It’s the New Year and everybody (including myself) is on a "get healthy" kick. That said, I’m not really a salad person and I still rely heavily on food that will warm me up as well as fill me up.
Since we’re still experiencing a bit of a cold spell here in the UK, the stock pots and slow cookers are my kitchen vessels of choice, in which I simmer and stew all manner of vegetables and winter roots.
You may not start with the prettiest looking ingredients at this time of year, but give them a little time to cook with some tasty stock and you can feed the whole family extremely healthily and cost-effectively with minimum effort.
Warming winter soups can very easily be jazzed up to make an impressive meal for family or friends; a light swirl of crème fraiche or, my current favourite, a crunchy almond and kale crumble topping (whizzed up in a blender). Pulses, lentils, rice or potatoes can be added to make a thicker, more substantial meal; stretching out some very simple ingredients even further, but still keeping things gluten free.
For most soups, unless you are using roasted vegetables, start with a base of onions, carrots and celery and sweat them in a large pan with a tiny drizzle of oil until golden and soft. This takes away any rawness and starts you off with a slightly sweeter base flavour. To this you can then chop and add almost any vegetables of your choice. Cover them with a good-quality stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender, or if using the slow cooker or crock-pot, cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours, or 2 to 4 hours on high-heat setting.
Across Central and Eastern Europe, root vegetable soups really come into their own during the colder months, with a few humble vegetables coming together to make a quick “one-pot” meal. Potatoes are one of the most versatile and brilliant ingredients in soup. I’ve shared my recipe below for one of our favourites; a German potato soup known as kartoffelsuppe. This comforting soup is a magnificent example of how some very basic, budget-friendly ingredients can be elevated into an incredibly cosy, fireside supper.
Kartoffelsuppe (German potato soup)
- Olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 stick celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and cubed
- 1 large leek, washed, and chopped
- 1.5kg/3lb potatoes, peeled and chopped
- Half a head of sweetheart cabbage, sliced
- 1 tablespoon marjoram
- Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 litre/4 cups vegetable stock
- A small piece of German sausage, to garnish (optional)
- Fresh parsley
Put the onion, celery, leek and carrots into a large saucepan, add a splash of olive oil and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until they have softened.
For the slow cooker/crock pot version, transfer the vegetables into your slow cooker, add in the potatoes and cabbage, sprinkle with marjoram and add a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Pour over the stock cover with the lid and cook for 6-8 hours on a low heat setting or 4-5 hours on a higher heat setting.
If you are cooking the soup on the stovetop, add the potatoes and cabbage to the partly cooked vegetables, sprinkle with marjoram and add a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Pour over the stock, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered. Make sure the vegetables are always covered with stock; adding a cupful of extra water if necessary during cooking.
Check that the potatoes are soft. At this stage, you can either serve the soup as it is, or else gently mash some of the vegetables and add them back on, or puree the soup with a stick blender.
To garnish, finely slice the German sausage and fry it gently in a small frying pan. Serve the soup with the sausage and a sprinkle of fresh flat leaf parsley.
For more healthy eating inspiration, take a look at Jamie’s Healthy Meals Section, here.
All photos by Ren Behan