Saturday, 16 January 2010

Presenting salad and soup

Tonight's dinner for me needs to extend into a starter and side for tomorrow's dinner. Fortunately, the shops were suddenly plentiful for unrationed goods, so I'm having a winter salad and mushroom soup. Tomorrow, I'll make bubble and squeak for me and corn beef hash for CJBS, with the soup as a starter and the salad remnants on the side.

In the 1940s, salad existed, although it was a pale shadow of what we would serve today. This wasn't because of rationing, but simply a lack of imagination . "Cold collation", as salad was known, was usually some lettuce, some tomato, some ham and some salad cream. As such, it wasn't much of a meal.

The Ministry of Food tried to put salad on a new footing, not altogether successfully, by suggesting more exciting meat-free collations; with vegetables unrationed and healthy, they hoped to get the housewife to save coupons and fuel by serving cold meals, but the British liked their meat and liked their food hot (now, of course, Britain is the most vegetarian country in Europe, a complete turnaround).

My salads are usually suitable as a main course in and of themselves, although rationing has reduced the fripperies I can add. Still, a winter salad as a large side dish to mushroom soup should be filling. I took the leaves of a hothouse lettuce and lined a bowl, then grated a dozen cabbage leaves into the middle. On top goes a grated carrot, half an onion finely sliced, two chopped tomatoes, a chopped apple and half an ounce of cheese crumbled over the top. I'm also going to add, as an afterthought, a cubed boiled potato to give the salad more bulk.

The key with a salad is presentation, so I hope I've made an attractive meal, if nothing else. By the way, to stop the apple going brown before you get to eat it, cover it in lemon juice. This stops the oxidation without changing the flavour much.

The mushroom soup is an easy one, but it has a major pitfall awaiting the first-time cook: mushroom soup often tastes of boiled milk with mushroom floating in it. The mushrooms can be reluctant to give up their flavour and need to be helped along. There are various ways of soaking, with vinegar in the water to prevent browning, to get them going, but I prefer a direct cheat: dried mushrooms. Drop these in a bowl, pour on half a pint of boiling water and leave as long as possible. The mushroom liquor is intense and can be chucked into the soup at any point.

The soup itself is a standard white soup: fry a small diced onion in a little fat until translucent, add flour until all the oil is taken up, then a quarter pint of milk to make the roux. Dilute that down with stock and you've got a white soup with no particular flavour.

Add the flavour by tossing in whatever you want to make a soup of; in this case, chopped breakfast mushrooms plus the liqour from the dried mushrooms (and the dried mushrooms themselves, what the hell). Bring close to the boil, then simmer gently with the lid on until the veg you're using is tender. Serve as it or blend to a puree, reheat and serve. I'll be cooking a chopped large potato in the soup and running the result through the blender: adding a potato to soup is a useful wartime standby as it adds bulk, something these recipes never stop demanding of the chef.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Your salad looks delicious! We've missed fresh greens in the household so I was happy to discover while browsing through local 1943 newspapers that head lettuce was available in February in our area. Salad! Oh, how I have missed it. Hope yours was wonderful!