A bowl of soup can invigorate or comfort as the mood takes us. It can soothe or excite, warm or refresh and can be as humble or sophisticated as we wish. Soup particularly fits the bill in spring because it can be light or hearty as the weather changes, a simple pea and herb soup can take on a main course role when it is made from the stock in which you have cooked a ham hock; a light broth can be bolstered with noodles, or a green soup-stew of early vegetables can be given substance with pieces of toasted sourdough and thick green olive oil.
Meat can play a part in a spring vegetable soup as you think fit, with ham and chicken feeling especially suited to the gentle flavours of the early vegetables such as beans and peas. But above all soup can be a celebration of all things spring, from early broad beans and asparagus from just across the Channel, to our own early herbs and young chard and lettuce. Soup works.
Roast chicken pho
Serves 2, generously
dark soy sauce 1 tbsp
honey 1 tbsp
mirin 1 tbsp
chicken thighs 4
chicken stock 800ml
ginger 6 "coins"
lime juice 1 tbsp
star anise 3 whole
shredded greens or chard a handful
rice noodles 100g
Mix a tablespoon of dark soy, with a tablespoon each of honey and mirin. Pour into a small roasting tin, add the chicken thighs and turn them over in the mixture till lightly coated. Roast at 200C/gas mark 6 for about 25-30 minutes, occasionally turning the thighs over in the honey and mirin. They should be very dark and sticky.
In a pan, warm the stock, ginger, lime juice and the star anise. As it approaches the boil, add a small handful of shredded greens or chard, cooking them for a minute or two only.
Put the rice noodles in a heatproof bowl and pour over a kettle of freshly boiled water. Leave them to soak for a couple of minutes until they are soft and silky. Divide the noodles between two deep bowls, slice the chicken from its bones and add to the noodles together with the greens, then ladle over the stock.
Ham hock with pea and herb soup
ham hock 650g
peas 200g shelled weight
garlic a large clove
parsley a small bunch
chivesandbasil leaves a handful
Put a ham hock in a deep pan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, skim off the froth that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers. Cover the pan with a lid and leave, with the occasional turn, for 45-50 minutes or so, till the ham is cooked through to the bone.
Remove the ham from the liquor, add the peas and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes or so, till the peas are tender. Add a handful each of parsley, chives and basil leaves to the peas, cook a minute or so longer, then blitz in a blender to give a thick, green sauce. Add pepper if necessary.
Tear the ham into large pieces. Roughly chop a few more of the herbs, then roll the ham in them. Spoon the sauce into bowls and add the ham.
broad beans in the pod 400g
baby leeks 200g
spring onions 200g
small courgettes 200g
flageolet beans 400g cans
peas 200g podded weight
vegetable stock 1 litre
parsley a handful
grated parmesan to serve
Pod the broad beans, boil them in lightly salted water, then drain and cool under running water. Unless they are really young and small, I like to pop them out of their pale skins.
Thickly slice the leeks (I like to do them diagonally). Thinly slice the spring onions. Cook them in a saucepan, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, covered with a piece of greaseproof or baking parchment. This will encourage them to steam and soften rather than fry. You want them to be tender, but they shouldn't brown. Cut the courgettes into short lengths.
When the leeks and spring onions are soft and still bright green, remove the greaseproof paper, add the courgettes, the flageolet beans, peas and then the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer then add the chives, chopped into short lengths. Roughly chop the parsley and stir into the soup. Season and pass round a dish of grated Parmesan.
Miso soup with prawns
vegetable stock 750ml
white (shiro) miso paste 2 tbsp
chilli sauce 2 tsp
dark soy 2 tsp
littlegem lettuce 1
spring onion 1, finely sliced
large, cooked prawns a couple of handfuls
coriander leaves a handful
Bring the stock to the boil, stir in the miso paste, the chilli sauce (I like the thicker kind) and the soy sauce. Break up the lettuce and divide it between two bowls, together with the spring onion. Add a few large, cooked prawns to each bowl then pour over the hot miso broth. Finish with coriander, letting it wilt in the heat of the stock.
Thai green vegetable soup
white peppercorns 1 tsp
coriander seeds 1 tsp
turmeric 1 tsp
lemon grass 2 stalks
garlic 2 cloves
ginger a 3cm lump, peeled
hot green chillies 3 small
fresh coriander a handful
vegetable stock 200ml
coconut milk 250ml
fish sauce 1 tbsp
lime juice 2 tbsp
spring vegetables, such as asparagus tips, broad beans, peas 450g total weight
shredded greens, such as spring cabbage a handful
pinch of sugar and soy sauce to serve
For the paste, put the white peppercorns and coriander seeds in a dry non-stick frying pan and toast lightly for 2 or 3 minutes, then tip into the bowl of a food processor and add half a teaspoon of sea salt, the ground turmeric, lemon grass, peeled garlic cloves, ginger, green chillies, 3 tablespoons of groundnut oil and a handful of coriander stems and roots. Blitz to a course paste. You can keep this paste for a few days in the fridge, its surface covered with groundnut oil to prevent it drying out.
In a deep pan, fry 3 lightly heaped tablespoons of the curry paste in a tablespoon of oil for 30 seconds till fragrant, stirring as you go. Stir in the vegetable stock and coconut milk, the fish sauce and lime juice.
Add the asparagus tips, broad beans and peas and continue simmering for 5-6 minutes, then drop in a couple of handfuls of greens, shredded into thick ribbons. Finish the soup with a pinch of sugar, fish sauce, a little soy sauce, more lime.
Picture: Roast chicken pho. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for Observer Food Monthly