I think it has been raining for TWO YEARS non stop in England. Anyone who says climate change isn’t happening deserves to get stuck in a lift with some humungous twat like David Cameron. And so I cook a lot of soup to keep warm. A big favourite of mine is minestrone, and I have tweaked my usual version to have Mexican flavours in it. I know, Mexican minestrone soup shouldn’t technically make sense. But now it does, for I have just invented it!
If you love traditional minestrone soup, I think you’ll go for this. It’s got big bold flavours, with lovely smoky chilli running through everything, as well as bacon, which gives it some backbone. If you don’t have bacon, it doesn’t matter, as long as you use the two sources of smoky chilli – chipotle and paprika. This soup is a great way to use up lots of winter veg that you might have knocking around the fridge, and you can jazz it up with Mexican-style accompaniments, such as tortilla chips and crumbled salty Feta cheese.
You can make use of pretty much any veg you have lurking around – the ones I used were just what I happened to have at the time. I’d probably avoid turnips or swedes though, because I think they make everything taste horrible.
You will need:
2 medium onions, diced
4 – 6 rashers smoked back bacon (streaky would be fine also) cut up into small 1cm pieces
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
2 smoked chipotle chillies (you can order from the Cool Chile Company)
2 tsp smoked paprika
Veg: I used 1 large red pepper diced, 1 small Savoy cabbage finely sliced, 1 Swiss Chard finely sliced, 4 carrots diced
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 mug pearl barley
1/2 mug red lentils
1 litre chicken or veg stock
Optional: Parmesan or Pecorino cheese rind (I save the rinds of these cheeses as they add great depth of flavour to soups)
Big handful chopped coriander
Optional: Feta cheese to crumble on top, plain salted tortilla chips to accompany
Soak your chipotle chillies in a little boiling water for 20 minutes while you get on with the rest. Toast your pearl barley in a hot pan until it smells nutty, then boil it in a small saucepan until ready (takes about 15 mins). In a large casserole, fry the onions in some vegetable oil on a medium heat until softened, then add the bacon pieces and cook until starting to crisp. Then add the veg in order of ‘sturdiness’– eg carrots for a few minutes first, then the other veg that take less time to cook afterwards. Stir everything together then put the casserole lid on for a minute or two so that the veg cooks in the steam.
Take the soaked chipotle chillies out of their soaking water and chop them up finely – seeds and all. Don’t throw away the soaking water.
Add the crushed garlic cloves and smoked paprika, stir around for a minute or two until fragrant, then add the chipotle chillies and their soaking water, cheese rinds (if you have them), cooked pearl barley, chopped tomatoes, red lentils and enough stock to cover everything. Leave bubbling away on a low heat for about 20 minutes until the lentils are mushy. Season to taste.
Serve generously sprinkled with crumbled Feta cheese, chopped coriander and a side of tortilla chips.
Remember not to eat the cheese rinds if you find them in your soup, they are just for adding flavour!