I know that in this blog I do tend to go on a bit about Monsanto, the giant chemical company which, alongside Bayer and Syngenta, now owns the “patents” to around two thirds of the world’s vegetable seeds.
But I’m not alone in my antipathy – the company was recently voted the “most evil corporation” of 2013 in a poll of 16,000 readers of the US website Natural News. In clinching the title, Monsanto gained over 50% of the vote, far outstripping the other candidates, which included McDonalds, BP, Wal-Mart and Nestle. An impressive feat.
This news must be a blow for a company that has recently been trying to improve its miserable public image by announcing that it will not be taking legal action against farmers whose own non-GM crops have been accidentally contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed. This follows the predictable enough revelation that Monsanto’s GM seeds have been spread outward from supposedly enclosed GM sites through the action of wind and insects. Originally, Monsanto had claimed that the farmers whose own crops had been contaminated in this way were guilty of “patent infringement“.
This is par for the course for Monsanto, which has a history of suing small scale farmers.
Traditional small-scale farming has always involved saving seeds from the year’s crop for sowing the following year, but farmers using Monsanto crops are contractually forbidden by the company from doing so, being required to sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they purchase from Monsanto. This means they have to purchase the seeds year on year, a ruthless policy that in recent years has contributed to bankruptcy and suicide on an unprecedented scale, particularly amongst farmers in India, who have been lured by false promises of vastly improved yields into borrowing money to fund contracts with Monsanto.
Any farmers who save and sow seed, contrary to their contractual agreement with Monsanto, risk being taken to court. According to the company’s own website, 145 lawsuits have been filed by Monsanto against farmers in the USA alone since 1997.
Anyway, time for a GM-free recipe, using some lovely organic butternut squash from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. I harvested lots of butternut squash back in October, storing them temporarily in my greenhouse to cure in the gentle, slanting rays of autumnal sunlight. With enough care, they will now store for another 2-3 months, making them an important seasonal food source during these leaner times of winter.
So, butternut squash is the base for this rich and comforting soup for which I’ve used traditional Moroccan tagine flavours as my inspiration. The sweet chermoula oil is optional. but it does provide a beautiful hot and sweet counterbalance to the soup.
I served this soup with home-made Turkish pide bread, a recipe for which is included below, but if you don’t fancy going that far any good quality bread would work just fine as an accompaniment.
Moroccan butternut and lentil soup with sweet chermoula oil
for the soup
500 g butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
100 g red lentils, rinsed and drained in a sieve
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50 g dried apricots
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tbsps harissa paste (the more harissa the hotter the soup!)
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly milled black pepper
1.2 l vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
for the sweet chermoula oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
pinch ground turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch sea salt
1 tsp muscovado sugar
60 g extra-virgin olive oil
1. To make the sweet chermoula oil, put the olive oil in a pan with the other ingredients and heat gently over a low heat for five minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt and making sure the garlic does not burn. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse.
2. For the soup, heat the to tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, stirring every so often, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, harissa paste, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. Stir to combine then and this squash, lentils, apricots, salt and pepper. Stir to combine thoroughly then add the stock.
3. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the butternut is soft and the lentils cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes. Process in a blender until smooth (you’ll need to do this in batches).
4. Return the soup to a clean pan and gently reheat but do not boil. Give the sweet chermoula oil a good stir. Serve the soup in bowls with a drizzle of the sweet chermoula oil and a middle eastern style bread such as Turkish pide (recipe below).
Turksih Pide bread
500 g organic plain flour
50 ml organic natural yoghurt
8 g dried yeast
30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
275 ml lukewarm water
1 free range egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbp water
2 tsp nigella seeds
1. Add the yeast to 100 ml of the lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve, then leave for five minutes.
2. Place the flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Add the olive oil, yoghurt, the water containing the yeast and the remaining lukewarm water. Using a dough hook attachment process this mixture into a smooth, pliable dough. Place in to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for two hours or until doubled in size.
3. Place the dough on a clean lightly floured board or work surface and punch it down to release accumulated gas. Lightly dust a flat baking tray. Break the dough into two and roll out each piece to an oval about 1 cm in depth. With a floured forefinger make deep indentations all across the rolled out dough. Brush lightly with the egg and water mixture and then sprinkle with nigella seeds. Cover with cling film and leave to prove for a further hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 220° C (425° F, gas mark 7). Place a deep roasting dish part filled with freshly boiled water in the bottom of the oven. Place the bread on a rack above the roasting dish of water. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the pide is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.