The clocks turned back a day ago. And just to make sure we all realise, it turned into winter overnight. The cold drops of rain (snow for those up north, yucks) have been falling, and the icy winds have ganged up with the rain clouds by beating my useless umbrella up so that I get home wet, cold and tired. And hungry. It's on nights like this when I dream of getting into the hot shower for a full hour, and coming out to piping hot noodle soup, or a comforting bowl of congee. In my dream, that soup or congee would be prepared lovingly by my mum (or a cute boy. or any other person but me, really), so I need only worry about getting into my thickest jumpers and pyjamas bottoms. Alas, the three years here have taught me that soup will not magically appear on my table however tight I shut my eyes and cross my fingers. It will, and can appear after my shower, if I muster enough energy to do five minutes worth of chopping.
Five minutes is eally all it takes for homecooked magic. And I don't even mean five minutes of crazy chinese wokking or Jamie Oliver-style triple tasking or working an overpriced machine. I get weird stares from my friends when I say I cook every day, but I can't imagine not. I know not everyone sees the fun in peeling onions and inhaling steam from the pot. But even if you cook for the sake of sustenance, it doesn't really take much to deliver good food into your belly.
Perhaps the most basic soup that I loved as a child, and that I first dared to cook after I first moved to London, is the ABC soup. It's not a creative acronym, and I didn't make the name up. Mums called it ABC soup because it's as simple as ABC; simple equipment, simple skills, and simple ingredients you can find no matter which side of the pond you dwell. Potatoes, onions, carrots and pork ribs, all in a pot for a couple of hours, done. Yet the soup is lovely and hearty, the broth naturally sweet from the vegetables and pork. I've now taken to calling all soups that are made in that same fashion ABC soup. What I used here is a mix of winter roots that I picked up from the farmer's market that day, and all in all there are more than a few changes so I don't know if you would still call it the same thing, but it's just as unfussy as ABC soup should be.
ABC WINTER ROOTS SOUP
makes enough to feed yourself at least twice, depending on how hungry
2 large carrots
1 medium turnip
1 large onion1/2 a medium celeriac
1/2 a medium swede
4 cups of homemade Asian stock*
1 tbsp butter from happy cows
2 tbsp white (shiro) miso
lots of freshly ground white pepper
chopped fresh parsley and coriander
1. Wash, peel and chop all the vegetables up into rough large chunks, no need for geometric accuracy.
2. Put all the vegetables into a pot with the stock and bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for the length of your shower i.e. 30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Dissolve miso in a bit of the broth and then stir in evenly. Also stir in the butter. (Because butter makes everything better. And because miso and butter together are delicious, if you have not yet been enlightened.)
4. Finish with a generous sprinkle of pepper and herbs. Eat.
The root vegetables are all sweet but in different ways, so you get different layers of flavours as they cook; the nuttiness and fragrance of celery from the celeriac, the slight pepperiness from the turnip, the earthiness from the swede, and the mellow sweetness from the carrot. I like that they are all left in huge rustic chunks because then you get to appreciate the different textures, and of course, it means no ninja knife skills or blender is needed.
You could also add rainbow chard or some other seasonal greens towards the end, but then you would have to stagger the timing, and this soup is about bunging it all in at the same time, save for my final seasoning and sprinkling of herbs. *Because this was a soup that that I wanted right out of the shower, I used stock instead of pork ribs, although if you went for water on this one, I assure you the soup does not lack in flavour, especially if you do as I did, stirring in a mild miso at the end for some shortcut creamy salty umami.
But again, this is ABC soup; it's meant to be as simple as you like and if you've only got salt and pepper and nothing else in your kitchen cupboard, so be it. No fuss.