So you might be thinking by now “Does Mrs Veg know how to make anything other than soup?” Yes, there are quite a lot of soup recipes on my blog already, but I want to use this recipe to tell you about something I’m involved with.
A few months ago, I heard something on the radio about people who were collecting date-expired food from supermarkets and other shops and using it to cook meals for the community. For a long time I’ve being growing increasingly upset by news articles about supermarkets throwing away perfectly edible food just because it was a day older than it should have been, especially when there are so many people in this country in food poverty. This was a way of combating both, and I knew straight away that I had to get involved.
The group is called FoodCycle, and I was really happy to discover that they have a hub in Cambridge, near where I live. In a church hall with its own little kitchen, a group of volunteers meet up every Saturday morning to turn a pile of fruit and vegetables into a three-course, vegetarian meal for around 30 people. Anyone is welcome, but the guests tend to be homeless, or elderly, or with learning difficulties or mental health issues. For many of them it might be the only hot meal they have that week. For others it might be their only opportunity to eat with and talk to other people. Volunteers either come in early and cook, or come along later to greet the guests, serve the food, and clear up afterwards. They can help out as often as they like, I go once a month or so and that’s probably average.
It’s probably no surprise that I prefer the cooking shift. We start off at 9:30am by looking at what’s been donated and coming up with ideas to use as much of it as possible, and then we work as a team to have the meal ready by 12:30pm. I’ve been four or five times now, and in that time we’ve made several different soups, curries and stews, one of the nicest lasagnes I’ve ever had, fruit salad, bread and butter pudding, and fruit crumbles. I’ve met so many interesting people from all over the world. Being a University city there are a lot of students, researchers, and other University staff, but there are people from all walks of life too.
This soup came about last month, when we had a sack of parsnips (no exaggeration), about four nets of chestnuts, lots of other root vegetables, and rather a lot of parsley. We roasted the chestnuts in the oven and then it took three of us what felt like hours to peel all of them, during which time we got to know each other. The resulting soup was warm and spicy from the parsnips, rich and creamy from the chestnuts. It’s amazing to think that the ingredients that went into it were destined for the bin.
I know it’s a little early to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions, but if you’re considering doing something to help people, or if you want to take up a new activity and meet new people, please consider FoodCycle or a similar charity in your local area.
Recipe (serves 4)
- one tablespoon of oil
- a large onion, peeled and chopped
- a couple of cloves of garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- about 500g parsnips, peeled and chopped around 1cm thick
- about 100g carrots, peeled and chopped around 1cm thick
- about a tablespoon of dried sage
- 750ml vegetable stock
- 200g peeled cooked chestnuts
- a handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low-medium heat. Fry the onions with the lid on, for about five minutes. Add the garlic, parsnips and carrots and fry for about five more minutes, still covered.
Add the sage and hot stock, then simmer without boiling (again, with the lid on) for about 20 minutes, until the veggies are tender. Add the chestnuts and parsley, simmer for a couple more minutes, then blend until smooth. Add more stock if necessary. Reheat, and check for seasoning.