Tortilla tomato soup

Nine times out of ten, the ‘recipes’ I formulate are quite bad. I’ve enthusiastically had a crack at creating my own chilli, curries, and pasta sauces, but with not much success. The problem, I think, is that I go a bit astray with my spices and seasonings: with a cupboard full of various herbs and vinegars, it’s easy to get carried away.

The only way I tend to succeed is when I have someone else’s recipe as my base. Often, I substitute one thing for another, out of preference, or just for what I have to hand. My most recent appropriation was of Jamie Oliver’s ‘Amazing Mexican tortilla soup’, from his (fantastic) Everyday Superfood.

(A friend of mine recently told me of another food blogger who has a tendency to pass off other people’ recipes as her own. This is something I would never do. It’s not only unfair to whoever worked hard to create it, but dishonest: they are feigning a level of skill and knowledge which they haven’t merited. Although some of us have natural abilities with food, most of us don’t; those, like me, must invest a lot of time in cooking, and bake many a bad cake on their way.)

The version I ended up with was quite tasty – although never having made the original, I can’t make any fair comparisons. The tortillas gained a pleasantly mushy texture from soaking up the sauce; and the spring onions gave a great finishing burst of flavour.




You’ll need (to serve one):

  • a sweet potato
  • one large wholemeal tortilla
  • two salad tomatoes
  • 80g sweetcorn
  • two spring onions
  • half a red chilli
  • a clove of garlic
  • fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • cheddar or feta cheese
  • juice of half a lime


Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, or 180 degrees Celsius. Slice the sweet potato into chips, drizzle with olive oil, and season with the ground coriander, salt, and pepper. Mix well with your hands, before putting them in the oven for half an hour or so.

In the meantime, finely chop the spring onions, garlic, and chilli. Place half to one side, and quarter the tomatoes. Fry the rest of the onion, chilli and garlic over a medium heat for two minutes, before adding the tomatoes and 300ml boiling water. Simmer with the lid on for twenty minutes.

As the sweet potatoes reach being done, tear the tortilla into reasonably big strips, and put in the oven until crispy. Then, add them to the soup with the basil, and mix everything together.

Dish up, and sprinkle with the rest of the spices. Squeeze over the lime and add plenty of cheese.

The recipe originally required one sweet potato between two, chickpeas instead of sweetcorn, and a small tortilla each instead of large ones. I rather think that my alterations offered a good alternative: I didn’t have to put half a sweet potato in the fridge; and the sweetcorn added a fantastic colour and were perhaps lighter than the chickpeas. The corn also went very well with the spring onions. However, I did miss the coriander – it compliments the combinations of tomato, cheese, and lime perfectly.

All in all, I was elated that I hadn’t completely ruined Jamie’s original.


Chia Café: venturing into veganism

Vegans? I admire them for their dedication. When I consider their reasons for not eating animal products, I start to wonder whether I should be doing the same thing. After watching a video enlightening me to the artificial insemination of cows, I was quite horrified. The video, with its quick montage of distressing images and clips, had quite a strong impression on me; but I’m still not vegan: nothing ‘clicked’ in my brain. Does this make me an uncompassionate person? I suppose that a vegan would believe so.

As a student, I do not have a huge amount of control over the quality of meat I buy, due to limited finances: so, I’ve taken to only buying British chicken, and avoiding red meat altogether (at home, we buy from a local butcher). These are the efforts I make to support farmers who rear poultry and cattle more humanely; yet, for a vegan, that question becomes irrelevant in the long run of animal welfare – if you really cared, you wouldn’t eat an animal at all. Similarly, can dairy farming ever be cruelty-free if we’re altering a cow’s natural mode of living, and physically adapting their bodies to our own needs? These are questions which I’ve been pondering a lot more recently. Yet that sudden revelation, the desire to abandon animal products once and for all, has not come to me. I don’t know if that makes me a less moral person; or that I’m still very much socially conditioned; but I just don’t want to stop eating meat and fish, leave behind cheese and milk, and say goodbye to proper cake and chocolate.

Moving on. I visited Chia, a vegan café in a little town called Hitchin, with my vegan friend (who, by the way, was the least likely vegan in her teenage years. A rack of ribs was no match for her; she’d devour packets of meaty crisps; and she loved cheese just as much as I do. But she made the transition, and has never looked back.) For a vegan restaurant to open in a place nearby to me is a great thing, and reflective of a bigger market in healthier, more environmentally responsible ways of living.




We were seated upstairs, and ordered nachos and bean chilli to share, followed by individual ‘buddha bowls’. The nachos disappeared rapidly as we waited for the bowls, and were satisfyingly tasty. There’s no need for meat in chilli, I find, and sweet potato is my much-preferred alternative; and this version substituted that nicely with a variety of beans, served with guacamole, cool salsa, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. I did, however, lament the absence of warm, slightly coagulated cheese on the nachos: the nutritional yeast gave a good flavour, but, alas, not quite a sufficient replacement.




The ‘buddha bowl’ is something I’ve been recreating myself for quite a while, and it’s one of my favourite comfort meals. At the end of the week, I pile whatever needs eating up into a bowl with sweet potato chips, and perhaps lentils, sweetcorn, broccoli, kale, and olives; and because I’m not vegan, I’ll cut off a slab of feta cheese and crumble it in. A nice hummus or dip compliments this perfectly, with the lentils drizzled with balsamic dressing, and topped with coriander and cracked black pepper.




Back on subject: Chia’s buddha bowls. They were presented with a beautiful array of bright colours: avocado, red cabbage, kale, red quinoa, and carrots, finished artfully with a lime and tahini dressing. I happily ate the lot, but my friend and I both did have our reservations: the avocado was shamefully underripe; the cabbage came in sizeable strips and was difficult to cut; the carrots, warmed by the quinoa, were slightly sickly sweet; and the dressing was a bit too tangy for out tastebuds. I felt great after eating the buddha bowl, but hungry again a few hours later; according to my friend, this is a common feature of her diet – to eat a big plant-based meal and feel peckish soon after.




Before leaving, we ordered hot drinks. I opted for a raw cacao hot chocolate, an entirely new phenomenon for me, but one which left me quite disappointed. Cacao – unrefined cocoa powder – is very bitter, and there was nothing in the drink to mitigate this taste. Even after having requested a shot of peppermint syrup, I had to resort to returning the drink downstairs in embarrassment: the bitterness was gone, but replaced with an overpowering mintiness (too much syrup!) The waitress kindly exchanged it for an almond milk latté, which proved a much better choice. I also sipped a matcha latté, which I shall never return to again – the taste was strongly reminiscent of boiled greens. A distasteful throwback to dinners of my childhood.

I feel as though I have been slightly overcritical in this post – but I did actually really enjoy my lunch at Chia. It’s got a lovely atmosphere, simple decor, and a team of young and polite staff. Bearing in mind there were only three people working there, service was prompt; and everything was extremely well-priced. I would love to go back for brunch and try their chia porridge, give the superfood salad a go, or drop in for a slice of banana bread and a hazelnut mocha. As my friend said, for those new to vegan eating, what we ate may not give the best impression – but this isn’t a fair reflection, bearing in mind that there’s a variety of dishes on the menu. I just perhaps won’t be ordering a cacao hot chocolate or a matcha latté on my return.

(Photos courtesy of Rhiannon @  )



Lemon and tomato chilli beetroot stew


Although it’s rather nice to have someone else cook for you, there’s also something to be said for being your own chef. Back at uni, I’m once again the boss of exactly what I eat: I’m not subject to another person’s dinner hours, nor to their choice of food. Don’t get me wrong, my mum is a good cook, when she has the time and the motivation; but dinner time hours are typically late and rushed, as she works long hours. Understandably, she’d rather knock something easy up than be chopping and simmering for a prolonged period of time.

Back at uni for the beginning of this rather grey January, I have a vaguely-formed New Year’s Resolution to be more ambitious with my cooking: fewer lazy retreats to my favoured ‘goodness bowls’ – sweet potato chips, lentils or beans, leftover veg, feta cheese, olives – and more emphasis on infrequently used ingredients and dishes. I packed myself on to the train with a few new food magazines – Goodfood and The Times‘s The Dish – along with several clipped-out recipes to help me on my way. The first of these was this stew, featuring beetroot: although my favourite pickled vegetable, it’s not one I’ve otherwise cooked with. (But please try a tuna mayo and pickled beetroot sandwich – it is pure bliss.)

This was easy to make, and very tasty. The lemon, tomato, and beetroot combined to make a very fresh and satisfying combination.

WP_20160106_002 (1)


You’ll need (to serve four: I adjusted accordingly):

  • 150g onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 vine tomatoes
  • 500 boiled beetroot
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 25g coriander

Start by finely chopping the onion and garlic; if you have fresh chilli, chop in place of using flakes. Zest half the lemon. Cover the tomatoes in boiling water for thirty seconds, before removing the skins and roughly chopping.

Chop the beetroot into relatively large chunks and place in a bowl. Squeeze half the lemon juice over the chunks with a pinch of salt.

Heat the oil in a pan, and cook the onion, garlic and chilli, if using, for a few minutes. Then, add the cumin seed, chilli flakes, and lemon zest, fry for half a minute, then add the tomatoes. Cook and stir, ensuring the tomatoes break down, for ten minutes, until the mixture is loose and chunky.

Add the beetroot, fry for a few minutes, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Throw in the chopped coriander before serving; this is an ideal accompaniment for rice, couscous, or quinoa.

This is one of Lindsey Bareham’s recipes, a food writer with a daily recipe at the front of The Times. I’m quite a fan of her columns – they are concisely written, and she’s well-versed in numerous cuisines. This stew is one to make again.