In this day and age, soup has a rather outdated image. The word often conjures thoughts of tins stacked on supermarket shelves, or bearded, dishevelled Dickensian men queuing for a ladle-full of nondescript broth.
It seems that some modern-day restaurants are all too ready to overlook soup in favour of a more exotic starter, presented in an artful pile. One explanation is that good soup can be tricky to do well – there’s always a danger that the flavour of each individual ingredient will be drowned, and a minute too long on the hob can leave it impossible to discern one flavour from another.
Soup discrimination can also extend to your own kitchen, as preparing these liquid meals is often perceived as a time-consuming and complicated endeavour. However, soup’s somewhat dowdy, old-fashioned image is, by and large, a result of the dish being mass produced and crammed onto aforementioned supermarket shelves. Yet with minimum effort and a little time, it’s possible to put together a fantastically flavourful and uplifting soup, which can be both warming (a perfect antidote to the city’s addiction to air-conditioning) and refreshing (a great way to cool down in this September heat).
Tom Arnell, executive chef at Jones the Grocer in Al Manara, has long been an advocate of the humble soup. ‘Gazpacho is my personal favourite summer soup,’ he reveals. ‘This chilled tomato-based soup is great made with a little red pepper, garlic and Tabasco sauce, to give it a bit more flavour and tang.’
The 26-year-old Australian chef concedes that soups have fallen out of favour for amateur chefs, but, like all prejudices, he puts this down to misunderstanding. ‘Soups are perceived as being time consuming to prepare, but actually they’re not. For example, gazpacho could be made in 10 or 15 minutes – that’s it. All you need is puree ingredients. If you’re making a normal hot soup where you’re boiling the ingredients, it still doesn’t take long. As long as you have your base flavours in there – garlic, onion, carrot, celery, cardamom, a bay leaf – it’s really easy.’
For those who want to face their fears and prepare their own soup at home, Tom says it’s imperative that you don’t settle for substandard produce. ‘The number one rule is using the best produce you can get your hands on – that’s just the way it is. The second is getting the right quantities in the soup and not over-seasoning things. Adding too much salt or pepper will overpower the natural flavour.’
To give you a head start, Tom has shared one of his most popular recipes: Jones’s spiced lentil soup. He concedes it’s not a ‘summer’ soup per se, but there’s no doubt that it’s light and refreshing, and embodies his culinary values – fresh, simple ingredients, used well. ‘No one’s trying to reinvent the wheel here,’ Tom concludes. ‘Cooking soup isn’t rocket science. If you do it properly, it’s easy.’ The proof is in the pudding (or soup, in this case), and we were sufficiently inspired to sniff out more of Dubai’s fantastic soup offerings.
Jones the Grocer’s spiced lentil soup
Ingredients (makes 10 portions)
300g lentil (soaked)
120g carrots, finely diced
120g onions, finely diced
120g celery, finely diced
120g leeks, finely diced
25g garlic purée
40g red curry paste (preferably home made)
35g tomato paste
15g thyme finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1.7 litres chicken stock
30ml olive oil
20g chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 In a large pot, sauté the vegetables, garlic and thyme with the olive oil.
2 Once the carrot begins to caramelise, add the curry paste and cook for five minutes.
3 Add the tomato paste and cook for a further five minutes.
4 Add the soaked lentils and cook for another five minutes.
5 Then add the chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook until the lentils are soft and tender, which will take approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
6 Add the parsley, salt and pepper to season, then serve with a crusty bread roll.
Seven more seasonal soups to sample
Baker & Spice organic pepper soup
Chef Tariq Abu Khater presents an unusual combination of pomegranate seeds and syrup, served cold with Baker & Spice crackers. Tariq says a good summer soup should be refreshing, light and cooling on the palate. ‘It should make the taste buds tingle,’ he explains.
Dhs28. Baker & Spice, Souk Al Manzil (04 427 9856).
Certo’s chilled tomato and basil soup
This chilled concoction has a refreshing, light taste, and is a great blend of mixed ingredients. Many summer soup recipes require very little or no cooking, with the raw ingredients simply puréed in a blender. While this soup is not on Certo’s à la carte menu, it is available as part of the restaurant’s weekly business lunch.
Dhs85 (business lunch). Certo, Radisson Blu, Dubai Media City (04 366 9111).
Elia’s kakavia soup: Kakavia soup from northern Epirus (the European area around Greece and Albania) is made with fresh seasonal veg, served with pieces of fresh fish and Greek organic olive oil. ‘The secret of a good summer soup is not so much to be refreshing as it is to be delicious and to use fresh seasonal ingredients,’ says Elia’s head chef. ‘Another trick is to have a smooth taste, which is achieved by cooking the soup as simply as possible and using the freshest ingredients. Also, be sure not to use unnecessary spices.’
Dhs45. Elia, Majestic Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 501 2690).
Rhodes Mezzanine’s white tomato soup: It would be criminal to run a soup round-up without including this contemporary amuse bouche courtesy of the British Michelin-star chef. Gary Rhodes gives everyone’s favourite soup a cheeky twist (served in a coffee cup – nice touch). What’s more, this is the perfect soup for September because tomatoes are in season this month.
Complimentary with meal. Rhodes Mezzanine, Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Rivington Grill’s chilled leek and potato soup: This chilled soup features quintessential Celtic ingredients: potatoes and leeks, combined with white onion, celery and cream. It’s as refreshing as it is hearty.
Dhs45. Rivington Grill, Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0903).
The Exchange Grill’s heirloom tomato gazpacho: Originating in southern Andalucia in Spain, this traditional chilled soup features seasonal tomato, roasted pepper, cucumber, garlic and pine nuts, and is brought to life with a dash of thyme, chilli flakes, tomato juice, red-wine vinegar, and olive oil.
Dhs45. The Exchange Grill, The Fairmont Dubai (04 332 5555).
Soup for dessert?
Who says soup has to be served as a starter? Ignore the sorbet – this tantalising chilled red-berry gazpacho at M’s Restaurant is made from a selection of seasonal red berries, accompanied by mascarpone ice cream. ‘This soup is surprisingly appealing even to those who aren’t great fans of berries, particularly during Dubai’s hot season,’ says Chef Benoit.
‘The secret is to infuse fresh berries with lots of flavour using an abundance of mascarpone ice cream. The technique is not only effective, but easy. The soup is also very healthy!’
Dhs28. M’s Restaurant, Emirates Golf Club, Emirates Hills (04 380 2222).