As I write this blog post, it’s probably the grimmest day of the year so far weather wise. January is always a wash out in the UK, and this morning we woke up to snow, that has, in classic British style, already turned to slush as the sleet continues to fall.
There’s something strangely comforting about the weather being grim, though. It gives you even more of an excuse to get cosy inside, creating a lovely nest against the winter chill, and enjoy comforting winter food.
Imbolc is the first Celtic festival of the new year, and is usually celebrated around the start of February in the the Northern hemisphere. It is associated with the Goddess Bride or Brighid, later Christianised as St Bride. Bride is Goddess of poetry and smithcraft, and heralds the returning of spring and the inspiration it can bring. Ideas for new projects and ventures that have been incubating over the deep midwinter period are ready to be galvanised with the returning light. Snowdrops, some of the first spring flowers, are abundant at this time. I saw my first snowdrops last week during a walk in the park – a sign that the wheel of the year is already turning!
I created this soup recipe using seasonal ingredients, to honour the humble root vegetables that are still abundant at this time of year. The bread is a thick wholemeal that makes the perfect accompaniment. As always, the ingredients are zero-waste friendly: that means, you should be able to find most things without excess packaging.
Zero Waste Tip: How to Keep Homemade Bread Fresh
Unless you get through a whole loaf of bread in a few days (which I definitely don’t!), it can be tricky to know how to keep your loaf fresh and avoid food waste, as bread tends to go stale quickly. My solution is to cut the bread into slices once it has cooled from the oven, then freeze it. Every time I want toast, I simply reach for a slice or two from the freezer, and it’s still super fresh!
If you don’t want to freeze your bread, try double wrapping it in 2 layers of cotton or muslin bags. Drawstring bags are great as you can tie them so tightly.
The recipe below will make two medium sizes loaves of wholemeal bread – I like to bake bread in batches to freeze to minimise effort, and avoid the need to buy shop bought bread which is full of weird additives and preservatives. Feel free to divide the recipe in half if you just want one loaf.
For the bread (this amount makes 2 small loaves):
4 cups wholemeal flour (you don’t need to use bread flour).
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp dried active yeast
1 tsp sea salt
550 ml warm water
1 tbsp coconut oil
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds, plus more for topping
3 tbsp golden linseed, or sunflower seeds, plus more for topping
For the soup:
2 large leeks, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 cups strong vegetable stock (I use Marigold Organic brand, as it’s what I can get in bulk with minimal packaging, but homemade stock is even better!)
1/2 cup unsweetened soya milk, or other plant-based milk
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
First, make the bread.
Dissolve the coconut oil in the warm water. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, yeast and oats. Gradually add the water, mixing it in with your hands until all the dried ingredients are combined and a dough forms. Turn out on to a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable. Because this is a thick wholemeal loaf, you will want to give it a good old knead.
Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave in a warm place (near a radiator is good in the winter months!) until it has doubled in size (1-2 hours).
Turn the dough back out of the bowl and give it a couple of kneads. Don’t over-knead the bread at this point! Add your seeds into the dough (it’s easiest to do this about 1 tbsp at a time, kneading them into the dough gradually).
Preheat the oven to 210 degrees celsius. Cut the dough in half, shape into rectangles, and place into two greased bread loaf tins. Brush the top of each loaf with a little plant-based milk or water, then sprinkle on more seeds. Leave to rise for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bake the bread loaves for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 190 degrees celsius and bake for another 20 minutes. You may need to cover the bread loaves (a casserole dish lid works well!) to stop the seeds burning. The bread is ready when a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before slicing.
While the bread is cooling, make the soup.
In a large pot, saute the onion, leek, carrot and parsnip for 5-10 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the potato, stock, soy milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Blitz the soup using a stick blender, or add to a blender and blend until smooth. Taste the soup for seasoning, then serve.