Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup

Autumn is here and our thoughts turn to soup. (Re-reading that, it makes it sound like our thoughts sort of liquefy and become all runny and soft. This may well be the case but it’s NOT WHAT I MEANT!) In Tel Aviv today it is almost the middle of November and a not-very-chilly 28 degrees centigrade outside, so this whole autumny-soupy vibe I’ve got going may have a lot more to do with wishful thinking than an actual need to warm ourselves from the inside out. Still though, I hear we’ll have temperatures as low as 23C in a week from now, so all is not lost.

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In my husband’s family there are two soups which make a regular appearance throughout the cold (ha!) autumn and winter seasons. One of these is Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup. (The other is Savta Clara’s Tomato Rice soup, which will surely find its way onto the blog at some point in the dark freezing [ha ha!] months to come). It is, in my opinion, the definitive vegetable soup. Almost, but not quite, a clear soup, it is green with herbs, a tiny bit spicy, a lot vegetabley and extremely moreish. Eating a bowl of it offers an experience which is somehow at the same time rigorously cleansing and deeply comforting – two sensations I expect many of us are craving in the light of recent global events.

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A little about its distinguished creator: Savta Shifra (‘savta’ means ‘granny’ in Hebrew) was my husband’s father’s mother. Born in Lublin, Poland, in 1914, she came to Israel at the age of 20 with her sister to study agriculture. This decision was to save her life: all her family who stayed behind in Poland were killed in the Holocaust.

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Blonde, blue-eyed Shifra studied and worked in the fields in the centre of Israel, where her shorts-clad legs were apparently the talk of the region. She was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman: gracious and charming, hardworking, kind, the sort who made the best out of things, and who, together with her husband David, devotedly raised three sons (and a lot of chickens) on a smallholding in a neighbourhood which is now part of north Tel Aviv, but was then a small village. My hubby spent a lot of time with his grandparents as a child and gets rather uncharacteristically wistful and dreamy-eyed when he recalls the afternoons spent in their garden hunting for bugs, or walking back to his grandparents’ house through the winter rain after judo practice to be welcomed by a steaming hot bowl of soup. For Savta Shifra was also a legendary cook.

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And this is her soup. Hearty yet refreshing. Full of deep vegetable flavour with just a hint of ‘picante’ from the curry powder. Thickened with oats, freshened with parsley and dill, it is the soup I dream of on cold wet days and the one I always secretly hope my mother-in-law will be serving at our weekly family lunches.

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Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup

MAKES 1 LARGE POT

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: 45-50 MINS

Many thanks to my mother-in-law, Irit, for passing the recipe down to me. The original recipe uses butter for sauteeing the vegetables but feel free to substitute olive oil to make a vegan soup.

Ingredients

2 large onions, cut into 1cm dice

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

3 medium courgettes or zucchini, cut into 1cm dice (the pale green variety are more common in Israel so these are what I used. Feel free to substitute the dark green or yellow-skinned variety)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

50g (1.8oz) unsalted butter (or substitute a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for a vegan version)

4 tbsp porridge oats

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp sweet paprika, or to taste

1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

1 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp mushroom stock powder

1 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock powder

4 or 5 handfuls of mixed frozen vegetables. (Use whatever you have on hand: green beans, chickpeas, peas, sweetcorn, broccoli etc.)

3 tbsp soya sauce

Small handful of parsley, finely chopped

Small handful of dill, finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Boil the kettle. Melt the butter in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the porridge oats and stir to coat.
  2. Add all the vegetables to the pot, stir, and then pour in enough boiling water to fill the pot two thirds full.
  3. Stir in salt, pepper, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, and the stock powders.
  4. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. While the soup is simmering, boil the kettle again. Place the frozen vegetables in a colander and rinse thoroughly, first under the cold tap and then in the boiled water from the kettle. Drain well.
  6. When the 15 minutes are up, add the semi-defrosted vegetables to the pot, stir, and simmer, covered, for another 5-7 minutes.
  7. Stir in the soya sauce, parsley and dill, let simmer for another couple of minutes so the flavours combine and then taste to check seasoning. Add more salt if necessary – I usually find that none is needed, since the salt, stock powders and soya sauce added earlier result in a soup which is already just the right amount of salty! Serve very hot.