.

Green lentils (approx 4oz/100g per person)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 pints (1L) water or vegetable stock

Salt and ground pepper

Olive oil

Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the washed, picked and drained lentils, and the water. Bring to the boil. Remove any scum or froth with a slotted spoon. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for approx 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft. (As lentils swell on cooking, you may have to add extra water). You should have a thick, earthy stew.

Try chopping a handful of almonds & frying them lightly in olive oil to add as a garnish. In the Middle East, adding rice, and some spices such as cinnamon & allspice, is the norm. We often add a little Spanish chorizo, chopped & lightly fried first. Try your own additions (particularly if you have odds & ends to use up) – then this will really become stew!

Chicken Noodle Soup

This is a light but surprisingly nutritious soup, very ‘comforting’ for when you feel the need, and an excellent choice to aid recovery from digestive or respiratory infections.

1 carcass of chicken from previous meal

Water

1 small onion, unpeeled

1 leek

1 carrot

1 bay leaf

A few pieces of chicken, chopped

Noodles (I use egg noodles)

Parsley

Seasoning

Remove any chicken left on the carcass and leave to one side. Break the carcass into pieces, put in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Add the onion, washed but unpeeled, the leek, the carrot (plus I add a stick of celery sometimes) and the bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer gently, covered, for 1-2 hours.

Drain through a sieve into a clean saucepan, discarding the bones and cooked vegetables. Bring back to the boil. Add the chopped pieces of chicken and some noodles, adding extra if necessary. Boil for 5-10 mins until the noodles are soft, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste (and I like to add some chopped parsley to finish).  If the soup is a bit thin, make a paste with 2 teaspoons of cornflour and cold water and stir this in.

For a change: –

For a real winter warmer add some chopped fresh ginger in with the chicken carcass. To go one step further for the full Chinese experience, add in a tin of sweetcorn after the noodles, and then just before serving stir in a beaten egg – delicious!

Sweetcorn & Potato Chowder

I’m not quite sure what qualifies a soup to be called a chowder, but they’re all rich, and this combination of corn and potatoes seems to be a classic.

 1 onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 medium size potato, chopped

2 sticks of celery, sliced

1 small green pepper, seeded, halved and sliced

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1oz (25g) unsalted butter

1½ pints(850ml) vegetable stock

Salt and ground black pepper

1 x 7oz (200g) can butter beans, organic

1 x 11oz (300g) can sweetcorn, organic

Good pinch of fresh or dried sage

Put the onion, potato, celery and green pepper into a large saucepan with oil and butter. Heat until sizzling and then bring the heat down low. Cover and sweat the vegetables gently for 10 mins, shaking the pan occasionally. Pour in the stock, season to taste and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 mins. Add the beans and sweetcorn, including their liquors, and the sage. Simmer again for 5 mins. Check seasoning and serve hot.

Ham & Pea Soup

Once in a while, I cook a small boiled gammon joint. I always keep the cooking liquid as a stock (an onion/leek, carrot, celery stick, a few cloves or whatever go in with the gammon’s, so it’s very tasty stock). This recipe is one of the classics. Split peas are a great and often overlooked source of protein. If you’re vegetarian, just use vegetable stock instead.

8oz (250g) split yellow peas

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 potato, finely diced

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

Stock from gammon, approx 2 pints/1L, made up with water if necessary

A few slices of gammon, chopped

Soak the split yellow peas in water overnight. Fry the onion, potato and celery in a little oil for 5-10 mins until soft. Add the drained split peas and the stock and bring to the boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer gently or 1-1½ hours, stirring occasionally, and add extra water if necessary if it starts to get too sticky. It’s ready when the peas are fully soft. Add a few small chunks of cooked gammon. No extra salt will be needed, but add pepper if desired. Serve hot, either as it comes, or blended to a smooth thick soup in a processor.

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