I love books! As a student I worked in Exclusive Books in Sunnypark and when there were no customers in the shop I would page through the many beautiful books and wish I could afford them all! My favourite books then were the cookbooks, something in me was always drawn to that shelf. I always wanted to be a chef even at school, but somehow life decided to make a different turn with me before I could get to being a chef. But, paging through those beautiful cookbooks, which I read like story books, just confirmed deep down for me what I want to be one day when I am all grown up.
However, I first had to make a detour through the world of teaching Public Relations and Writing for the Communications Industry. Followed by a 12 year career as a graphic designer and at that point I appreciated the design and layout more than the actual recipes. Just before my 40th birthday I went on holiday to India and in Madurai I visited and old Hindu palm reader. He foretold many things, even a career change a few months later and initially I didn’t belief a word he said, but it turned out most of what he predicted has manifested so far. The greatest of them all was the career change he showed me on my hand a few months after I turned 40.
I am turning soon 45 and the old gentleman foretold that I would take until my 45th birthday to learn my new trade and the industry. I followed short courses here and there, but time and money lacks for a long protracted chef’s course, so 90% of what I know is self taught. However, I have money for books and I go less for big names like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson and more for what the book inside has to offer in terms of advice, useful tips as I had to learn a lot at a very late stage in my life. But what a journey it has been so far and I am not regretting one moment of it. I love using fresh and local ingredients, focusing on great and strong flavours and above all recipes had to be easy and inventive. The 10 books on my list encapsulate for me the essence of my culinary journey and I hope they will inspire you as well.
While the Northern Hemisphere prepares itself to greet a glorious summer, we in the Southern Hemisphere are ready to go into hibernation and fattening ourselves up with delicious and hearty soup recipes. This recipe takes some planning and some prep before you start, but it is well worth it and the effort will reward you will loads of flavour and a deeply satisfying soup that will soothe the mind, body and soul. Enjoy it with loads of freshly baked and toasted sourdough bread with lashings of butter – yes, you know you want it!
The bit of planning part: Next time you have a braai (the South African word for a barbecue) slice 3-4 large peeled aubergines lengthwise in 3-5mm slices – use a mandolin slicer if you have one. Paint the sliced aubergines with some olive oil and grill on a hot braai, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper while you braai and allow them to get a good colour and some burn as well, it adds to the flavour. In a separate flat dish, mix a cup of olive oil with half a cup of a good quality balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon crushed garlic. As soon as the hot grilled aubergines comes off the flames lay it in the oil mixture. Repeat until all is done. You can store this for up to a month like that in the fridge, in fact the taste improves as it stands. Leftovers make amazing veggie sandwiches or serve with meat dishes as a side veg, delicious.
Now to make that soup:
For the Soup:
- 6-8 Slices of the chargrilled Aubergine (if small more)
- 125g Sundried Tomatoes (soak them in 1.5 liter hot vegetable stock for an hour and keep the water)
- 30ml Balsamic Cream
- 60g Cashew Nuts
- 10ml Crushed Garlic
- 10ml grated Ginger
- 20g Sweet Basil Leaves
- 60g Parmesan Cheese
- 10ml Soft Brown Sugar
- 10ml Smoked Pariprika
- 65g Tomato Puree
- 1 Medium Onion Finely Chopped
- 20ml Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 100ml Cream as garnish
- Chopped Chives as garnish
For the Mushroom Ragout:
- 40g Butter
- A mix of mushrooms: white button, shitake, enoki, oyster etc about 500g in total
- 60g pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- 5-6 Springs of Thyme, only the leaves
The Soup: Drain the sundried tomatoes, but keep the water this is your stock, and put all the ingredients from sundried tomatoes to 1 medium onion in a food processor and blitz it to a rough paste, add some of the stock if it is too dry. Once processed to a rough paste, heat your oil in a deep soup pot and add the tomato paste and quickly fry it for a minute or two, add the stock and aubergines and allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
You have a choice now, you can liquidize the soup and strain it for a smooth silky soup or you can break the aubergines a little more and serve it as a rustic country-style soup – choice is yours. For myself, I leave it chunky, for clients I strain it. In the photo it is strained as it was served as a starter for a client.
The Mushroom Ragout: Slice the large mushrooms and break the others apart. Heat the butter in a large pan and first fry the olives, after the brine of the olives have cooked off, add the mushrooms and thyme and fry until most of the moisture of the mushrooms have cooked off, give them a little burn in the pan as well. This takes a good 20 minutes so be patient.
- Ladle a good helping of soup in a soup bowl.
- Heap some of the Mushroom Ragout in the middle.
- Drizzle two table spoons of cream around the island of mushroom.
- Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve with hot toasted sourdough bread.