Cookery Feature - Soup

It was exciting to see my copy of Soup popping through the letterbox earlier this month. The first title of the second series from publishing sensation Kristin Jensen’s Blasta Books, it follows hot on the heels of the four 2022 titles Tacos, Hot Fat, The United Nations of Cookies and Wok – and, offering the same winning combination of personal stories and great recipes, it’s sure to be another hit.

The story of how Soup came about tells you all you need to know about the philosophy behind the book. Authors Blanca Valencia, Dee Laffan and Mei Chin - co-hosts of the popular Spice Bags podcast – realised when recording an episode on the topic of soup, that while they are all from completely different backgrounds, cultures and upbringings, soup is a common ground. But why soup? The answer, they say, is that soup connects us all. ‘Everyone is passionately opinionated about their soups. We can argue through the night about blended soups, cold soups, greens in our soups, clear soups and, ultimately, why our favourite soup is the very best. The soups we make say we miss our mothers, we want to travel, that the seasons are changing or that we are truly, deeply hungover. Soups define the stock from which we come.’ As to the recipes, they reflect both the individual cultures, memories and tastes of the authors, and Irish food today.

Blasta Books: Described by publisher Kristin Jensen as ‘…the voices, faces and food of modern Ireland’ each of the Blasta Books series is a hardcover, 72-page A5 cookbook illustrated by Dublin artist Nicky Hooper. They are standalone books, but as a quarterly series they also provide a more inclusive snapshot of Ireland’s modern and diverse food culture, from tacos to tapas, spice bags to sushi. Buy online from, either individually or as a series bundle, or in good bookshops and independent retailers around Ireland.

Blasta Books #5: Soup by Blanca Valencia, Dee Laffan and Mei Chin (€15) is published by Blasta Books (



Serves 4

In 2017 I trekked to Everest Base Camp, which was an incredible, transformational experience. Food is a vital part of your journey – you burn about 5,000 calories a day trekking at high altitudes, so you need to replenish often. All meals started with soup, which we were served in the tea lodges along the route. Garlic soup is important because it helps you avoid altitude sickness. While I had never tried it before, it became a comfort food that I longed for. Often served with a thinner consistency, this creamy version was my favourite that soothes me to this day. – Dee Laffan

100g unsalted butter
2 brown onions, chopped
5–6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
4 medium Orla potatoes (or any waxy yellow potato), peeled and chopped
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
Nepalese roti, Indian chapati or flatbreads

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, reduce the heat slightly and sweat for 8–10 minutes, until softened. Stir in half the garlic and all the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes, then cover with water and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, sprinkle some sea salt on the remaining garlic on a chopping board. With the back of a sharp knife, push down and drag the garlic over and over, crushing it to a smooth paste.
Remove the soup from the heat and liquidise using a hand-held blender or food processor. If the soup is too thick, add more water – it should have a lighter, thin soup consistency. Stir the garlic paste into the soup, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve with roti, chapati or flatbreads.

HUO JI ZHOU (Chinese turkey congee with dried shrimp) 
Serves 4–6

As a child in Connecticut, I turned my nose up at my Cantonese father’s day-after-Thanksgiving turkey zhou (stewed breakfast rice porridge). Only as an adult did I come to terms with my Chinese side, which includes having a cupboard that smells like dried fish, and embrace turkey zhou. It follows a day of gluttony, is soothing and savoury, but it also has the mild funk of a bird the day after. Moreover, this zhou is part of my heritage. I am an American-born Chinese, and this is Thanksgiving turkey steeped with rice.
Turkey zhou should be ivory (not white) and spiked with brine from dried seafood, salted egg, pickles and pork floss. Traditionally, zhou is served with youtiao (think salty churros). If these aren’t available, shop-bought Yorkshire puddings are a wonderful accompaniment. – Mei Chin

20g raw peanuts (optional)
225g jasmine rice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp fine sea salt
250–500g leftover cooked turkey and bones
15 dried shrimp, chopped
3 spring onions, halved
3 slices of fresh ginger, thinly sliced on the bias
2 litres water
ground white pepper

To serve:
a drizzle of sesame oil
thinly sliced spring onions
youtiao (Chinese savoury pastry) or Yorkshire puddings
salted duck eggs
Chinese zha cai (pickled mustard leaves)
Chinese rousong (pork floss)

If you’re using the raw peanuts, the first thing you need to do is soak them in a small bowl of cold water for 24 hours, then drain.
Rinse the rice three times, until the water runs clear, then drain and mix it with the vegetable oil and salt. Put in a pot with the turkey and bones, chopped dried shrimp, spring onions, ginger and the drained peanuts (if using) and cover with the water. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1¾ hours. Stir occasionally and add water when the rice starts to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Remove the pot from the heat. Add another 250ml water, then cover with a lid and let the congee steep for an additional hour.
To serve, reheat the congee until it’s piping hot. Add ground white pepper to taste and top with the garnishes.

Serves 6–8

During my childhood summer vacations in Andalusia, gazpacho was only a boring tomato drink. It wasn’t until I watched Pedro Almodóvar’s movie Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, where the protagonist artfully drinks bright-red gazpacho (laced with Valium!) out of a glass,wears a red jacket and talks on a red phone, that its glamorous possibilities unfolded. However, it was Spanish chef Dani Garcia’s fruit gazpachos that cemented this dish in my culinary repertoire. Let me warn you, though, that nothing kills a gazpacho buzz more than lousy olive oil and subpar vinegar. I will not let anything but early harvest extra virgin olive oil (preferably the Picual varietal) come near my gazpacho, and neither should you. Also, no black pepper, please! It detracts from its delicacy. – Blanca Valencia

1kg ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or if out of season, use cherry tomatoes)
400g pitted cherries, coarsely chopped, plus extra or chopped strawberries to garnish
100g day-old crusty bread, sliced and soaked in water for 1 hour
½ small onion, chopped
? green pepper, sliced
1 small garlic clove, sliced
100ml early harvest extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp sherry vinegar
fine sea salt

Blend all the ingredients except the olive oil, vinegar and salt until smooth. You might need to do this in batches. Sieve through a medium-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Season with the olive oil, vinegar and salt, mixing it well. Chill overnight to allow the flavours to develop.
Serve chilled in a bowl or glass garnished with a sliced strawberry or chopped cherries. Gazpacho freezes very well and can last for a couple of months in the freezer.

Blasta Books #5: Soup by Blanca Valencia, Dee Laffan and Mei Chin (€15) is published by Blasta Books (


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