Tom Yum(ish) Soup

 

Hooray, hooray – the holidays are here.  And good grief, do I need them!  It’s been a tough term and I am utterly pooped.

Lots of fun stuff is taking place over the next two weeks, including a family holiday, car hunting and a special celebration. D is slightly worried that I am going to tear through this vacation in my usual whirlwind fashion and go back to school as exhausted as I finished it.  Being notorious for trying to fit as much is humanly possible into unreasonably small periods of time, I know this not an unfounded concern and, thus, I am making a conscious effort to relax and take care of myself over the coming days.

One way to do this, of course, is to eat well.  The following Thai soup has recently become a firm favourite of mine and it always strikes me as being particularly nourishing.    As with any good tom yum, the flavour is amazingly fresh.  Unlike your average tom yum, I have added extra vegetables in the form of mangetout and spinach.  Not very authentic but it works fantastically well.  🙂

Tom Yum(ish) Soup

(serves one)

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

1 whole red chilli, pricked with a fork a few times

2 lime leaves

1 stem of lemongrass, outer leaves removed and chopped

1 tbspn fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Handful of mangetout

6 tiger prawns

Handful of spinach or pak choi

1tblspn thai fish sauce

1 tblspn sugar

1/2 lime, juiced

2 spring onions, chopped

Palmful of fresh coriander

Red chilli, sliced (optional)

  • Add the first 6 ingredients to a pan and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add the mangetout and prawns to the pan, simmer for another 2 minutes before adding the spinach.
  • Once the spinach has wilted (should take seconds) take the pan off the heat. 
  • Remove the whole chilli and lime leaves. 
  • Add the fish sauce, sugar and lime juice.  Stir and pour into a bowl.
  • Serve topped with the spring onion, coriander and chilli.

P.S. This is my entry to the two year anniversary of the Weekend Herb Blogging event.  Congratualtions Kalyn!!!

Venison and Bramble Stew

Some people can be squeamish about eating deer.  Put a vension steak in front of them and they immediately think of Bambi and his family: soft-eyed gentle creatures frolicking with their bunny pals.  And I get that.  Deer are unspeakably lovely animals.  In my part of the world it’s not an unusual sight to spot a herd grazing peacefully on a hill top; or the white bob of a startled doe’s tail as she disappears shyly into the woods; or a stag leaping effortlessly over a hostile fence. 

These aren’t unusual sights in the Highlands because there are A LOT of deer up here!  So many, in fact, that their numbers are environmentally problematic and for the good of other species, rural life and the deer population itself the numbers have to be controlled.  Add to this the knowledge that, until their deaths, these wild creatures live their lives on the open hills and the fact that this is truly local produce and I think we are talking about some seriously ethical meat eating.  Are we not?

Agree or disagree?  Tell me.  I’m always happy to be proved wrong.  (Hmmmm.  D just fell of his seat laughing at that last comment…)

Anyway.  I’d been thinking about the matching of venison and brambles for a while.   They seem so right together!  Not only are both very autumny, they are also local foods.  The brambles I picked down by the canal and the venison I bought from a local butcher who hunts the animals himself.   As mentioned in my last post, this dish was pure experiment but I was very pleased with the results: a gamey, tangy, nourishing stew. 

Obviously, the vegetables can be swapped with whatever you have in the cupboard.  Carrots and celery were in mine.  🙂

Venison and Bramble Stew

(serves 4 with mashed potato)

500g venison stewing steak

5 juniper berries, crushed

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tblspn plain flour

Olive oil

1 large onion

4 carrots

3 sticks of celery

2 bay leaves

550ml beef stock

200g blackberries

2-3 tblspn honey

Seasoning

  • Mix the crushed juniper berries and garlic with the flour.  Season well and use to coat the venison.
  • Warm a good glug of olive oil and a knob of butter in a large pan over a med-high heat.  Add the meat and fry until browned.  Remove the meat from the pan.
  • Add the chopped onion to the pan and saute for 5 mins.  Add the rest of the vegetables and saute for 5 mins more.
  • Return the meat (and any juices) back to the pan along with the bay leaves and the stock.  Stir well.
  • Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 3 hours.
  • Meanwhile, in a separate pan heat the berries with 10ml of water until the juices are released (about 5 mins).  Mash up then strain through a sieve.  Discard the pips etc but reserve the juice.
  • Once the stew has been simmering for three hours add the bramble juice and stir.  Cook for another 30 minutes.
  • Add the honey and stir until it has melted into the stew.  Season with lots of black pepper.
  • Serve on a big dollop of mashed potatoes.

PS Stew does not photograph well!

Brambles

 It’s not a good year for bramble picking.  These wild, prickly blackberry bushes are very common in Scotland and usually prolific patches of tangled fruit can be easily found at the side of country roads or off forest paths.  Not so this year.  The lack of heat and sunshine over the summer has resulted in masses of tiny, sour berries peppering roadside shrubs. 

I had all but given up on making jam this year until a stunningly clear and still evening inspired me to take my bike along the canal path.  Rather than ride on the smooth, gravelly tow path on the south side of the water, I opted for the overgrown northern path (hurray for mountain bikes) and I’m very glad I did.  Tucked in amongst rowan, gorse and broom were the best brambles I’ve seen this year! 

Despite my bright pink stained hands and the multiple thorn scratches, an hour of berry picking in the sunshine beside perfectly still water was wonderfully relaxing.  Enough berries were collected not only for a couple of jars of bramble and apple jelly but also for use in a venison stew experiment. 

Watch this space for the results!  🙂