When I started writing this blog, the weather in Brisbane had turned unseasonally cool. Then, it began raining incessantly, the backyard turned into a pond, Brisbane flooded and I was absorbed into the aftermath of that. But back when we were nothing more than unseasonally cool, we were in the mood for soups, and I thought it was about time this website lived up to its name. So here’s a soup recipe that was perfect for then, and not for now, unless, of course, you actually are in some cool place rather than this stinking hot Australian city.
In my job at the Rose Bakery I cooked many soups. Some were ones remembered and some emerged from a sense I had of what a particular vegetable wanted to hang with in a pot. Did it want support from onions cooked down to dark-gold undertones, or was it looking for the brightness of sweated shallots? Did it want garlic from the beginning, or would it be better to preserve the garlic’s edginess by adding it just before serving? Should I roast some garlic as well, to bring out the base notes of artichoke, for instance, or would this make the vegetable, in the case of broccoli, too gloomy? Freshly blanched and roasted almonds for a broccoli soup seemed little trouble when their addition brings toasty sweetness, a gift entirely missing in the often recommended ground almond alternative.
I love soups for their patient conversations. It takes time to caramelise onions, a long time, particularly when, at the Rose, I needed to make enough soup to last a whole day. As the onions reduced down on high heat, I continually broke from my next cooking task (chopping hills of broccoli, dicing little gems out of carrots, building up a spice mix) to stir them, scraping up their browning juices, bringing them back to the onions. With each stir I returned to the pot with a developing idea, a new question. And almost unerringly, the pot responded.
The first soup I’m posting here is one I made up today, out of pantry ingredients. There are several ways I’ve amped up the soup’s tastiness. One is by adding some basic flavour enhancers, like chilli jam and roasted tomatoes. Another is by using the same ingredients in different forms, such as sautéed onions and onion jam, to add dimension to their characteristics.
A third way is by cooking the vegetables to a gloopy seasoned mess before adding any liquid. Fergus Henderson agrees with me on this one (see the instructions he gives for all his soup recipes in Beyond Nose to Tail Eating). If you do this, you rarely need the addition of stock to a vegetable soup. Making sure you season during this process is essential. The more accurately seasoned you can get the vegetables before you add the water, the less last minute seasoning you’ll have to do. This means that you’ll get the seasoning right, and that the salt won’t sit ‘top heavy’ as a flavour. The earlier you add salt, the more it integrates into the soup.
The final way I’ve amped up the tastiness of this soup is by using a topping, here basil mayonnaise, which can add some high notes when it’s swirled into the soup at the end. If you don’t use the topping, the soup will still be sensational, and entirely vegan to boot.
Pumpkin and Lentil Soup with Basil Mayonnaise
- ½ cup olive oil (from the roasted tomatoes in oil, if using)
- 3 onions, chopped into a small dice
- 4 tbsp onion jam (if using)
- 2 tbsp chilli jam (if using)
- 5 small cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- 2 tbsp minced ginger (grate on the finest side of a hand grater)
- 2 tsp slightly toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 2 tsp slightly toasted coriander seeds, ground
- Murry River Salt or sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup puy lentils, soaked in water for 2 hours, then rinsed and drained
- ½ large jap pumpkin, skin and seed membrane removed, chopped into quite small pieces
- 1 cup roasted tomatoes, drained of olive oil (if using, otherwise, use a 400g can of tomatoes)
- 1 cup verjuice
- Boiling water
Heat the olive oil on medium heat and add the chilli jam and onion jam. When they begin to sizzle, add the onions and keep cooking quite quickly, until the onions are soft and starting to break down.
Add the ginger, garlic, spices and lentils, stirring and cooking them for a few minutes. Add the pumpkin, season generously, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the whole lot has melted into itself and the pumpkin is cooked. Taste and season along the way, to get it just right.
Add the tomatoes and stir through. Add the verjuice and stir through. When the whole mixture is hot again, add enough boiling water to cover everything and cook until the pot is simmering again. At this time, you’ll probably need to add more boiling water, just enough to cover everything in liquid again. Season, keep cooking, stirring and adding liquid until the lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add some more boiling water, bring to the simmer and season again.
- Basic Mayonnaise Recipe
- A handful of basil leaves, cut into fine shreds
Fold the basil into the mayonnaise and add a dollop onto each bowl of soup before serving.