My trip to Manchester last week went well on the work front, and my foodie experiences also went up a notch when Dogophile Vegan Nurse came over from Leeds to join me for a few hours on Thursday. We met at 10.30 and since she was feeling peckish we headed over to a Buddhist vegetarian place she'd visited before called Earth Cafe. I have to admit that I had imagined a very wool-shirt and worthiness type of place from the way she described it, but in fact it's a bright and comfy place with counter service and very friendly staff who work towards being mindful and ethical in the way they run their business. And the food was *amazing*. At our elevenses visit I had a peach smoothie (very nice and fruity) and DVN had some lentil and spinach soup with a hearty side of bread, and a beetroot and carrot juice. The juice-ista (which should definitely be a word) apologised that it hadn't come out in three stripes of different colours in the glass, but it was very nice and such a nice purple shade that we would never have thought it looked odd. I tasted a bit of the soup and it was so good that when I got hungry for lunch less than an hour after we left we rather sheepishly just turned back to Earth Cafe again. There's no way we could pretend we weren't the same people - I'm a giant and VDN is little, plus I had the most ginormous bag on my back, but hey, what cafe is going to get upset its customers are coming back so soon?! This time I had the soup and DVN had a vegan strawberry cake, which was a little bready and with a very sweet icing, but good all the same. Other tempting options included a daal, some veggie burgers, and a harira soup which is a regular (the lentil and spinach was a special).
My lunch reminded me how much I love lentil soup and how I ought to try to recreate this particular one at home. It didn't have any particular strong flavour - no noticeable spiciness or lemoniness for example, just a really good hearty earthy lentiliness. I elected to start my home version quite simply with the thought that I could build it up by iterations in the future. I used a standard onion-garlic-celery base, but also added some soaked dried mushrooms and their liquid because I thought it would be a nice extra layer of flavour. It wasn't like the one in the cafe, but definitely a good extra taste. I also used more spinach than the original if the much greener shade of my soup was anything to go by. Flavour-wise, I added an Italian herb mix and some thyme, and then at the end, some soy sauce and some pepper.
The finished soup was very nice indeed, and with some home-made soda bread definitely merited an appreciative lunch wiggle. It didn't quite have Earth Cafe's earthiness and I'm quite intrigued to know what the missing ingredient was. I even emailed them to ask if they'd share the recipe, but that was only yesterday so they haven't had a chance to reply yet.
DVN wondered if there was tomato in it, so that might be another avenue to try next time. In the meantime I'm quite pleased to have conjured something along the same lines - and it even bypasses the worries about posting recipes from other cookbooks I mentioned a couple of posts ago! If you're in Manchester, I'd definitely recommend Earth Cafe -16-20 Turner Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1DZ, 0161 8341996, open Tues-Fri 10am-7pm and Sat 10am-5pm. I might even have to fabricate a reason for a return trip to the archive just so I can go back!
PS, forgot to say - it's *really* good value, too!
Lentil and spinach soup
Serves two, generously
half an onion
one clove of garlic
half a celery stick
small handful of dried mushrooms
3/4 cup-ish of red lentils
1/2 tsp - 1tsp dried thyme
sprinkle of mixed Italian herbs
300-400ml hot stock
big handful of spinach (I actually used about 5 balls of frozen spinach)
splash of soy sauce, to taste
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for about 10 mins. Warm a little oil in a saucepan, and cook onion, garlic and celery to soften. Drain the mushrooms, keeping the liquid, and chop. Add mushrooms, their liquid, the lentils and herbs to the pan. Add stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer about 15 mins. Add spinach (mine was frozen - if using fresh perhaps let the flavours develop a little longer first since it won't take as long to cook). Blend and season with pepper and soy sauce to taste.