Middle-Eastern Spiced Vegetable Soup

I have made a lot of spiced soups over the years, every time I make a new one it seems to be an improvement over the previous one. Then I go back into my notebooks and make one of my earlier spiced soups only to discover that the earlier ones are fabulous as well. You could put it down to experience: the more you cook, the better your ‘touch’ becomes. Actually though, I reckon it is just that you can’t go wrong with a spiced soup, especially when it’s raining outside and the wind is howling, like it was here last night. The thick broth is filling and comforting while the flavours make you want to eat and eat well beyond the point where you should stop.

I am well aware that I declare every recipe that I blog about to be delicious, fabulous, outstanding or some other superlative. The thing is, I don’t blog about everything that I cook, only the dishes that are truly outstanding – like this one, my favourite soup of the moment.

The soup is great on its own, but the garnishes take it to a whole other level, adding more flavour and texture. They don’t take long to prepare so use them if you possibly can.

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RECIPE – feeds 8 easily

olive oil

1 butternut squash, flesh chopped into rough 1.5 cm chunks

2 large onions diced

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 medium leeks, trimmed and finely sliced

3 medium floury potatoes, washed but not peeled, roughly chopped

4 large vine tomatoes, roughly chopped

4 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tbsp chilli bean sauce

2 tins of chickpeas

1 large courgette, finely diced

For the herb oil:

olive oil

a handful of flat-leaf parsley

a handful of dill

a handful of pistachio nuts, crushed

a squeeze of lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnishes:

a small onion, very finely sliced

2 tbsp groundnut oil

goats or feta cheese, crumbled


METHOD

Heat a very large soup pan, pour in enough olive oil to thinly cover the base and add the squash, onions, garlic, leeks and potatoes and saute for ten minutes or so until softened.

Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, sweet smoked paprika and chilli bean sauce, stir thoroughly so everything is coated in everything else then pour in enough just-boiled water to completely cover the vegetables. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, bring to the boil then simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. At this point the potatoes and squash should both be very tender.

Drain the tins of chickpeas, reserving the water from the tins.

Puree the soup either in a blender or using a stick blender. It will probably be very thick at this point, so add the reserved chickpea water to loosen it, adding more from the kettle if required.

Set aside a handful of the chickpeas to use as a garnish later, bring the blitzed soup back to a simmer and add the rest of the chickpeas to it together with the courgette. Simmer for 20 minutes. At this point you can turn the soup off and allow it to sit for a few hours (or, even better, overnight). The flavours will deepen and there will be more character to the soup, though it will still be fabulous if you plough straight on…

…so while the soup is simmering make the herb oil by crushing the pistachios in a mortar and pestle, then adding all the ingredients including the pistachios to a food processor and blitz until everything is combined, adding just enough olive oil to give you a consistency like pesto. Check seasoning and put to one side.

Fry the thinly-sliced onion in 2 tbsp of groundnut oil at a high temperature, stirring regularly so they go brown and crispy but do not catch and burn. Shortly before the onions are fully ready, add the reserved chickpeas to the oil and brown them as well. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper until ready for use.

Serve the soup garnished with a drizzle of herb oil, crumbled goats’ or feta cheese and the crispy onions and chickpeas.

This goes fabulously well with crusty bread, and if you happen to have some Focaccia with Middle-Eastern Flavours lying around then these two are a match made in heaven. Loosen your belt and tuck in!

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