/ 6 August 2008

More than just a hearty broth

The alchemical magic of infusing water with a blend of seasonings and a mix of meat and/or vegetables is as old as the art of cooking itself. From Russian borsch to Spanish gazpacho, Italian minestrone and Chinese won ton, every culture has evolved its speciality using local foodstuffs to create soups that satisfy the soul.

Although they come as summer coolers — in the form of gazpacho, vichyssoise or, heaven forbid, a fruited soup — it’s in winter that soup really comes into its own. Warming, nourishing and generally easy to make, they are the perfect staple for the long, cold nights and frosty days.

The first soup I learned to make as a student was of the plain, old butternut variety. Chop up some onions, potato and butternut. Throw into a pot with a stock cube and some water, boil and mash into a pulp. It was cheap and not glamorous, but more nutritious than my staple of tuna surprise.

My cooking has come a long way since those days. And although I still favour the pureed vegetable variety of soup of a hearty consistency, I decided to branch out this winter and armed myself with Susannah Blake’s 500 Soups — a compact compendium featuring recipes each with an addendum on how to vary the soup.

These range from the meaty and warming spiced lentil, chickpea and chorizo soup or the chilli-beef soup with cheese — topped with tortilla chips (which looks a lot more like a stew than a soup) to the creamy spinach and coconut soup or roast pepper and mascarpone.

The book isn’t really designed for vegetarians, but there are plenty of options, including a simple Spanish gazpacho, a chunky Mediterranean vegetable soup or the wild mushroom soup with sage.

It provides a pretty substantial basic to a variety of easy-to-make soups.

But if even the most basic broth is more than you can bear to make, Doppio Zero has introduced a selection of “home cooked” soups to take away.

Fresh, quality products are used and the vegetable soups are 100% vegetarian. I was given a selection of soups in quantities so substantial that I couldn’t try them all myself and had to share them out among colleagues and friends.

Here are our verdicts:
Doppio’s description: Based on a traditional Hungarian recipe of meat, tomatoes and potatoes, the Doppio Zero goulash soup has been a winner in terms of its heartiness. It’s a meal on its own combining protein, starch and flavours of rich warmth and depth.

Our verdict: The soup was packed full of quality ingredients and they did not skimp on the meat. The full flavour of the spices hadn’t come through though, so it was a bit burny.

Pork and bean
Doppio’s description: The taste of smoked pork meat combined with different beans makes this dish a filling and cheerful soup. If you enjoy pork, this soup is delicious dish.

Our verdict: Generous quantity of salted pork and beans. A tasty, thick consistency soup that makes a hearty winter meal.

Red pepper and pumpkin
Doppio’s description: The combination of red pepper and sweet pumpkin with a dash of nutmeg enlivens the taste buds with the incredible taste of roasted flavours. It is served thick and creamy with real flavours intertwined in the taste buds. At the table throw in a few lugs of balsamic vinegar.

Our verdict: The soup needed salt, but, once added, it was thick and tasty, but without surprises.

Spicy butternut and ginger
Doppio’s description: Almost bordering on Thai flavours without the lemongrass and coconut milk, this soup has a great flavour of creamy sweet butternut with a hint of ginger coming through. One will taste the delectable flavour of fresh coriander with each spoonful.

Our verdict: A delicious, creamy, flavourful soup. Very more-ish.

No description provided.

Our verdict: Not quite for the soul. It’s fair and filling and doesn’t stint on the amount of chicken used. But sadly lacking on the flavour front, utterly unexciting and uninventive.

Spicy Moroccan bean soup
Doppio’s description: The soup is rich in Middle Eastern flavours with the touch of spice, the beans and potato adding to a tasty fullness of a great soup. This is definitely a soup for a second helping. Sprinkle some oregano on for more flavour.

Our verdict: Spicy, but not hot, and full of flavour. A wholesome soup loaded with beans and potato. Delicious!