Sunday 7 November 2010

Feeling Souper


So I’ve had flu. That’s boring.

Being sick is like staying in a hotel, a really bad hotel where the room is airless, the bed contrives to be both too hot and too cold, the sheets are abominably scratchy despite what the lying bastard label might say about thread count. And nothing on the room service menu tempts, not even the gin and that never happens.

The thing about staying in hotels, even the very, very good ones, is that after about three days I miss cooking. I miss sniffing melons, squeezing avocados, chopping herbs, sautéing onions, simmering stock. Wandering around markets becomes almost unbearable - all that lovely produce and not a pot to put it in.

So on about Day Five of channelling of a consumptive Brontë on the sofa, I just couldn’t stand it. I needed to wash vegetables, fry stuff, stir things, season to taste. This soupy recipe sounded about right. Really very easy. Cook for two hours. Sprinkle with fried onions. Except my kofteh collapsed. You don’t brown them, just roll and poach in the soup. Perhaps I didn’t get the texture of the minced mixture fine enough, but they ended up like lamby crumbs surrounded by creamy, tomatoey, rice. Not so bad. In fact, pretty good for a sick girl.

Eat on a tray in front of an old movie, preferably Mildred Pierce. Blanket and gently snoring dog optional but beneficial. Repeat as necessary.

Kofteh Sholleh
Soft rice meat dumplings

This recipe is from Margaret Shaida’s superlative The Legendary Cuisine of Persia and it was given to her by Mrs Pouran Ataie from Azarbaijan. In her recipe, Mrs Shaida uses 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, but I hate peeling tomatoes at the best of times and I didn’t have any and I’m sick so I used a tin of chopped tomatoes. They’re Italian. And good. She also uses 30g dried oregano. I had one whole pot. That’s 5g. I can’t really imagine what adding another five pots would have tasted like and I admit I’m still a bit tastebud-challenged, so I stuck with my paltry, westernised, wimpy sick girl 5g and it tasted great.

Serves six to eight

300g short grain pudding rice
3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsps groundnut or sunflower oil
2 litres chicken stock
1x400g chopped tomatoes, or 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsps tomato purée
5g dried oregano, or 30g if you’re being authentic
1 tsp paprika or ½ tsp red chilli powder
500g lean lamb or veal, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
Finely chopped parsley

Soak the rice in cold water for a few minutes.

Warm the oil over a medium-low heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring from time to time, until soft and beginning to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Drain the rice and stir in with the onions. Add enough water to cover, raise the temperature and boil gently, covered, until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove about 3tbsps of rice and set aside.

Add the stock to the rice along with the tomatoes, tomato purée, half the oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently.

Chop the meat together with the reserved rice, remaining oregano and paprika, salt and pepper. Using wet hands, mould into about 10 evenly-sized meatballs. Carefully lower them into the slowly simmering soup. Cook very gently, partially covered, for two hours, stirring occasionally, especially during the last half hour when the dumplings and rice can stick to the bottom if you’re not careful (and even if you are).

While the soup’s cooking, prepare the onions. Warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat and sauté the onions until crisp and deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper while you finish the soup.

Serve the meat dumplings in warmed bowls with the soup ladled over the top and garnished with the parsley and the onions.


  1. What a wonderful post. I have put a link on my facebook Comfort Food page. Best wishes that you are feeling healthy again soon! With a soup like that you should be right!

  2. Dear girl hooray that you're back to a world where even collapsed Kofteh s still taste delicious.
    So pleased you're better.

  3. You are back- hooray. Sorry to hear that you have been channelling Bronteish consumption ( you had me giggling at that one). 30g of oregano - crikey. This recipe sounds delicious.

  4. Deborah that soup sounds amazing, just what we need for chilly rainy days like today

  5. Joy - Thank you so much for your good wishes and for linking to my piece. Lovely to hear from you again.
    Mum - Just so you know, I AM getting enough rest, I AM drinking lots of fluids, etc x
    Kath - Halloooo you. Thanks so much for your cheering comments.
    Hello Jennifer - I know, even when it didn't quite work it was still delicious. Glad to have leftovers to sustain through this rather gloomy Monday.
    Miss S - Thanks chica, see you very soon for feasting.


  6. Thrilled to have you posting again! You have been missed.

    Oooohhh... Mildred Pierce....good choice. Or anything with Bette Davis in it!

  7. Mildred Pierce and soup...what could be better? (Mmmmmmmm...maybe Errol Flynn and a grilled cheese sandwich???)


    Puppy-dog sparkle heart!

    love, Karen!

  8. I so know what you mean about being away from cooking, either due to illness or travel. Of course, being ill is the least fun, but when I travel I do get tired of eating out at restaurants pretty quickly. I like to select my own ingredients and cook in my own kitchen. I'm glad you were able to manage your soup. I'm sure it improved your mood.

  9. it was like XMas seeing a new post from you. How I have missed reading about what you're cooking-Welcome Back.

  10. I have made a note that next time I am ill I am coming round to lie on your sofa.
    Please don't be alarmed, just leave the key under the mat and the soup somewhere sensible.

  11. Scarlett, Thank you darling x
    Karen, MISSED you too. Thank you for rapturousness. Will email in a bit.
    Denise, It seems wretchedly ungrateful, but I can only do three or four days of hotel food, no matter how good, without itching to get back into the kitchen.
    Marty, Oh you, I'm sending you a big hug.
    James, You are most welcome. I normally keep the soup in the airing cupboard, just so you know. Will take payment in hats.

    Love and licked spoons to all of you,


  12. Welcome back Debora! Regards George. PS the boys are up for more dog walking!

  13. Im forwarding this to my wife so that she knows exactly what to do when I get ill....I will take to the sofa with duvet and curse the passing of Grandstand and World of Sport, turn on BBC2 in the hope of How The West Was Won and make intermittentntly ill-sounding noises until she brings me this

  14. Hi George, We'd LOVE to see you anytime. And if you tell them we have two new kittens, we might tempt Emma too.
    Mark, That sounds like a good plan.

  15. Receipe apart I would love to know what type of dog Barney is ?

  16. Receipe apart I would love to know what type of dog Barney is ?

  17. Hi Natasha, Barney's a border terrier - in my completely objective opinion, the best of all the terriers. They're clever, like all terriers, but quite laid back too. They're a small dog with a big dog personality.


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