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Winter Warmers, Super Soups

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Looking out of the kitchen window, all I can see are leafless trees lashed by high winds and rain running down the window pane.

Even the cats have retreated to their basket in an attempt to hibernate until it's all over.

It's dreary weather but the perfect day to be making soup. I'd eat these as a meal in themselves but they work as starters too.

Turkey Laksa (serves 4)

I've been longing for a bit of spice in my life after all the traditional Christmas food and this is a lovely, lively soup that puts a spring back into your step.

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It's just as good made with fresh prawns (in which case use the heads and shells and outer leaves of the lemongrass to boost your broth, straining before use) and if you're trying to shed a few pounds you can use low-fat coconut milk and skip the noodles.

The original recipe came from Ruth Watson's Fat Girl Slim. It's really worth going to the effort of making your own laksa paste, it's so much better than supermarket versions.

Ingredients for the paste:

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1 stalk of lemon grass, inner leaves only, finely chopped

2-3 fresh chillies, halved and deseeded

2-3 fat cloves of garlic

1 thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and chopped

1 large shallot, peeled and chopped, or 2-3 spring onions, trimmed and chopped

A big handful of fresh coriander, stalks included, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

2 pinches ground turmeric

For the soup:

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250g medium egg noodles (ideally; you could use other oriental soup noodles, depending on what you have in the cupboard)

300-400g cooked turkey or chicken, chopped into bite-sized chunks (or 750g raw shell-on prawns)

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 x 400ml can of coconut milk

2 tbsp Thai fish sauce

200g fresh beansprouts

3 sprigs of mint, sliced into thin ribbons

A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

4 wedges of lime (to serve)

Method:

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Put all of the paste ingredients in a blender with 4 tbsp of water and whizz into a thick, bright green sludge, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

Put a big pan over a low-medium heat and add the sesame oil. Cook the laksa paste in the oil for a minute or two, stirring all the time.

Increase the heat to medium, add the stock and coconut milk and fish sauce. Cover the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes.

Add the turkey and heat through for a minute or two, then add the reserved noodles and the beansprouts and simmer for another few minutes, until everything is hot but the beansprouts are still crunchy.

Divide between four warmed bowls. Scatter with the chopped mint and coriander and give each person a wedge of lime to squeeze into the soup.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup (serves 4-6)

A real winter warmer, guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart if you've just come in from the cold. The tamarind offsets the sweetness of the squash.

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Ingredients:

1 large pumpkin or squash

2 large onions

2 tspn ras el hanout (optional, see method)

1 tspn ground cumin

1 tspn ground coriander

1 tspn tamarind concentrate, dissolved in a little water

1 litre good-quality chicken, ham or veg stock

2 heaped tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Salt and pepper

Oil

Method:

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Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.

Peel the pumpkin and onion and cut into chunks. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and roast for 30-40 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.

Heat a bit more oil in a large saucepan and add the spices. If you don't have any ras el hanout, double the amount of cumin and coriander and add a light sprinkling of cayenne or chilli powder. Cook gently for a couple of minutes.

Add the pumpkin and onion, stir well, then add the stock. Season.

Simmer gently for 20-30 until the flavours have blended, then liquidise.

Stir in the tamarind and cook gently for five minutes. Add the fresh coriander, check the seasoning and serve.

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