There is something about London in November that just makes me ache for hearty soups and curling up on the sofa with thick socks. It’s not so much the cold – it gets worse over December and January. It is all about the sharp smell of the cold to come in the air. Sort of like the promise of winter right around the corner.
I was looking for something seasonal to do this week and I stumbled upon some lovely ambercup squash the other day. They look so lovely, don’t they? Small, round, tough, they are like a toy vegetable I think. In the past I never cooked with squash and pumpkin, for some reason my family is not very big on them. My mum has now started growing them in her garden, too late for me as I have flown the nest and my memories of what we eat “at home” are pretty much set. So using squash and pumpkin is very much a London thing for me.
As much as I love vegetable soups though I always long for a bit of meat there – it’s the Greek DNA. For this recipe I used some youvarlakia. These are minced beef meatballs, tiny balls that in Greece we usually cook in an avgolemono soup.
Maybe I should pause here for a bit of vocabulary. Avgolemono is a double word from avgo (egg) and lemoni (lemon). It’s a way to create a soup or sauce. (It’s also a song by So Tiri which cracks me up every time as well as every other Greek I know). Maybe I ‘ll do a video at some point of how you make it as it’s a bit tricky but it’s the ultimate soup. I’m convinced it’s the reason why the phrase “chicken soup for the soul” was invented. The person who first said it had just had avgolemono chicken soup.
I digress. Youvarlakia take a bit of time to make so I always make a great big batch and freeze them. I took about 12 out of the freezer this morning and they were ready to add to the soup but I’ll give you my little recipe below – it’s a bit of a twist from the original Greek.
So, tonight was the perfect time for a bit of marriage of experiences. A soup with ambercup squash and carrots for Britain, adding some youvralakia for Greece. And a bit of saffron too – quite a bit. For that extra bit of aromatic goodness.
Saffron squash & carrot soup with youvarlakia
For the youvarlakia
(makes about 30)
- 500 grams of lean minced beef
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 3 teaspoons of mustard with the seeds
- some chopped parsley
For the soup
(for about 2 – 3 people)
- 12 – 15 youvarlakia
- 1 small ambercup squash
- 3-4 carrots
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 medium size onions chopped
- 750ml water
- grated nutmeg
Making & freezing youvarlakia
Put all of the ingredients in a bowl and incorporate well using your hands.
Take a bit of the mixture in the palm of your hand and create small balls. No bigger than 2-3 centimetre wide.
When you are done put in a tray and freeze – preferably quick freeze if you have the facility.
When they are frozen just put them in a nice plastic bag, label and store.
When you want to use them take them out and just leave them to thaw completely. You can obviously also use them straight away. The trick is to put them in boiling water (or soup) and to stir very very carefully after the first 5-10 minutes while you should leave them complete alone to bubble away happily and set.
Note: Normally for youvarlakia you would also add egg white (it acts as a binding agent) and rice. That’s great but I make them the way I do because I find them a bit more versatile.
Making the soup
Cut the ambercup squash. Be very careful as it’s really hard and your knife might slip at any point.
Scoop out all of the seeds and yukky threads.
Peel. Try to peel better than I do.
Peel your carrots too. Dice the squash and carrots. You should have half the amount of carrots than squash. After all we are aiming for the taste of squash primarily rather than carrots.
Add the chopped onions to your hot olive oil and just let them go a bit soft. Try not to let them change colour.
Add the squash and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes. Give your squash more time than you’ll give the carrots.
After about 5 minutes add the carrots. Stir occasionally for 5 minutes more.
Add 750ml of boiling water. You may also like to add a chicken or vegetable or beef stock cube. I usually do, it lifts the whole thing.
Add your spices. Be stingy with the pepper but be very generous with the saffron. I know it’s extremely expensive but in my humble opinion it’s worth every penny. If you can’t find it you may want to add a bit more ground nutmeg.
Add the youvarlakia carefully. Don’t just throw them in. Learn from my fail people, the boiling water splashes when you throw things in! Leave them alone for at least 10 minutes so that the youvarlakia will set. For the next 20 minutes stir occasionally and carefully, preferably with a wooden spoon so that the youvarlakia will not fall apart.
Fish out the youvarlakia and blitz the vegetables with all the juices in your food processor or blender.
Check the texture. You are going for a thick soup rather than a cream so add boiling water if too thick at this point.
Transfer back to the pan, add the youvarlakia and just bring to the boil so that it’s all nicely incorporated.
You can serve with cream but I love serving with a bit of thick and creamy Greek yogurt.
Add a sprinkle of saffron on top for a bit of the wow factor.
Hope you enjoyed this.
Cheers to Myrto for pointing out my initial mistake in translating youvarlakia