Meatfree Monday: Soup for the Soul

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So it’s December the first, our thanksgiving leftovers are just about eaten (we don’t hang around in my house) and it is cold and damp outside, with another 3 weeks to go before we can legitimately start the next feast. Now, I quite like the hunkering down, almost hibernating atmosphere of this time of year, but I do understand why others find it trying, especially in the UK with our limited daylight hours. It seems I have barely finished lunch before it starts to get dark. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like further north; I am only surprised people have enough time to get out of bed at all. Luckily though, as with most things, we can ease these things slightly by what we eat. Maybe not as much as two weeks in the Maldives (but following the sun around the planet would be a nightmare for your carbon footprint), leaving us with the next best option; a diet filled with tryptophan.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, used to make not just proteins, but the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin, which is what gives it its reputation for helping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can not be made by your body, and therefore needs to be found in your diet. Most of us know now that Turkey is rich is Tryptophan, which goes some way in explaining why it crops up everywhere at this time of year, but very few people can name another source. Fortunately it is not scarce at all, nor is it (contrary to popular belief) only found in meat, and most protein rich foods that we eat will be a good source. Meaning that my first thought this morning on opening the curtains (that today is a perfect soup day) could also mean it would be a perfect day for cooking up something full of those SAD busting foods. I had a vague idea of the fragrant comfort soup that I wanted to create, and I had three ingredients in my head: spinach, chick peas and egg. All great sources of not only tryptophan, but also the all important vitamin B6 which your body needs to convert that tryptophan into that essential mood balancer that we are all looking for at this time of year; serotonin.  I admit these might sound a surprising flavour combination to some, and the finished result is slightly messier than a smooth cream of soup you may be used to, but try it; you won’t regret it. Maybe you won’t feel like you are sunning yourself on a beach as you eat it, but you will feel like some one wrapped you in a warm blanket and turned on the central heating inside, honestly.

Soul Soup Recipe

Serves around 6:

300g Spinach

200g Samphire (if you can’t get this, use 200g extra spinach)

2 shallots

3 cloves garlic

2 sticks celery

1 large tbsp ras el hanout spice mix

200g chestnut mushrooms, chopped.

1 x 400g tin chick peas

200g cherry tomatoes (I didn’t bother even chopping them)

250g tofu (another great source of tryptophan)

1.5 l good quality vegetable stock

1 sheet of Nori seaweed, ripped up

salt and pepper

1/2 a hard boiled egg per person

Shredded basil

Crush your garlic and leave to one side, then soften your shallots and celery in about a tablespoon of olive oil.

After around 15 minutes, chuck in your garlic and the ras el hanout. Stir for a minute or so, until the fragrance hits you, then throw in the mushrooms and the tomatoes.

Add your spinach and samphire with the vegetable stock and nori then bring to the boil. Simmer for around 15 minutes, then add a little less than half your tin of chick peas and half the tofu and blend with a hand held stick blender.

Add the rest of the chick peas and tofu then check the seasoning. If you have used samphire, you probably won’t need much salt as you’ll have all the benefit of that gorgeous salty seaside taste, so check carefully to be on the safe side.

Garnish with the shredded basil and the grated hard boiled egg, drizzle with olive oil, and some single cream if you’re feeling decadent. Savour by a window to really make the most of all those seasonal hard hitters. Enjoy!

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