Writing a recipe for vegetable soup is a bit daft. For one thing there are as many soup recipes as there are pots of it made – I mean, has anyone ever made soup the same way twice? Plus soup is one of the most forgiving and flexible things it’s possible to cook; a bunch of things thrown in a pot with some liquid and you usually can’t go wrong.
Mark Bittman (a New York Times food & opinion columnist) wrote a great article on vegetable soups a few days ago. He provides twelve starter recipes, with the idea that once someone has worked their way through that list they should never need to look at a soup recipe again.
Looking at Bittman’s recipes a theme definitely emerged for me, which was the importance of having a knockout flavour combination at the heart of a soup. Bittman’s list included cauliflower and curry, squash (pumpkin) and ginger and tomato and garlic – you see what I mean?
I think I’ve been unwittingly working to this model with soups for a while. My basic soup template is generally a minestrone-style vegetable and legume soup, with lots of tomatoes to add body to the broth. Last year I was cooking this spiked with paprika and with chopped chorizo sausage to add spice and smoky depth.
This year the inspiration changed, and I’ve been using one of my favourite new flavour combos – tomato and lemon. As a winter pick-me-up this has a lot going for it, and the tangy combination really works well with the more mellow flavours of chickpeas and lentils. I also throw a bit of chilli in at the start, not enough to make this spicy, but just enough to get a touch of warmth on the tongue.
I like to head in a middle-eastern direction with toppings for this, toasted sunflower seeds and natural yoghurt are really delicious. In the photograph below I’ve just got the one necessary addition – a wedge of lemon to be squeezed over the hot soup just before eating.
So here’s the recipe. I don’t want to be prescriptive about what vegetables to use and how much of them you need, so the quantities below are purposefully vague. Similarly the lentils and chickpeas could be replaced by almost any other combination of legumes.
zest of 1/3 of a lemon, very finely chopped or grated
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
either 1 large onion finely diced
or leeks, in 1cm cubes
3ish cups vegetables, in 1cm cubes (I used carrot, capsicum and cabbage)
1/3 cup dried lentils
400g tin chickpeas, drained
800g tinned tomatoes, well chopped
3/4 tablespoon dried oregano
vegetable or chicken stock
chilli, salt and pepper to taste
For serving wedges of lemon (mandatory) plus toasted sesame seeds, natural yoghurt, freshly chopped herbs or whatever you like.
Heat a large pot on a medium-high heat. Add olive oil and then the leeks/onions, garlic, lemon zest and chilli. Sweat, stirring regularly, until the leeks/onions are soft. Add the other vegetables and the lentils, continue cooking and stirring until they’ve softened.
Cover and bring to the boil. Once your cauldron is bubbling turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cover again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender (around 25 minutes).
Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and any other garnishes you feel like.