My husband, Jeremy, asked me very sweetly to organise a dinner for his birthday this past weekend gone but with the added caveat, ‘please don’t go to any great trouble, just keep things simple‘ he pleaded. I nodded away reassuringly while wondering if letterpress invitations sent by post would be over the top (in case you’re interested, the answer was yes).
You see, as Jeremy knows, I find it very difficult to curb my enthusiasm for all things entertaining, constantly trying to out-do my last attempt in a bid to one-up only myself.
So…I had some very important questions to think about; How would I decorate the table? What napkins should I use? What would the menu be? I was also planning a late-night trip to ikea to get these cute little shot glasses with the intention of using them for individual dark chocolate mousses with a pistachio crumb garnish. Totally simple & understated right?
In the end I managed to hold back a little & did a lot of prep ahead of dinner so I was able to relax & spend time with our guests. I did, however, road test three soups before finally settling on a carrot number with crisped chickpeas & pumpkin seeds, which you can find the recipe for below (adapted from http://www.smittenkitchen.com).
SOUP // 900g Carrots; thinly sliced // 2 small white onions; diced // 4 garlic cloves; minced // 1/4 tsp ground coriander // 1/2 tsp ground cumin // 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil // 4 tsp bouillon powder // 1 litre boiling water // salt & pepper
TOPPING // 1 can chickpeas; drained & patted dry on a tea cloth // 4 tbsp pumpkin seeds // 1/2 tsp ground cumin // 1 garlic clove; minced // handful of parsley; chopped
To make the soup, heat up the olive oil in a large saucepan & gently saute the onions, garlic & spices over a medium heat until they have softened. Add the carrots, stir & continue to cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the bouillon powder in the boiling water. Pour the stock into the pan & simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are soft. Puree the soup using a hand-held blender & season to taste.
For the topping, heat up a lug of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan & add the chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cumin & garlic. Cook for around 10 minutes, tossing the pan every now & then, until the chickpeas & seeds are blistered & crispy. I served each bowl of soup with a generous handful of topping & a sprinkling of parsley.
S-O-T-H TIP: For extra oomph, tear up some wholemeal pita bread, douse the pieces in olive oil & pop them in to the oven on a high heat for 10 minutes – checking on them every so often to make sure they aren’t burning. Remove from the oven once they are nicely toasted & sprinkle with za’atar. Serve these rustic croutons alongside your soup.