Christmas this year has been wonderful. We all went to my sister Kate’s house and spent it there (huge thanks, Kate). We had a very traditional menu – smoked salmon, turkey with chestnut and pork stuffings, Christmas pudding and brandy custard –all delicious! And then we went ice skating at Hampton Court on Boxing Day. When we came back home, we had this gorgeous soup. Winter brings many treats, and pumpkins are definitely one of the best. If you want to enhance the flavours of this soup even further, simply roast the pumpkin chunks in an oven (at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4) for 20 minutes until slightly brown on the outside. This will bring out the deep, sweet flavours even more.
I served this in a pumpkin. I cut the top off one and scooped out the seeds and pulp. Then I roasted it in the oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for 40 minutes. This is longer than people normally suggest but I wanted the pumpkin to cook, so you could scoop it out to eat afterwards – and I was inspired by the way Kelly at The Spunky Coconut cooked her pumpkin whole in the oven. So I tried it and it was great!
When I made this, I also made a more toddler-friendly version of this for Zoe, simply by using less shrimp paste and fish sauce and omitting the chillies. She loves pumpkin, coconut milk and limes so this works well for her.
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, seed-free, soya-free, egg-free
Preparation time 15 minutes; cooking time 20-25 minutes; serves 4
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1kg/2lb 4oz pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and chopped into bite-sized chunks
- 400ml/14fl oz/scant 1⅔ cups coconut milk
- 550ml/19fl oz/scant 2¼ cups gluten-, yeast- and dairy-free vegetable stock, or vegetable stock made from gluten-, yeast- and dairy-free stock powder
- 2-3 tbsp fish sauce
- juice of ½ lime
- 1 handful chopped coriander leaves
- 100g/3½oz peanuts, chopped (optional)
Red Curry Paste:
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 2 large red chillies, deseeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1cm/½in piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
- 1 small handful coarsely chopped coriander leaves and stems
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- To make the curry paste, heat a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds and dry-fry for 2–3 minutes until they start to brown. Keep the seeds moving all the time so they do not burn.
- Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder using a pestle and mortar or electric hand-held mini blender. Place in a liquidizer or food processor.
- Peel and coarsely chop the bottom half of the lemongrass stalks and add, along with chillies, shallots, ginger and garlic. Blend well. Add the shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, coriander and the oils, and blend to form a fairly smooth paste.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2–3 minutes until just starting to turn golden brown.
- Stir in the curry paste and add the pumpkin, coconut milk and stock. Turn up the heat slightly and bring to a gentle boil, then turn the heat down, cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Add the fish sauce to taste and the lime juice just at the end.
- Blend the mixture in the pan using an electric blender to make a smooth soup. Alternatively, blend the soup in a liquidizer or food processor, return to the pan and heat through. Pour into bowls, sprinkle with the coriander and peanuts, if you like, and serve.
I went to Pho in Wardour Street this week and had a delicious lunch. Pho is pronounced “fuh” and is Vietnam’s national dish. Often referred to as the “soul of the nation”, it’s a noodle soup dish that is made with rice noodles and various ingredients such as steak, meatballs, chicken, prawns, tofu or veggies and then served with lime, coriander, beansprouts and chillies that you add yourself. Apparently Pho originated in Hanoi and, as it travelled south through Vietnam, it developed subtle traits distinctive to the various regions, becoming influenced by the Chinese flavours in the North and then taking on more herbs, greens and chillies in the South.
I shared the Goi Cuon Tom (Prawn Rice Paper Rolls) with Peanut Sauce and Nem Nuong (Pork & Lemongrass Meatballs) with Nuoc Cham as a starter. I like Rice Paper Rolls to have more herbs in them but they were lovely and the meatballs were great – with lots of lemongrass flavour. Then I had the Bun Tom Hue (Hot & Spicy Prawn Pho) and it was utterly delicious. Fiery and fresh with great flavours. Pho prides itself on their fresh ingredients and deservedly so – the coriander leaves and beansprouts, which can all too often look and taste limp, were wonderfully fresh. And I had a deliciously fresh Pineapple, Apple & Mint juice with it all.
There’s a great range to chose from and everything bar the Bun Noodles, Pho Xao and Banana Fritters is all gluten-free (and you can request gluten-free Bun Noodles and Pho Xao) but you do need to make sure you avoid extra hoi sin, ginger soy or soy sauce. And, of course, it’s all dairy-free. The staff are lovely – and the place is great. You can also order Pho to Go. The Pho Noodle Soup comes in 3 separate containers so that it’s at its freshest when you eat it. You add the noodles to the stock cup, then add the onion, beansprouts and topping and then the toppings – the spring onion, herbs, chilli and lime. Excellent!
Christmas pudding is a great part of the countdown to Christmas. Traditionally you make it a few weeks (up to 6 weeks) before and, once you’ve piled all the ingredients into a large bowl, everyone has a good stir and a wish. This year, Zoe’s friend, Emily, came round to stir. We hope your wish comes true, Emily! Here’s the recipe I used – it makes a much lighter, yet still very rich and moist, version of the classic – and all without gluten or dairy. As with the Christmas cake, you can feed it with more brandy while you wait for the day. If you’re making it in advance, leave to cool in the bowl once cooked, then wrap tightly in foil and store in a cool place or freezer. Then recover with foil and steam for 1 hour to reheat.
Preparation time 30 minutes Cooking time 6½ hours Makes 1 pudding to serve 10–12
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, seed-free, citrus-free
- dairy-free margarine, for greasing
- 750g/1lb 10oz mixture of sultanas, raisins and currants
- 150ml/5fl oz/scant ⅔ cups brandy or apple juice
- 300g/10½oz/gluten-free and dairy-free bread, crusts removed
- 50g/1¾oz/heaped ¼ cup rice flour
- 25g/1oz/scant ¼ cup gram flour
- 50g/1¾oz/½ cup ground almonds
- ½ tsp xanthan gum
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- a large pinch of ground cloves
- a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 175g/6oz/1 cup fruit sugar or caster sugar
- 100g/3½oz gluten-free vegetarian suet
- 50g/1¾oz dried mango, chopped
- 1 small apple, grated
- 30g/1oz/scant ½ cup flaked almonds
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Lightly grease a pudding basin with dairy-free margarine and cover the base with a circle of greased baking paper. Put the sultanas, raisins and currants and 500ml/17fl oz/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 30–40 minutes until all of the fruit has softened and the water has been absorbed. Pour the brandy in, mix thoroughly, and leave to one side.
- Put the bread in a food processor and blend to make (about 200g/7oz) breadcrumbs. Remove and leave to one side.
- Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl and add the ground almonds, breadcrumbs, xanthan gum and spices and mix well. Add in the sugar, suet, chopped mango, grated apple and flaked almonds and stir well with a wooden spoon. (Ask everyone to stir at this point – and don’t forget to make a wish!)
- Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs until frothy. Pour into the pudding mixture and stir in thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the basin and smooth the surface with the back of a metal spoon. Cover with 2 layers of greased foil and tie a piece of string tightly around the basin rim to secure it.
- Put the basin into a large saucepan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the bowl. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 6 hours, adding more boiling water if needed.
- Leave to cool in the bowls for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and turn out. Serve hot.
On Friday my supermarket delivery order didn’t arrive because of the snow. I had planned to make a gluten-free & dairy-free Christmas Pudding and also I had people coming to stay for the weekend and I needed food for Zoe’s tea, too. I dashed to the local shops, trying to find supplies. I live in Dulwich in London, in a very residential part with very few food shops, so I had very little choice (especially as the shelves were fairly empty because of the weather.) And it made me realise how much I have come to depend on food being delivered to me so that I can get organic food. I get a regular delivery from an online supermarket and also a delivery from the brilliant Devon farm, Riverford. My local butcher doesn’t stock organic meat – at all – and neither does the charming-looking vegetable stall or the newly-opened, very smart, local bakery. I would love to support these businesses, rather than order online from a supermarket but, for me, it’s more important to feed my family organic food. I don’t want us to be ingesting pesticides, herbicides and fungicides; or antibiotics and growth hormones. I want us to enjoy healthy plants and healthy animals that have grown or been reared on healthy soil – and reap the benefits the higher levels of nutrients, especially antioxidants and omega-3. So I’ve postponed plans to make the Christmas pudding until the new delivery (complete with organic sultanas, raisins, currants, dried mangoes and almonds) arrives…