School Dinners: An Education

Complaints about the quality of school dinners are often in the headlines and from Health Ministers to celebrity chefs and parents everyone has an opinion, including me; the thought of fishcakes with watery mash still makes me shudder.

Fishcakes aside not all of my memories are bad. I first sampled chicken curry in the school canteen, the authenticity of the greenish brown sauce was questionable but the mild spicing still tickled my young taste buds.

My favourite school meal though  is not one of my fancier dinner suggestions, it is more a retro combo meal that is simple in style and rich in flavour and is …

…vegetable broth and hotdogs.

Now before you ‘x out’ of this post and shake your head at the thought of needing lessons on making vegetable soup, let me state my case for writing this.

I have been making vegetable soup for years, and my tweaks to the tried and tested formula of  ‘bung a few vegetables into water and press boil’  add depth of flavour and there is no aroma quite as comforting as that of  vegetable soup gently cooking on the hob.

So what makes my souped-up version so special:

  1. Barley is omitted. A shear of barley clogging up a nice bowl of vegetable broth is most unnecessary. Potato works just as well to thicken the soup… and it is an additional vegetable.
  2. Turnip is added. Although not a regular on the soup vegetable scene, turnip adds a lovely sweetness to the finished product and along with the carrots and potato give texture.
  3. Stock is home made. I used carrot, onion, leek, celery and shin bone (technically voiding the vegetable soup claim to fame )which is optional. The stock is strained into a clean saucepan and the cooked vegetables are blended to make a puree and then added to the soup to thicken it.

So if you are a vegetable soup lover give my recipe a try and let me know how it compares to your own versions. The hot dogs are not the star of this show so feel free to select your own choice of sausage or just serve the soup with some nice, fresh bread.

I used beef sausages and mini baguettes in case you wondered.

Clockwise from top left: Vegetables, Shin bone, Stock, Soup


For the stock:

  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 leek
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • A piece of shin meat with the bone in (optional)
  • Black peppercorns
  • Salt and black pepper

For the soup:

  • 2 potatoes
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 leeks
  • ½ turnip
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 cup of parsley
  • ½ cup of thyme


Making the stock:

  • Heat a little butter in the bottom of a large stock pot.
  • Cut the carrots, celery, leek and onion into large chunks and fry off gently.
  • Add 10-12 peppercorns.
  • Season the shin bone with salt and add to the pot.
  • Seal the meat on either side and then 3/4 fill the pot with boiling water.
  • Bring the stock to a boil and then turn down the heat, put on the lid and let is simmer for at least 1-2 hours.
  • Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon and puree in a blender with a little bit of the stock. The remaining liquid in the pot should have reduced slightly.
  • Set the shin bone to one side and pass the stock through a sieve into a clean saucepan and put it back on the heat.

Making the soup:

  • Cut up the remaining  vegetables; carrot, turnip and potato into cubes, the celery and leek in small rings and the herbs finely.
  • Add the vegetables and herbs to the stock and season well with salt and pepper.
  • I also re-add the shin and take it out just before serving.
  • At this point add 2-3 cups of water if there is not a lot of liquid in the pot.
  • Add the pureed vegetables – this will help thicken the soup.
  • For best results leave the soup to boil gently for one to two hours, it tastes even better the next day if left to cool overnight.
  • Serve with a hotdog or crusty bread on the side, but also tastes good enough to just serve solo.












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