Cooking / Permaculture · 28 April 2020

Brown Mustard Leaf Soup

I really should make a post about how this blog has been hijacked from talking about books to talking about permaculture, because permaculture is my current obsession. But perhaps I’ll make that post tomorrow. Today I want to talk about brown mustard of the sort that is sold in big bags of seed to sow as green manure.

The idea is that you sow the seed on poor, bare ground. The mustard grows, fixing nitrogen in the soil as it does so. Its rapid growth and spreading leaves form a useful mulch, shading the soil and crowding out weeds until you’re ready to plant food crops. At which point you cut the mustard down and either dig it into the soil or use it as chop-and-drop fertilizer/mulch.

Long story short, I spent most of the winter tearing up ivy which had rooted in the ground by the side of the house. You couldn’t call it a garden, it was an impenetrable thicket. When I got the ivy out of the ground, I discovered it had rooted through a layer of weed suppressant membrane, and the soil underneath was compacted and stale. So I made a pond, planted a scattering of tiny plants (lavender, primrose, various small cabbage seedlings, wild garlic, two hazelnut bushes, rhubarb and a broom bush) and sowed the rest of the bank with mustard.

I’ve been more or less keeping up with it, by cutting down the stems around the plants when it threatens to shade them out. But now it looks like this:

And by the time I’d cleared it from around the permanent plants, I had such a huge handful of it, I decided it was time to have my second meal from the garden.

(The first was dandelion flower pesto, which I’ll post about some other time, because time is meaningless, recipe time doubly so.)

I got into the kitchen with a big bunch of mustard greens which, when washed, weighed 300g and looked like this

Then I went googling for a recipe to cook with them. But – other than pickling them with brine or frying them with bacon – there was nothing. I wanted to eat, I didn’t want to pickle. And I’m a vegetarian. So it was time to experiment. This is what I came up with:

Mustard soup recipe

(A charming mix of metric and Imperial measures because that’s just how I roll.)

  • 300g (ish) leaves of brown mustard
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil (I used sunflower, but you could use whatever)
  • 2 tbsp chopped smoked garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • mixed herbs and garlic granules to taste (approx 2 tsp each)
  • 1 pint vegetable stock (two veg stock cubes in a pint of boiling water.)

Coarsely chop the onion, fry in the oil until lightly caramelized. Add garlic, herbs and ginger and fry for a bit longer.

Add washed mustard leaves (you don’t even have to chop them.) Mix around until they reduce the way spinach does.

Add vegetable stock. Put a lid on the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

When everything is soft, blend well with a hand-held blender.

You’ll get something that looks like this.

Please excuse the artistic dollop of home made yoghurt – I had to make it look posh for the internet 😉

I looked at this khaki coloured soup with a sceptical eye. It was thicker than I’d feared it would be. (I like a thick soup.) But what would it taste like? There was only one way to find out. I stuck my spoon in and sipped. Then, in incredulous surprise, I said loudly to the empty kitchen, “Oh fuck, that’s gorgeous!”

It really was. It was very full-flavoured, savory, warming, spicy, with just a hint of tannin-like bitterness in the back of the throat. I’ve got at least another bowl full left, but next time I’m going to make twice as much. If we ever get out of lock down again, it’s a dinner party dish for sure.