Striking Out


Grilled cheese sandwich with mango chutney and red chilli, curried parsnip soup

Grilled cheese sandwich with mango chutney and red chilli, curried parsnip soup

Tube Strike.  Two words that place fear in the heart of every Londoner.  At present, we are in the midst of a 48-hour strike about the plans to close London Underground ticket offices and there is little to do but try to get around by alternative means.  Of course, there are those that are lucky enough not to be affected:  some will be able to work from home, hence avoiding the transport network altogether; some will usually travel by bus or National Rail, which is unaffected; and then there are those rich enough to live in Zone 1.  We don’t talk about those.  Even being the adaptable creatures that we are, most of us are victims of the chaos.  For example, my journey to work this morning was just short of two hours; three buses between East Dulwich and Oxford Circus.  In the rain.  It’s a good thing that I’m going for cocktails later as I certainly feel I’ve earned them.  Have you ever noticed just how many people live in London when they are all on the surface?

Anyway, I mainly wanted to talk about last night’s supper, which started as a quest to use up the leftover parsnips from the weekend’s roast.  They were lurking around in the veg drawer and starting to look quite sorry for themselves; another couple of days and they would only have been good for the bin, so I decided to make them into a curried parsnip and red lentil soup. Nice and warming whilst we are still in this lengthy rainy season, no?  Whilst seeking inspiration online, I found that most recipes use only curry powder as the spices, which I find a little uninspiring.  Unless you spend a lot of money on a good spice blend, the flavour always seems a little flat.  Like cheap supermarket coronation chicken sandwiches.  So instead I blended together cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and chilli powder, cooking it off a little before adding the other ingredients.

Many argue that soup is not a substantial mid-week dinner, and I am inclined to agree.  It’s perfect for a late-night supper after a huge lunch, or a desk-lunch with some bread, but is insufficient to satisfy the appetite of the weary commuter.  Ollie cycles over 100 miles per week and is ravenous by the time he gets home, so a bowl of soup is not going to cut it.  Some thick slices of nice granary bread would bulk it out, but I would usually crave something more exciting.  A sandwich is the perfect accompaniment – and also a great way to sneak some extra protein into a meal which often has little – but few are structurally sound enough to permit the very important act of dunking. At least not without making an enormous mess.

So let’s talk about the grilled cheese.  Being British, I used to make toasted cheese sandwiches by putting two slices of bread in the toaster, then covering one with cheese and melting it under the grill, then adding the other slice on top (we never owned a sandwich toaster – much to my adolescent dismay).  Then I discovered the American method of basically cooking a cheese sandwich in a skillet on the hob.  You butter the outsides of the bread to crisp them up, then the heat from the pan melts the filling.  This produces a sandwich that is much more of a unit, more mulched together than when using my old method.  This is the perfect sandwich for dunking in soup, and the beauty of it is that you can add additional fillings that will compliment its flavour.  To cut through the rich warmth of the parsnips and spices, I added a generous spread of fruity mango chutney and a sprinkling of finely chopped red chilli.  Depending on the trauma of your journey home, you may wish to make an extra sandwich.  Just saying.

Curried Parsnip Soup

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 6 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 6 tbsp red lentils
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Gently fry the onion for 10 minutes or so until translucent but not browned.  Stir in the spices and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the parnsips and the red lentils to the pan, stirring well to ensure they are fully coated in the spice mixture.  Add the vegetable stock and seasoning.  Cook for 25-30 minutes or until the parsnips are tender.

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth using a hand blender.  Stir in the creme fraiche and test the seasoning.  Set aside and reheat when needed.

Serves 3-4

Mango Chutney and Red Chilli Grilled Cheese Sandwich

  • Two slices bread, buttered on one side.
  • A few slices of cheese, I used a sharp cheddar
  • 2 tsp mango chutney
  • ½ mild red chilli, chopped

Put a skillet over a medium heat and put in one of the slices of bread, buttered side down.  Quickly spread the mango chutney on the bread and top with the cheese and chilli.  Cook for a couple of minutes and add the other slice of bread on top, buttered side up.

Cook for a few more minutes before carefully flipping over to cook the other side.

Makes one sandwich.