The season for substantial soups
AS I write this, the thunder is rattling round and although spring may be here during the day, I still find it quite cool in the evenings. All of which makes it good “soup weather”, ideally suited to substantial soups that can take the place of a “meat and two veg” type main course.
Many national cuisines have soups that fall into that category but the Eastern Europeans are particularly good at them, and that is where we shall be concentrating this week. We’ll start with a recipe for a Hungarianstyle goulash soup. In Hungary, goulash is often more of a soup than the stew we tend to think of it as being and this recipe is based on the goulash soups that we enjoyed on our trip to Hungary a couple of years ago. Traditional recipes would use lard rather than oil, and lots of paprika. Substitute pul biber or isot if you don’t have genuine hot Hungarian paprika. 2 tablespoons sunflower oil 400g stewing beef (with some bone if possible)
2 carrots, chopped into medium chunks
2 stalks celery, sliced 1 large onion, halved and sliced 1 large red bell pepper, sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced 3 tablespoons sweet paprika 2 tablespoons hot Hungarian paprika 1.25 litre beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste 2 medium potatoes, chopped 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavybased pan. Season the beef with salt and pepper and cook for about 10-15 minutes until browned all over. Transfer the meat to a chopping board and cut into chunks (about 3cm) retaining any bones — they will add to the flavour of the soup.
Reduce the heat under the pan, add the carrots, celery, peppers, onions and garlic and sweat gently for about 10 minutes until softened, then stir in the paprikas. Pour in the stock, add the tomato paste and stir well. Return the chunks of beef (and any bones) to the pan, bring the soup to a simmer and leave to cook gently for about two hours, until the meat is tender.
Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 30 minutes or so, until cooked through. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot in bowls with lots of crusty bread. Either remove any bones before serving or warn people of their presence.
In some areas of Hungary, gulyásleves contains “pinched” flour and egg noodles (csipetke in Hungarian) but if you serve plenty of bread with the soup, you don’t really need noodles as well.
If you prefer chicken to beef, you can make a chicken version of this soup using yellow or orange peppers instead of red. Reduce the amount of hot paprika and if you have any, add some crushed caraway seeds instead. Serve garnished with parsley and a dollop of soured cream or labne.
In Georgia, their equivalent soup is called kharcho. It is most often made with beef but in some regions lamb, chicken or goose versions are found. The herbs used often vary according to what is available, so there are no hard and fast rules in that regard. There is also a meat-free version, where the protein content comes purely from extra walnuts. 500g boneless lean beef (in one
piece) 1.5 litres beef stock 40g butter 2 onions, finely chopped 1 tablespoon flour
3 tablespoons tomato paste 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes 3 tablespoons long-grain rice Half a teaspoon dried tarragon Half a teaspoon hot pepper flakes (pul biber) Half a teaspoon ground coriander Half a teaspoon ground fenugreek (çemen)
1 heaped teaspoon ground sweet red pepper (tatlı biber) A generous pinch of dried mint 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or Georgian plum tkemali) 3 cloves garlic, pressed 5 tablespoons crushed walnut pieces Salt
1 heaped tablespoon mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped Mint leaves to garnish
Put the meat and stock together into a large pan, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, until tender — at least an hour. Skim off the foam from time to time. Remove the meat and set aside; reserve the stock.
Melt the butter in a clean, heavy-based pan, stir in the onions and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until softened and starting to colour. Add the flour and cook, stirring all the time, for about a minute, then add a ladleful of the beef stock and stir until smooth.
Stir in the tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, then whisk in the rest of the stock. Add the rice, cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Next, add all the dried herbs and spices, lemon juice, garlic and crushed walnuts and keep the soup simmering until the rice is tender. Taste and add salt if you wish. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin it down with hot water.
Chop the meat into bite-sized chunks, add it to the soup and simmer gently until hot through. Stir in the fresh herbs and serve with plenty of fresh bread.
We’ll finish this week with a hearty soup that is ideal for vegetarians or vegans or indeed anyone who isn’t in the mood for meat. If meat-free meals would cause tantrums in your house, add some shredded ham or bacon, or chunks of the excellent smoked sausage produced in Alsancak and readily available in good supermarkets. 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced 1 x 800g tin of cooked white (cannellini) beans, rinsed Water or vegetable stock 2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped coriander 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1 carrot, peeled and diced 2 sticks celery including some leaves, finely chopped 6 whole black peppercorns, roughly crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (pul biber) Juice of a lemon Salt
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and cook gently until translucent and starting to soften. Add the garlic and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant.
Tip in the beans and add enough water or stock to cover them by about 6cm. Bring the pan to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, cover the pan and cook gently for about 30 minutes, until both the carrot and celery are tender. Taste and add salt if required. Serve hot, in deep bowls.
HUNGARIAN GOULASH SOUP (GULYÁSLEVES) Chicken goulash soup Lake Balaton goulash soup with noodles
Serbian white bean soup
Georgian kharcho soup