This month has been cool, windy, and really rather disappointing. May is traditionally the time when we get flashes of summer, which is nice for most of us, but for students it makes exam revision rather more difficult than it should be. While the rest of us may be daringly having coffee and croissants at pavement cafes, or swanning about the place showing off our newly shorn legs, students are cruelly forced inside, surrounded by a year’s worth of scrawled notes, and countless half-drunk cups of coffee. Or they should be at any rate. It is not infrequent to see groups of students sprawled in public parks, lying about with books and bought, carton-wrapped picnics; some of these students may actually be completely prone using books as a kind of rudimental sunscreen. I should know. I did that myself in the mid-80s. 🙂 But no such excuses for not studying in 2015.
But anyhow, at least we can warm ourselves up with soup. Spring soup. British purple sprouting broccoli is abundant and really lovely just now, so I thought I would show it off a little in this easy-prep but kind of fancy, soup. It’s more of a broth really, and uses the flavoured and viscous cooking water from the grain that accompanies the greens to thicken it all up rather nicely.
I have also used broad beans here because they are coming into season very soon and, like the spring onions of the previous post, they don’t get much love. At least not here in the UK. Also called fava, these podded beans are best known as Hannibal Lecter’s only known vegetable. But don’t let that gruesome fact put you off.
After many years of eyeing them with keen distrust I have finally warmed to these cozily-podded legumes. To be fair to them, the only times I have previously eaten them was when they were a bit past it, all dusty tasting and bitter. Or, still in their little sticky indigestible skins – eurgh. All the olive oil or Jersey butter in the world isn’t going to sort that out.
In a past life I had a custodial relationship with broad beans. Andrew and I used to grow them on an allotment we shared with friends, where its main use was a nitrogen-fixer for the over-worked soil. None of us were too keen on them so would allow them to grow to triffid-like proportions before harvesting and attempting to eat them. Not to be recommended. Happily, I have discovered the delights of frozen young broad beans and have been using them in soups and pasta dishes ever since.
Rather than rootling around in the deep-freeze I am now starting to come across fresh very young broad beans in farm shops and supermarkets. Perhaps where you live they may even be available now as PYO. In any case, if you buy fresh beans, you can look forward to settling down to the meditative task of shelling and podding. It is oddly calming to set about unzipping the rather prim-looking grey-green beans from their velvety jackets, boiling them up, and slipping them out of their inner coats to reveal chartreuse seeds. They will reward your efforts handsomely and deliver a host of valuable nutrients to boot. You will notice that I didn’t bother skinning my little beans. Although it is well worth doing, when very young these hardy little beans are just fine as is. The colour will be that much more vivid if you do go to the little effort though. I don’t do effort if I can get away with it.
Nutrition Notes: Known also as fava, pigeon beans, Windsor beans and horse beans, broad beans are in the same botanical family as peas and alfalfa. Used extensively, and creatively, in Italian, Egyptian, Latin American and Chinese cooking, these temperate-climate beans are good sources of protein, fibre, vitamins A and C, and decent sources of phosphorus, copper, potassium and iron. They are a particularly good source of folate. Some of these nutrients are lessened with cooking, but you will still take in useful amounts. In this recipe they get only a dip in warm broth so will retain much of what Nature has bestowed upon them. As a bonus broad beans even contain levodopa (L-dopa), a chemical the body uses to make dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward and motivation system). So, if you cook them correctly (never eat raw) they can help make you happy and satisfied. Especially if you have them in a soup with some lovely soft cheese, like I am doing for you today.
How do you like your broad beans? Or do you call them fava?
Freekeh, Broad Bean, Broccoli, Thyme and Soft Cheese Broth
Making up the freekeh (or your chosen grain) in advance keeps the freekeh’s bite, and makes the resulting broth lighter and clearer too. Use fresh or frozen young peas if broad beans aren’t available, or you don’t fancy them. xx
100g (1/2 cup) freekeh OR quinoa, or barley – instructions are for freekeh so adjust if using other grains
1 tbsp olive oil
500ml + (17.5 fl oz +) best vegetable stock – this is important
3 spring onions, thinly sliced; mainly the white portion
Handful of trimmed purple sprouting broccoli or young broccoli
Handul of podded young bread beans/fava – skinned if you like, or if they aren’t very small
1 tbsp young thyme leaves
Best quality soft cheese or goats cheese – I used Scottish crowdie cheese
1. Boil the freekeh in three times its volume in salted water with the added oil for eight minutes; drain and save the liquid. Rinse the grains. You will probably not use all of it but it is difficult to cook a smaller amount properly.
2. Bring the vegetable stock to a fast simmer and add the thyme, spring onions, beans, and broccoli and simmer for two minutes., adding some of the freekeh liquid if you wish it to be thicker or have more liquid volume.
3. Spoon some cooked grains into serving bowls and add in the vegetable broth. Dot with small spoons of cheese and grind over some pepper. Serve as a light supper.