Unfortunately, due to Süleyman’s working hours, we don’t get to eat together in the evenings very often. So, although we’ve been having fabulous breakfasts and hearty salad-filled lunches, yesterday, it was great to have the opportunity to cook something a bit more elaborate for someone.

That someone was my friend Mireille, who brought her delightful little one-year-old son Cebriel over to my flat in the afternoon. The afternoon drifted into the early evening, when I rustled up a light meal for us all.

That morning, I’d realised I had some very soft-looking peaches and apples in the fridge, and decided I needed to do something with them quick, or they’d end up in the bin (a complete anathema to me, as I’m sure you’re well aware).

I am without oven at the moment, so had to cook the fruit on the top of the cooker – and, it struck me, the perfect thing to do with them was to make a compote. The Turkish word for compote is ‘komposto’, which rather sounds like something you throw on your vegetable patch – but luckily, the compote I made was far too good for that!

I simmered the peeled, cored and chopped fruit in a syrup of water, lemon juice and sugar, until the peaches and apples were deliciously falling apart. Then I just left the sweet, slightly tart mixture to cool.

Although the weather isn’t anywhere near as hot and humid as it was when I first arrived, it’s still fairly baking – not weather you’d immediately associate with bowls of steaming soup. But, spotting a full bag of carrots at the bottom of the fridge, I knew that was exactly what I fancied eating yesterday.

And, with perfect serendipity, I found in one of the few cookery books I managed to drag over to Istanbul (Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food, natch) a recipe for Turkish carrot soup, or havuç çorbasi.

After softening the carrots in lots of butter, then simmering in stock until it all turns into a deliciously sweet purée, something rather special is added. After making a basic roux with butter, flour and milk, three egg yolks are added, making it a stunning yellow colour. Then, just before serving the soup, I stirred in the eggy roux, and served.

This incredibly tasty soup manages to be rich and hearty, yet, thanks to the sweetness of the carrots, really quite refreshing for a hot summer’s evening. I’m sure it’s going to be one of my future favourites.

For pudding, we had spoonfuls of chilled compote alongside Turkish yoghurt. Now, I think I’ve talked about this before, but Turkish yoghurt is something else. Even thicker, if it’s possible, than Greek yoghurt, it is perhaps a little more tangy. But the reason is has the edge for me is that it comes with a yummy skin on top. I know that’s something not to everyone’s taste, but, like the skin on rice pudding, you either love it or hate it. And I love it.

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Last night, I looked in my fridge to find half a tin of tomatoes, half a tin of butter beans and half a bulb of fennel. And, despite the gorgeous spring weather here in London, I decided to make a soup from these ingredients.

I finely chopped the fennel bulb, reserving the lovely green fronds, and simmered it in some stock with the butter beans, tinned tomatoes, a chopped clove of garlic and, to add some spring zing, some finely chopped fresh rosemary. (I always use Marigold stock powder, as it’s got a far better flavour, plus you can adjust how much you use more easily than with cubes.) Also added was a spoonful of my Turkish tomato and pepper paste for what is, in my books, an essential hot kick.

Left to cook for a good half an hour, the fennel and butter beans were nice and soft, and ready to purée. To stop it becoming like baby food, I added a little more water, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sprinkled the chopped fennels fronds over the top.

If you’re going to try this, I’d definitely recommend you find a fennel bulb with lots of fronds on the top, as it ensures a deliciously fresh hit to this light, refreshing soup.

I’ve always quite fancied the idea of doing an underground restaurant. Unfortunately, my studio flat is so small that I’d only be able to fit in about six people, and two of those would have to perch on my bed with the food on their laps.

So, when my friend Lea asked if I’d help her do a charity dinner party at her house, to raise funds for her sons’ primary school playground, I didn’t need to be asked twice. In fact, I said, instead of me just helping her, I’d cook the whole meal.

And that’s how I found myself preparing a squid and aubergine stew at 7am on Saturday morning. (As you are well aware, I love my food – but I’ll freely admit, even I struggled with squid at that hour in the morning!)

I’d suggested to Lea that I do a kind of Turkish/Middle Eastern-themed meal, which she was very happy with. So, we started with a spicy Turkish lentil soup, which I learned to make at a cookery course I did last summer in Istanbul, and which gave me the opportunity to convert a few more people to my essential Turkish ingredient, pul biber. To go with the soup, Lea bought a couple of loaves of fantastic Turkish bread from a local bakery.

For the main course, alongside the aforementioned squid and aubergine stew, I made another Turkish dish called turlu turlu  – a recipe I got from the Moro cookbook. This is one of those dishes that belies its simple ingredients. A tray of aubergines, courgettes, baby turnips and potatoes is seasoned with allspice and coriander, and roasted for about an hour. Then, once cooked, a combination of tomato passata and chickpeas is poured over the top, and the whole lot is garnished with plenty of fresh parsley and coriander. The last dish of the main-course triumvirate was saffron rice.

Finally, for pudding, I turned to a recipe by Dan Lepard that I cut out of The Guardian – a peach saffron cake, which I served with some plain yoghurt.

Some very satisfied customers waddled home late that night, and Lea raised more than £100 for the school playground, which is fantastic. I had a lot of fun cooking the meal, and can’t wait to do something like this again. Now I just need to find someone else willing to lend me their kitchen and dining room.

A souped-up supper

January 12, 2010

If there was ever a time for comforting, hearty soups, it’s now. The weather may be getting very slightly milder, but it’s still chilling me to the bones. So tonight’s supper was a winter warmer I adapted from a recipe I cut out from The Guardian a couple of years ago for braised cauliflower with cherry tomatoes. This is another case of me taking the essential flavours of a recipe and adapting it into something of my own.

I added a spoonful of the tomato/pul biber paste that I used in the omelettes I wrote about in Istanbul. But regular tomato paste with a good pinch of chilli will do the job just as well. It also has some ground fennel seeds in it, and I would strongly suggest you don’t leave them out, because they really do add another very tasty dimension. Finally, some chopped fresh basil gives the soup a deliciously fresh lift.

Tonight I added some couscous, to make it extra hearty, and with some toasted pitta on the side, this is what I call real comfort food.