For part of my youth I was privileged to live on a Karroo farm. This was long before the farms in this area were linked to the national electricity grid. Farmers had to generate their own electricity if required. Luckily we had a diesel powered generator that clicked on at the touch of a button when we needed power. Our stove was however a fabulous, now vintage Aga, that was fuelled by anthracite. Winter conjours up all sorts of memories surrounding the Aga….. warming our chilly hands against the oven doors,  cats and dogs snuggled up in front of it and the gentle hissing and occasional ‘spitting’ of Mom’s pressure cooker!

This hearty vegetable based minestrone style soup was one of my Mom’s favourites and whenever I make it, it evokes these childhood memories!

For years I had a stove top pressure cooker, but I must admit I never really enjoyed using it. Those ‘spits and hisses’ made me nervous! I invested in an electric model a few years ago I enthusiastically use it.

The concept of high pressure cooking is quite simple. When exposed to higher atmospheric pressure water or other cooking liquid, boils at a higher temperature.

When the pressure cooker is sealed it creates an airtight atmosphere. As the liquid boils the steam increases the pressure, therefore cooking the food at a higher temperature, and decreasing the cooking time considerably. It obviously saves endless hours of stove top or oven cooking. It is so easy to use, just ensure that you follow the instructions for use.

The sealed unit prevents evapouration of liquid and prevents flavours from vapourising. Modern chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using high pressure cooking to lock in the flavours that were previously lost during long cooking processes.

Back to the soup recipe. The ingredients in my soup are approximate and you can easily replace the vegetables with one of those conveniently packaged ministrone soup packs, where the veggies are prepared and the beans pre-soaked. I don’t use the pre-packs as they often contain potato, which I personally dislike in soup.

In the summer, when tomatoes are plentiful I stew and freeze them, ready for use in winter soups, sauces and stews, but sadly, with the lack of regular water the crop was very poor last year. I therefore use a tetra pack of crushed Italian tomatoes, but you may use tinned tomatoes or passata ( Italian tomato puree, usually available in bottles) if you prefer.

I have giant plants of Portuguese kale in the garden. The bugs love kale, so make sure that you pick healthy leaves and wash them very well in lightly salted cold water to remove any critters! You can use Swiss chard or spinach if kale is not available.

As usual, I had a hint of chilli. You really cannot detect it, it merely adds depth of flavour, but it may be omitted.

I usually use beef, but it can be replaced by lamb or chicken. Use boney cuts, but avoid excess fat. We do not eat enough ‘bone-in’ stewed foods. The collagen derived from the bony cuts is vital for healthy joints, hair and skin. Moist heat cooking methods used for soups and stews allows the collagen to become available to the body. Use this opportunity in winter to give your body a collagen boost.

If you are using lamb add a sprig of fresh rosemary, and for chicken add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Citrus zest, such as lemon or orange also work well with chicken.

I add grains in the form of lentils, split peas and barley. You may choose one grain or the mixture. Look out in the supermarket for a pack of mixed grains. These are excellent for soups and stews. If you don’t feel like measuring, just use half a pack. These grains all contain protein, and starch, so if you are trying to cut back the carbs you can omit them, but if included, will contribute to a nutritionally well balanced soup. They also contribute to a lovely thick, wholesome texture.

For the stock I use a good quality powdered or liquid stock in preference to reconstituted stock cubes. If you use a good quality stock, packed with flavour you can reduce the added salt in food.

Before cooking you can also add 200g pre-soaked cannellini, or similar beans. I often take shortcuts and add 1 or 2 cans of drained beans, once the soup is cooked. The beans are an optional addition, but they provide an excellent additional source of protein, complex fiber and energy giving carbohydrates. If you want to omit the meat the lentils and beans are an excellent vegetarian option. Have fun trying out different types of bean.

While on the subject of nutrition, the high heat of the pressure cooker or the prolonged heat on the stove top will destroy some heat sensitive nutrients e.g. vitamin C, but otherwise this soup is a balanced one pot meal.

Recipe: Rustic Pressure Cooker Soup