As I type this, it’s a bright sunny day in Edinburgh and so why am I writing about soup? Well yesterday, as I went into town it was chucking it down. The tourists here for the festival were scuttling to their next show. They were all suitably clad in waterproofs as they knew what summer in Scotland can mean. So that’s why – you just never know when a warming soup will be needed, even in August.
On the subject of the festival, we are off to our first show this weekend and while once it would have been edgy comedy, this year we will be (hopefully) laughing at a dog called Hairy McClary along with a packed audience of other toddlers and their families. I’m wondering if, like other festival shows this one can be accompanied by a chilled glass of white wine? But then again, I’m not sure I can pull off the necessary cool look at 10.30 in the morning given a four-month old sleeping on me and a happily hysterical 3-year-old on his dad’s knee beside me.
Forget dreams of chilled wine for the moment Holly, and get back to the matter in hand – fabulous spiced coconut and green lentil soup. For a long time a store cupboard soup has been on my to do list. A soup
● that can be made simply from ingredients in the larder,
● for those moments when you don’t have anything in but want something nourishing and warming,
● that requires minimal input but is tasty, filling and wholesome.
This is that soup!
Can we agree that an onion is a store cupboard ingredient? I think it is. As onions last a good long time, it’s easy for one to be forgotten in the veg basket. It sits there in its unappreciated state and then when nothing else surrounds it, you pluck it out and it becomes the first step in creating spiced coconut and green lentil soup. This soup is a fragrant rather than hot spicy soup. The coriander, cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon provide flavour and warmth. The green lentils give bulk and the coconut milk adds creaminess.
In a saucepan with a lid heat the oil. When hot add the onion and stir well. After a minute add all the spices and stir to combine. Cook over a medium heat with the lid on until the edges of the onions begin to go transparent.
Add in the coconut milk, stock and green lentils and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are soft – about 20 minutes. Blend with a stick blender and serve. That’s it!
You could replace the vegetable stock powder and hot water with 500ml of vegetable stock.
A few weeks ago we were off to Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Show. Mum was bringing the savoury part of a picnic and my contribution was something sweet and fruit. I made a Madeira cake covered in a raspberry icing. The cake had sunk in the middle. I was in a rush and using a mixer I was unfamiliar with and so assumed I had over beaten the mix. It luckily didn’t stop the cake being delicious and hitting the spot with strong coffee after lunch. Cakes don’t normally sink for me, so I was keen to check my assumption about the over beaten mix was correct.
I made another Madeira cake and the same thing happened! This was suddenly not OK. Baby G had been sleeping so I had been able to take my time over this cake; what was wrong? I rechecked the recipe and suddenly it hit me. In my sleep deprived state I’d added baking powder as well as using self raising flour. Self raising flour already contains raising agents so I had inadvertently doubled the quantity of baking powder. This had meant the cake had risen too much and then started to sink. Ah ha, well at least I knew what was wrong now. To prevent you ending up with a similar sunken middle, I thought I would share the following.
Why cakes sink in the middle
There are basically three reasons for this
Too much raising agent. The cake rises quickly and then collapses.
The oven door was opened too early. I’ve done a lot of reading around this and, while everyone agrees this is important, I’ve been unable to find out why. But any change in temperature can’t help a cake to rise.
The mixture has been over beaten. Too much air will have been added into the mixture, so it will achieve a rise that can’t be sustained.
What you can do
If you are entering a baking competition, just start again! Make a cup of tea, take the time to understand what went wrong, then take a deep breath and make the cake again!
My favourite option though is to carry on as if you meant this to happen. You can of course just serve the cake as is. But why not fill the sunken top using icing or fruit. And then ice over the whole cake as if that’s what was meant to be. That’s what I decided to do.
I made up a batch of cream cheese icing that you would normally find on top of a carrot cake. I think it’s my favourite type of icing. Creamy but not too sweet. I filled the hole with this icing and then spread the rest of it over the cake. On top of that, I spooned raspberry couli and then mixed this into the icing.
As I finished icing the cake I thought, oh, I hope I end up with a middle piece with loads of icing. Being the dutiful hostess, I cut a slice for everyone else and then served myself a middle piece. Suddenly a sunken middle seemed rather ideal!
Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150°C fan / 340°F / Gas mark 4.
Grease and line the cake tin.
In a large bowl beat the butter until soft with an electric whisk or a strong arm and wooden spoon.
Add the caster sugar and beat until it’s all combined and the mixture has turned a pale yellow colour. This may take up to a minute of beating as the aim is to get lots of air into the mixture.
Add an egg at a time and beat well to combine.
Sift the flour on top of the butter mixture and then add the grounds almonds. Using a metal spoon fold the flour and almonds into the butter mixture. The moment it’s all combined stop folding, as further mixing is likely to remove the air.
Still using the metal spoon, spoon the mixture into the tin. Gently smooth the top and put straight into the preheated oven.
The cake will take 55 minutes – it’s done when it’s shrunk back from the sides of the tin, springs back under the weight of your finger, and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Resist the temptation to open the oven door early.
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 15 minutes to cool. Transfer onto a cooling rack.
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely combined. Sift in the 70g icing sugar and stir again.
Put the raspberries in a small saucepan and heat over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally. They will first defrost and then begin to break down to make a coulis. Stir in the ½ tsp of icing sugar and leave to cool.
When the cake is cold spread over the icing. Spoon on the raspberry couli and mix in just a little. Serve.
Summer is very much here. In fact, the days have been incredibly hot for Edinburgh – almost like a full on summer in France. (My Edinburgh readers will be able to tell I wrote this a few weeks ago! We have had a few warm days recently here but not the heat experienced by our southern compatriots.) The heat makes me want salads; big, beautiful filling salads. I make one of these salads up and they become the backbone of meals for a few days. We have them for lunch and to make a bigger meal for supper I serve them with hummus and bread, hot halloumi and asparagus, or a fried egg.
Dave’s cousin’s recently visited Edinburgh and we had a lovely big family meal of this salad plus Beijing Chicken. A rather strange combination that was more a result of what I wanted to cook, rather than what would go well together. To be honest it worked out fine and both were enjoyed by all. Well, nearly everyone – our 2 ½ year old JP, liked the Beijing Chicken but was highly suspicious of this salad.
Pearl barley isn’t a grain I have done much with before. However, I found some in the cupboard and thought it would make a nice change from bulgar wheat, couscous or rice. I simmered the barley for 30 minutes in stock to give it flavour; it was perfectly cooked but still had a good nuttiness. And while the barley cooked I prepared the remaining ingredients before tossing everything together.
This salad is just beautiful. The pomegranate and mango glisten away, while the green mint adds it’s emerald colour. The hazelnuts are camouflaged by the feta and pearl barley and make for a lovely surprise. It also fits beautiful with what you my lovely readers recently requested in the Readers Survey – it’s quick and healthy. So an all round winner.
Replace the feta with vegan cheese to make this salad vegan. The pearl barley could be replaced with (precooked) cracked Bulgar wheat. Simmer in the stock for 8 – 10 minutes and then drain.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:30 minutes
Total Time:45 minutes
200g pearl barley
1 litre of veg stock
2 mangoes, skinned and cubed
200g feta, crumbled
1 pomegranate, seeds of
100g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
5 tbsp olive oil
50g mint, stalks removed and roughly chopped
Simmer the pearl barley for 25-35 minutes in the stock until cooked but still nutty.
Drain and then mix in a large bowl with all the remaining ingredients except the mint. Scatter the mint over the top of the salad and serve.
Add salt depending on your palate.
The mint isn’t mixed into the salad as the heat from the pearl barley will discolour it.
This salad is best eaten fresh but will last happily for two days in the fridge.