My Rachel, the ‘pop picker’ for food to glow, is smack in the middle of exams. And what does a teen with a heavy diet of exams need? Yup, home cooking. They may want crisps and chocolate and those horrid, blue caffeine-loaded drinks, but we know – and they do too – that good food, in steady doses, is what brain and body need under stress. And a three-hour paper on teleological ethics (nah, me neither) sounds pretty stressful to me.I am exceedingly lucky, and shan’t rub it in, that my Rachel asks for healthy food. Like I said, lucky. It’s me who is the slacker. If I am especially tired or stressed I am the one most likely to crave tortilla chips or buttery toast. Or if it is really bad, peanut M&Ms. I know! Shock horror. Mostly I ignore this feeling and it goes away. Especially if I know I have all the fixings on hand to make a rejuvenating and ultra quick soup.
I realise it isn’t M&Ms, but soup is nurturing enough to conquer the little sugar devil that sits on my/our tight, knotted shoulders during testing times. Besides, it isn’t usually sugar that we really want. We want a hug and some reassurance. Enter soup.
This is something that I make fairly often regardless of stress levels. It is quick, full of zesty flavours and with a pleasing menu of textures. I have been fortunate enough to be mainly around during Rachel’s exam leave to make this soupy lunch for us. But even if I wasn’t it would be easy to leave a box of pre-prepped bits and bobs to build this or a similar soup. A pinch pot of powdered stock with a dod of tamarind paste, a filled kettle of water, an envelope of ready-cooked udon noodle, plus the veg box: wholesome, flavoursome soup in a snap. Applicable to desk-bound work lunches, too.
Another great lunch we have had recently is stir-frying some ruby chard, chilli, garlic and shallot, and mixing it with warmed cooked lentils and hot-smoked salmon. I then tumble it onto a grain-studded shingle of sourdough toast and top with some Greek yogurt. Earthy, chewy, savoury – just mmm.
But soup is always going to be our favourite. Fragrant, nose-runningly hot soup. Not even a sugar devil can argue with that.
Last year: Cauliflower and Green Olive Tapenade Gratin
Two years ago: Sage and Walnut Cauliflower Cheese
Miss R’s track of the week: Baz Luhrmanns’ Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – we love this old, kooky but highly thought-provoking song. Perfect for giving perspective.
The key – for me – is to keep this simple. And seasonal. My tips: start with a good broth – homemade or best quality bought. Keep everything the same kind of size, possibly shaving any harder produce you might choose to throw in. Use what noodles you like: I like buckwheat soba or slippery, fat udon. Oh, and herbs. The herbs will make this soup sing. I favour more Asian overtones, but depending on the veg a sprig of rosemary or a raft of bay will work a treat.
I am giving rough quantities here but please do as you like.
Buckwheat soba noodles – a paper-wrapped hank, OR one small envelope of pre-cooked Udon noodles (the latter make this a five-minute pan-to-bowl lunch)
Vegetable or Chicken stock, homemade or best quality – 700ml (3 cups plus 3 tbsp)
Courgette/Zucchini – half, thinly sliced
Savoy or other seasonal green cabbage – a thinly sliced double handful
Spring onions/Scallions – 5, thinly sliced
Edamame or Peas (frozen is fine) – shallow handful
Mushrooms, chestnut or Asian – a handful, sliced
Red chilli – ½ , deseeded and diced
Tamarind paste OR lime juice – 1 tbsp (more, to taste)
Mint leaves and Coriander/Cilantro leaves – shallow handful, roughly chopped
Optional: toasted coconut, 1 tsp grated ginger
If you are using soba noodles, cook according to packet directions and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
Bring the stock to the boil and add all ingredients except the cooked udon or soba noodles, the herbs and coconut. Bring back up to the boil then turn down to simmer for 3 minutes. Pop in the noodles and let simmer for a further minute before ladling into bowls and garnishing with the fresh herbs and coconut, if using. Some of you may like to spike this with a dash of fish sauce.
This is a super-fresh soup, made to be eaten just after it is cooked.