A year to lead by example
Vegan food has earned its place in our kitchens thanks to knock-out recipes that pack a punch. Here are four soups that, by virtue of their flavour, will get you thinking about how you eat
he word vegan is no longer the domain of activists, hardcore fans and the hemp trouser brigade
Ashiny new year brings promise. It’s a time for taking stock (literally in the case of this week’s recipes) and making sure we can be proud of how we are living. For many that will mean trying to live a little more consciously, and central to that are our decisions about food.
The day I started writing my first cookbook I decided that the way to encourage people to put more vegetables centre stage was to make downright delicious food – to let the food do the talking. Preaching and rhetoric weren’t my thing, and I felt they were also a big part of why some people made negative judgements about vegan and vegetarian food.
The word vegan is no longer the domain of activists, hardcore fans and the hemp trouser brigade. For my brother, who has been vegan for 10 years, this new wave is, in short, amazing. For eight of those years there were only a handful of places in London where he could eat anything off the menu – that has now radically shifted. Even friends who wore their love of meat as a badge of honour have been persuaded that being vegan might not be so dour after all.
Some say that all this is just the latest food fad, but I believe this way of eating is going stay. The normalisation of veganism will only encourage more people to be wiser about the big business of food. And while I am sure many of us won’t make the full leap to veganism, it will make us question and reevaluate our choices.
Most of the food I cook naturally tends to be vegan. This week, with all its resolutions, is a peak opportunity to change how we eat. In that spirit, here are four vegan soups that, by virtue of their flavours, will I hope spark a dialogue. A spritely lemongrass and peanut soup, so hearty some might consider it a stew, bright with aromatics and chilli. And “couldn’t be simpler” miso broth, that fuelled most of my 20s – it’s made from five ingredients and can be thrown together in 10 minutes. My “not-chicken soup” – a soul-soothing number to banish January blues, and – one of my mostmade soups – a lime leaf-infused coconut broth, fragrant and intensely creamy with the savouriness of buckwheat noodles.
Kind food that tastes great for a brave new year.
1 Lemongrass and peanut broth Serves 4
2 red chillies or 2 tbsp chilli paste 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced 2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced A thumb of ginger, peeled and grated 1 tsp ground coriander
1 stalk lemongrass
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of coconut or groundnut oil 400ml tin coconut milk
150g unsalted peanuts
2 carrots, thinly sliced
200g green beans, trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
200g firm tofu or tempeh: 2cm pieces 2 large handfuls spinach, shredded
1 Blitz the chillies, garlic, shallots, ginger, coriander and lemongrass and a pinch of salt into a rough paste.
2 Swirl the oil in a heavy-based pot and set over medium heat until shimmering hot. Fry the spice paste until it darkens and is aromatic – about 2-4 minutes.
3 Stir in the coconut milk and 400ml water. Add the peanuts and carrots, then bring to a boil. Add more water to cover the vegetables, if necessary. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are almost cooked through – about 5 minutes. Next, add the green beans and tofu, and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
4 Uncover, and stir in the spinach and a good pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. If possible, let the soup sit for 1-2 hours for the flavours to meld.
2 Miso broth Serves 4
½ tbsp coconut oil A bunch of spring onions A small thumb of ginger, peeled, grated 2 litres boiling water 2 nests of noodles (I use vermicelli brown rice noodles) 1 head of leafy greens (I use choi sum or pak choi), shredded 1 tbsp chilli miso paste
1 Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan, add the spring onions, then cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and stock, bring to the boil, then keep warm. 2 Cook the noodles. Drain and divide between four bowls.
3 Add the greens to the broth. Add 2 tbsp of the hot broth to the miso paste and mix well, then pour this back into the pot. Pour the broth over the noodles and serve immediately.
3 Green peppercorn and lemongrass coconut broth
To serve four: Boil the kettle. Melt 4 tbsp coconut oil over a low flame. Blitz a thumb of ginger, 2 peeled garlic cloves and 1-2 small green chillies with 4 spring onions, a small bunch of coriander and a few sprigs of mint (reserve some herbs for garnishing). Add the melted coconut oil, then blitz into a smooth paste. Fry the paste over a medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in 1 tsp turmeric, 15 green peppercorns, two 400ml tins of coconut milk, the juice of a lime, 1 tbsp veg stock powder and 1 tbsp soy sauce. Add 600ml hot water from the kettle. Smash a lemongrass stalk so it splinters but remains together, then tuck it into the pan. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Add ½ a finely sliced butternut squash to the pan.
Meanwhile, shred 100g spinach, then add to a bowl with 100g brown rice noodles. Cover with boiling water.
Once the squash is cooked through, add the greens to the soup and allow it to come to a simmer again. Check for seasoning, adding a little honey if it needs some sweetness and more lime and salt as needed. Drain the noodles, then divide between four bowls. Ladle over the soup and vegetables, adding a generous squeeze of lime juice and a few extra coriander and mint leaves.
4 Not-chicken soup
To serve four: Heat a little olive oil in a large soup pot over a medium heat. Add 1 quartered and thinly sliced medium onion, a finely sliced leek, 3 trimmed and finely sliced fennel bulbs (fronds reserved) 3 chopped celery stalks (leaves reserved) and 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into 1cm pieces.
Lower the heat and cook gently for 20-30 minutes, or until everything is very soft and sweet, without browning too much. Keep a little jug of water close to the pan and add a splash of water if it looks like it’s going to stick.
Add 8 very thinly sliced medium garlic cloves and 2 tbsp grated ginger. Cook for another 2 minutes or so, then squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add 2 litres of water, a pinch of pepper and a good pinch of salt (or you can use vegetable stock if you want a fuller-flavoured soup). Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss 200g tofu, cut into 1cm sticks, in about 3 tbsp soy sauce. Heat a pan with a little olive oil and fry the tofu until crisp. Add a final tablespoon of soy sauce and toss quickly in the hot pan: the soy should stick to the tofu and give it a rich stickiness. Remove from the heat. Your soup should now be about ready. Add about 50g of any leftover pasta: if it’s long noodles then break them up as you add them. Cook for another 8 minutes (or as long as it needs). Finally, taste, and adjust with more salt, water or even a squeeze more lemon, if needed. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with tofu, fennel fronds and celery leaves, plus a good drizzle of olive oil.