London is very chilly at the moment. The winter months just last longer and are darker and more bitterly cold than I’ll ever get used to. By the time March rolls around I’m like ‘spring!!!’… but alas no, spring doesn’t seem to properly arrive until mid-late April. So anyway, this naturally means many more months of very hearty, warming, heavy, carby, delicious food. Which I can’t complain about. However, unless you are very strict, one does need to take into consideration the slowly expanding soft bits of your winter body as a result of all this winter food (our bodies think we’re in hibernation after all ;)). And that’s where good soups come in – they can be very healthy, and yet still very hearty! Another favourite is my easy Roast Tomato Soup.
I’m not a massive fan of blended soups. Tomato-y ones I’m all about, but a cauliflower, carrot, pumpkin blended up soup… not so much. I like them in theory – the first mouthful is great, but by the last mouthful I’m usually like ‘blegh!’ I think it’s because every single mouthful is exactly the same, and they’re a little reminiscent of baby food. So I don’t tend to make too many of these. What I do love is a broth based soup with lots of different bits floating around! That sounds terrible but I mean like a pho is great, laksa, ramen – all the Asian soups are fab.
This particular laksa is based on a chicken laksa recipe of Jamie Oliver’s – which included the genius idea of grating squash into the soup. I will never get over this, it is so good. This is hands down one of my all time favourite soups / wintery meals. Not to mention, with a base of good quality chicken stock, it’s a great way to stave off winter colds and nourish your gut. But of course go for a good-quality veggie stock if you’re meat-free.
The great thing about this recipe is the paste can be made in advance (it will last 4 days refrigerated), and it can also be made in bulk and frozen in zip lock bags. The below recipe makes 1 cup of paste. If you want to eat this the next day, don’t add the greens, bean shoots, noodles and herbs to the soup. Add them when you re-heat it so they don’t get all swollen and soggy.
Play around with the vegetables you add (asparagus, broccolini, peppers etc.), and you can also add things like tofu or grilled prawns to mix it up. I’d also recommend going to a good Asian grocer to get the vegetables I suggest (bok choy, choy sum, pak choy) as well as the Vietnamese mint. If you can’t get hold of the mint, regular mint is still lovely.
If you want to make the recipe vegan just swap the honey for raw sugar or maple syrup, and omit the fish sauce.
- 2 garlic cloves (peeled)
- 5cm piece of fresh ginger (peeled)
- 2 green or red chillies (seeds removed)
- 4-5 spring onions (trimmed)
- 3 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tbsp cashew nut or peanut butter
- 2 stalks of lemongrass (peeled)
- 1 tsp honey (or raw sugar)
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 bunch of coriander, stems only
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp low-salt soy sauce
- 200 g dried vermicelli noodles
- 1 butternut squash
- 400 ml fresh or tinned organic coconut milk
- 800 ml organic (or homemade) chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 bunch of bok choy / pak choy / choy sum
- 2 cups bean shoots
- 1-2 cup sugar snap peas
- 2 limes (juice)
- 1 bunch of coriander (leaves only)
- 1 cup Vietnamese mint
To make the laksa paste – throw all the ingredients for the paste in a food processor and blend until a smooth paste forms. This will last up to 4 days (covered and refrigerated).
In a large bowl, add boiling water to the vermicelli noodles and leave to soak for 15 minutes, then drain.
Meanwhile, grate the 1 butternut squash (you can leave the skin on for this). In a large saucepan add the stock, grated butternut squash, coconut milk and 1 cup of paste and bring to the boil.
To prepare the vegetables, wash and trim the greens, then cut into roughly bite size pieces. Add to the liquid the greens, cook for 2 minutes. Then add the bean shoots and the drained noodles.
Squeeze the juice of one lime in to the laksa. Check the seasoning - add more soy sauce if it isn’t salty enough and add some chilli powder or flakes if you want it to be hotter.
Serve topped with chopped coriander and mint, slices of fresh chilli and fresh lime wedges.