Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

Mr Olive and I go out on a date every couple of weeks and our favourite type of date consists of heading into Tel Aviv to eat at one of the city’s amazing restaurants. Sitting and chatting in a cool venue over a selection of delicious and surprising dishes and a yummy cocktail is basically our idea of the best quality time ever. Mr Olive’s mother often rolls her eyes at us: “There are so many things you could do on a date!” she says. “Go and see a film or a concert for a change!” She has a point but, in the end, as a couple with young kids and real face-to-face time at a premium, we’d much rather be interacting with each other than looking at something else or staring at a screen (we do quite enough screen-staring as it is!).

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A month ago we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Dalida, in south Tel Aviv. Named after the Egyptian-Italian singer popular throughout the 60s and 70s, the restaurant describes itself as a European khmara, where ‘khmara’ is the Arabic word for a drinking den – a cave of pleasure where people gather late into the night to eat, get drunk and talk nonsense. While a little scuzzy, the khmara is also joyful and fun. It’s a distinctly Levantine concept. A Middle Eastern stereotype. Presumably, the ‘European’ part of Dalida’s claim alludes both to the food and to the atmosphere of urbanity and self-awareness that lies alongside that down-to-earth khmara vibe. In practice, Dalida is not a dive, but a cozy bar-restaurant, very hip and vintagey, which serves an exciting fusion of European and Middle-Eastern cuisines.

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One of the dishes we ate was described on the menu thus: ‘Tortellini. Inside: Ricotta, chard, cranberries, pistachios. Outside: Fresh shiitaki, scorched cherry tomatoes, sage-lemongrass butter, vegetables, parmesan.’ Um, what? Cranberries and pistachios stuffed inside tortellini? Shiitaki with parmesan? Sage-lemongrass butter? Oh. My. God.

The dish was one of the most moreishly umami concoctions I have eaten in a long time. That hint of sweet and salty crunch inside the pasta, mixed with the powerful (and weirdly complimentary) flavours of shiitaki and parmesan. And the tomato juices mingling with the fragrant notes of lemongrass and sage. It was so good. It was so good that I had to recreate it. Even if that meant dusting off the unopened box in which my pasta machine had been sitting for the last four years. That good.

So I made tortellini from scratch for the first time in my life (that time back when I was in my 20s and didn’t have a pasta machine so I used a rolling pin and each tortellini emerged resembling a baseball mitt? We don’t mention that time). And it was soooo worth it. I may have stuck my face into the bowl and licked it clean at the end. Ok, I definitely did.

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If you are experienced at making fresh pasta, this will be easy peasy for you. I am not so I can’t deny that it took me a while. However, the only actual challenging part was getting the hang of the pasta machine so, if you’re also a newbie pasta maker (or even if you just haven’t done it in a while) I highly recommend that you check out our previous post, How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. I learned a lot while using my machine for the first time and next time it will be much quicker and easier! And I think the next time is going to be very soon…

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Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

MAKES APPROX 36 TORTELLINI / SERVES 4

PREPARATION AND COOKING (INCLUDING DOUGH RESTING TIME): APPROX 2 HOURS

Inspired by the Tortellini served at Dalida Bar-Restaurant, Tel Aviv.

Pasta dough recipe based on the one in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef. I used a food processor to make the dough, but you could also use a stand mixer, or do it by hand in a big bowl.

Ingredients

Pasta Dough

250g / 2 cups strong pasta flour (Tipo ’00’)

2-3 large free-range eggs

1/2 tsp turmeric

Lots of semolina flour for dusting

Tortellini Filling

100g / 3.5 oz swiss chard, roughly chopped

100g / 3.5 oz roasted, salted pistachios, shelled

50g / 1.75 oz dried cranberries

200g / 7 oz ricotta

3 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

To Serve

20g / 0.75 oz dried shiitake mushrooms

Cooking oil spray (I used a coconut oil based one)

400g / 14 oz cherry tomatoes

50g / 1.75 oz unsalted butter

White part of a stalk of fresh lemongrass (usually the bottom third)

20 sage leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

25g / 0.9 oz grated parmesan

Method

  1. First make the pasta dough. Put all the dough ingredients, except the semolina flour, in the food processor and turn it on. At first, as the dough starts to come together, it will look similar to breadcrumbs, which will then start to stick together to form a larger ball of dough. When this happens, take it out of the processor and see how it feels. Remember that eggs can differ in size and different flours can have different absorbencies, so squeeze and knead the dough a little bit and, if it feels too wet and gloopy, return it to the processor with some more flour. If it feels too dry and not stretchy enough, return it to the processor and add another egg. The final consistency should be smooth, silky and elastic, similar to bread dough.
  2. When you’re happy with the texture of the dough, remove it from the processor (it should leave the bowl clean) and knead it for 2-5 minutes until it’s soft and stretchy. I usually put on some music and knead for about the length of an average pop song. This time my musical accompaniment was this 😉 Wrap the dough in plastic and put in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
  3. While the dough is resting, clean the bowl of your food processor and put the shiitake mushrooms to soak in a mug of lukewarm water.

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  1. Make the tortellini filling. Put the chard, pistachios and cranberries in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
  2. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and whiz until the mixture is a similar colour and texture to guacamole. Taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

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  1. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and spray with cooking oil. When the pan is very hot add the cherry tomatoes and leave them to sear for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they don’t stick. After 5 minutes they should have some brown sear marks on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
  2. Sit down, have a cuppa and, if you haven’t already, read this post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface.
  3. When the dough has rested for an hour, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 2 balls. Re-wrap one ball in plastic while you work with the other one.
  4. Dust your work surface with semolina flour and then flatten the ball of dough with your hand. Run it through the pasta machine on the lowest (widest) setting until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends of the pasta sheet into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
  3. Repeat the process for the 2nd ball of dough.
  4. Making sure your work surface is well-dusted with flour, cut your pasta sheets into 8 x 8 cm (3 x 3 inch) squares.

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  1. Taking one square at a time, place a teaspoon of tortellini filling in the centre of each square. With a clean pastry brush and some water, brush evenly around the edges of the square. Make sure you use enough water so the tortellini will stick together properly.
  2. Fold the pasta square over the filling diagonally (see pic above) and press the edges together firmly. To get rid of any trapped air you can hold the triangle in the palm of your hand and squeeze it gently. Fold in the two flaps and press them together to join. You’ve just made tortellini! Repeat for all the remaining pasta.

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  1. Cook the tortellini for 3-4 minutes in boiling, well-salted water, then drain. While it’s cooking, drain the mushrooms and finely chop. Save a few sage leaves for a garnish, and finely chop the rest, along with the lemongrass.
  2. Using the same large frying pan you used for the tomatoes, melt the butter on a low heat, then add the mushrooms, lemongrass, sage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  3.  Add the drained tortellini to the pan and toss gently. Add the seared cherry tomatoes and squash them slightly with the back of a spoon so that some of the juice runs out to mingle with the butter.
  4. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, toss again and check seasoning. Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and serve with extra parmesan. Lick the bowl clean with abandon. 🙂

How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips

Funny story: on my 34th birthday I was 35 weeks pregnant with our first, Sophie. A few weeks earlier Mr Olive had asked me what I would like as a birthday present and I told him that I desired nothing so much as a pasta machine. Thing was, Israel at that point was in some kind of unprecedented pasta making frenzy. Put it this way: I was not the only person in the country who desired a pasta machine – to the point that (as he never tires of reminding me) Mr Olive ended up having to to comb the land back, front and sideways in order to find me one. Every supplier he tried was out of stock. Who knows into which distant and obscure regions poor Mr Olive had to venture, or how much he had to pay in order to procure me this highly desirable piece of kitchen equipment. Maybe as far as Petach Tikva. Maybe as much as 200 shekels. 😉

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However, all kudos to the mister: I received that coveted pasta machine for my birthday.

And then I gave birth to a baby.

The pasta machine never even made it out of its box.

So there it sat, at the back of the cupboard, staring at me petulantly every time I opened the door to get a saucepan. It started to become like one of those embarrassing memories you think you’ve successfully repressed until, oh no, here it comes bouncing back up again. Except that pasta machines don’t bounce. They clunk.

In order to put an end to the annoying clunking in the back of my mind I made the decision this month to finally address the issue and – gosh darn it – just flipping use that pasta machine! Sophie is now 4 years old. Tom is 2. I really had no more excuses.

So I cracked open the box and last weekend I made tortellini stuffed with ricotta, chard, pistachios and cranberries and it was amazing (recipe coming to the blog soon)! But there were a few lessons I learned along the way about old Clunk (as he will forthwith be known).

Here’s the thing about using a pasta machine: it’s easy. When you know how. I used the instructions in Jamie Oliver’s first book as a guide. But still, there was a bit of trial and error involved, a bit of dumbfounded head shaking and a bit of waving my arms around like a duck before I mastered the art. And so I would now like to share the lessons I learned using a pasta machine for the first time, so that when you use one for the first time, or even for the first time in a long time, you will sail through it like some kind of stereotypical apron-wearing, top-knotted Italian mama.

  1. Don’t think you can get away with not clamping the machine to your work surface. If you don’t it will jump around. Also, you need a work surface with a straight edge (no lip) and enough space on the underside on which to place your clamp. Our kitchen counter didn’t fulfill either of these criteria, so I used the dining table.
  2. Divide your dough into 2-4 balls and work with one ball at a time. (Keep the other balls wrapped in plastic).
  3. Run a small amount of dough through the rollers to clean them before use and discard the dough. (The rest of the machine can be wiped and carefully dried after use).
  4. Use a ton of semolina flour for dusting (you could probably use any type of flour but semolina is the most authentic). I really don’t think you could use too much. You’ll need flour to dust your work surface, both sides of the dough (before and after each time you roll it), and absolutely loads if you’re stacking sheets of dough in a pile, so they don’t stick to one another. Go crazy with the flour!
  5. In general, you’ll need one hand to crank the handle which means that all the feeding through the rollers needs to be done with your (one) other hand (unless you are an octopus). I found a technique where I would feed the dough through from the top a bit and catch it as it came out the bottom, then go back to feeding from the top, and take turns, catching from the bottom and feeding from the top until the whole sheet had gone through.

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  1. Flatten the ball of dough with your hand before the first time you run it through the rollers. Then run it through on lowest (widest) setting first until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.

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  1. As the pasta sheet gets thinner it also gets longer and you may find it easier to maneuver if you cut it in half width-ways. Just make sure you remember to run each piece through all the settings.

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  1. Stack the pasta sheets in a pile, dusting the top of each one generously with semolina flour. Next time I might try putting sheets of parchment paper between the pasta sheets too, but still I wouldn’t scrimp on the flour.

Now your pasta sheets are ready for anything! Keep them as they are and use them as lasagna. Cut into strips to make tagliatelle. Or cut into squares for tortellini like I did.

Just remember, using a pasta machine is one of those things which can seem a little intimidating the first time you do it, simply because it’s a new skill to learn. But hopefully this list of tips will help you avoid making all my newbie mistakes and, really, as soon as you’ve done it once it quickly becomes very straightforward. You’ll soon be whipping up a batch of fresh pasta with one hand while applying your lipstick with the other. (Actually, I’m not quite sure how you would do this since you do need both hands to operate the machine – unless you are in fact an octopus. Who wears lipstick. Um… where was I?)

I’ll keep you posted on my further adventures in pasta and stay tuned for a surprisingly umami tortellini recipe coming soon!

Damascene lentil soup (Shourba Addas)

There is no food quite as good to me as food from the Levant. In 1999 – 2000 I spent a year living in Damascus, Syria (where I met Mr. Peach, in fact) and soon after arriving found the most amazing restaurant – Al Shamiat. My roommates and I would go to Al Shamiat at least four times a week after class for lunch. Everything they made was simple but delicious and I have spent the last decade and a half trying to recreate the flavors that I found in that little hole in the wall.

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One recipe that I was able to approximate pretty easily and early on was their yellow lentil soup or Shourba Addas. This golden, creamy soup is filling and delicious and could not be easier to make. Plus, kids (at least mine) love it which makes it a good go-to for a winter’s day, or as a quick after work supper. What’s especially nice about this soup is that it is thick, seeming like a blended soup, but there is no need for that extra step – after about 40 minutes of simmering, the lentils turn into a gorgeous emulsion all by themselves.

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I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and keep an eye out for other Damascene recipes on Olives and Peaches – helping to keep a few of the delicious traditions of beautiful Syria alive seems the least we can do right now.

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Ingredients

3 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 small onions (or one large), diced
1/2 tbsp of turmeric
400g/2 cups of split yellow lentils, rinsed
2 bayleaves
2 ltr./8 cups chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon

To serve – lemon wedges, pita chips and chopped parsley

Method:

1. In a heavy pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil to prevent the butter from burning.

2. Add the diced onions, stirring occasionally. Cook until translucent and tender.

3. Add turmeric, stirring to coat the onions so that they are a beautiful golden color and the turmeric is fragrant (about 1 minute)

4. Add the rinsed lentils, stirring well so that they are coated in the butter, onion, turmeric concoction (about 1 minute)

5. Stir in stock – this can be done all in one go, no need to be delicate.

6. Throw in the bayleaves. Go on. Throw them.

7. Bring to the boil and then simmer on low for about 35 – 40 minutes or until the lentils are completely tender, and have lost their shape and the soup is thick. Give it a stir every 10 minutes or so – lentils can sort of sink to the bottom of the pot and if you aren’t paying attention, burn.

8. Serve piping hot with some chopped parsley as garnish and pita chips and lemon wedges on the side.

Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

Back in November I posted a recipe for Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup, the best vegetable soup out there, in my opinion! Now, as promised, I’m back with a soup recipe from a different Savta (‘savta’ means ‘granny’ in Hebrew). Savta Clara was Mr Olive’s granny on his mother’s side and her famous winter soup is a winner: a zingy combination of tomato, carrot and rice with an energizing hit of lemon, pepper and fresh herbs.

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Forget your sweet cloying Cream of Tomato (although I do have a soft spot for the Heinz tinned kind!); Savta Clara’s tomato soup is an entirely different beast. Despite the satisfying addition of rice, this soup feels light, invigorating, rejuvenating. I kind of see it as the vegetarian equivalent of the classic clear chicken noodle soup. If you’re suffering from the winter woozies and you’re not a chicken soup fan, THIS is the soup recipe you need to get you high-kicking again. I’m actually eating a bowl of it as I write this, and, wow, is it ever clearing my sinuses!

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A little background on Clara: she was born in 1917 in Bacău, a town in the east of Romania. She was a mischievous child and, by her own account, rather tested her parents’ patience. “If they threw me out the door, I’d come back in through the window,” she said. “And if they threw me out the window, I’d climb back in down the chimney.” Clara always loved to travel and she first visited Israel in her early 20s. While there she studied agriculture under the Meshek Hapoalot scheme, which prepared young immigrant women for their new non-traditional roles as farm labourers in the kibbutz and moshav communities.

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On finishing her program, she returned to Romania, where she married her hardworking and good-hearted husband, Itzchak, and gave birth to their first daughter, Nurit. But in 1950 Clara returned to Israel with her family, this time for good. They lived first in the north of the country before eventually settling in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. They had a wide social circle, mostly composed of other immigrants from Romania, and every Friday evening they would meet with friends to listen to music, dance and play cards.

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Clara was known for her ‘golden hands’ and her ability to excel at all kinds of crafts including sewing, knitting and embroidery. My mother-in-law, Irit, describes her as a serious but sweet and loving mother with exceptional organizational and culinary skills, and she and Mr Olive often recall their regular Saturday meal at Savta Clara’s, when she would serve borsht, peppery schnitzel and kasha.

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And, of course, this Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup. Warming and comforting, with a kick of citrus, this is the soup that Mr Olive requests on dark rainy winter days, especially when he’s got a touch of the Man Flu. And now you can enjoy it too! Sniffles optional 🙂

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Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

MAKES 1 POT

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: 35-40 MINS

Thanks to my mother-in-law, Irit, for passing this recipe down to me and for sharing stories of her mother, Clara.

Ingredients

3 medium carrots

1 medium onion

2 tbsp olive oil

One large handful each of fresh parsley, dill and celery leaf, including stalks (do not chop the herbs)

500 ml / 2 cups tomato juice

100g / 1/2 cup white rice

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, black pepper and sugar to taste

Method

  1. Boil the kettle.
  2. Coarsely grate one of the carrots and slice or finely chop the other two.
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the vegetables, cover, and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour boiling water into the pot, to about the halfway mark.
  6. Add the bunches of parsley, dill and celery leaves and cover.
  7. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Then, using kitchen tongs, remove the herbs and discard.
  8. Add the tomato juice and bring to the boil again.
  9. Add the rice, cover, and simmer on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked.
  10. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. You can afford to be generous with the lemon and pepper, since the citrus and heat are what gives this soup so much zing and pep!
  11. Treat yourself to a big bowlful on a dark and rainy winter day.

 

 

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.