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HOT & HEALTHY

HOT & HEALTHY

MY UNEXPECTED OBSESSION WITH EVERYTHING ‘SOUP’

I’ve never been one for extravagant kitchen gadgets. Coffee machine? Yes. Panini press? Maybe. But a soup maker? Definitely not. So no-one was more surprised than me when a monstrous 1.6 litre soup maker positioned itself in my kitchen. What was I thinking? I don’t even eat soup! Not only that, but I’ve always shied away from complicated recipes, particularly those with a list of ingredients so long you need a sherpa to carry them all home. And what’s the point of spending a fortune on elaborate ingredients you’re only ever going to use once? I’ve fallen for that before, the result of which is a random selection of jars and packets currently gathering dust at the back of my kitchen cabinet – some of which I can’t even pronounce and most of which are probably out of date.

So why did I buy a soup maker? Certainly not to enhance the look of my kitchen; it dwarfs the kettle, towers over the toaster and mocks the microwave, demanding attention with its dastardly dominance. It sure won’t win any prizes for its feng shui. But, aesthetics aside, this particular gadget claims to take the hassle out of meal times by making fuss-free soup in a matter of minutes. A tempting thought. Perhaps the reason I don’t eat soup is because I don’t actually like the tinned or packet varieties. Maybe, if I made my own, I could avoid the powdery residue left behind in the bottom of my mug, or the raging thirst so needlessly created by excessive salt. It had to be worth a try.

Not surprisingly, my maiden soup making voyage involved the recipe with the fewest ingredients. Broccoli and courgette soup consists of, well, broccoli and courgette. Add an onion and a little seasoning and voila! Twenty minutes later, I was enjoying a hot and healthy (and very green) bowl of homemade soup. I even added a swirl of yogurt for effect. Admittedly, I didn’t take my eyes off the machine for the entire process, paranoid it would burn dry because I’d failed to add enough water or overflow because I’d added too much. But my worries were unfounded and my first soup making attempt was declared a success.

For my second recipe, I opted for butternut squash and sweet potato, two ingredients I don’t usually favour. Slicing into the hard skin of the squash was a challenge in itself but, once chopped, I tossed it into the machine with the sweet potato, onion and water and pressed the magic button. Twenty minutes later, I was rewarded with a steaming hot (and very orange) bowl of goodness. This time, I added a few croutons.

By now, I was no longer hesitant when it came to the use of ingredients or machine. I was beginning to realise that it didn’t actually matter if I veered away from the recipe. So what if I used leek instead of courgette? Who cares if I throw in a vegetable stock cube or a spoonful of wholegrain mustard? The great thing about a soup maker is that you can experiment with ingredients, flavours and consistency. It’s also a fabulous way of using up leftover vegetables.

Keen to avoid another psychedelic glow, I refrained from using brightly coloured vegetables in my third soup making exercise and opted for mushroom. There are various recipes available online for homemade mushroom soup, all slightly different. This reinforced my belief that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making soup – whatever you have in the fridge or the cupboard is fine.

Having peeled and sliced the mushrooms (two different varieties), I combined chopped onion, potato, a stock cube, water, milk and finally, a pinch of tarragon. Within five minutes of pressing the button, my kitchen was filled with a mouth-watering, earthy aroma. Fifteen minutes later and, once again, I was rewarded with a deliciously thick bowl of soup. As for the colour, it couldn’t compete with the luminous shades of my first two recipes but what it lacked in colour, it made up for in taste. A dot of fresh tarragon provided the finishing touch.

I could go on – my experimentation has no bounds – but rather than list my own soup making successes, I would encourage you to try it for yourself. Of course, it’s not compulsory to purchase a soup maker (a saucepan is more than adequate) but from my own point of view, the gadget is a constant reminder of the delicious dishes just waiting to be delivered. It also simplifies the process by allowing the choice of ‘smooth’ or ‘chunky’. I’ve yet to attempt a meat-based soup but have already set my sights on pea and ham, chicken and sweetcorn and spicy prawn. The thing to remember is that the soup maker only heats the meat, it doesn’t cook it. So beware!

It may not be the most attractive or discreet kitchen gadget but, surprisingly, the soup maker is one of my favourites. I have complete control over what ingredients go into my soup and knowing the result will be wholesome and healthy, it sure gets the nod over any shop bought alternative. And, should the time come when the novelty of soup making wears off, I can use it for smoothies and shakes. Roll on summer!

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