spicy freekeh and butter bean soup

as the colder weather arrives, this ottolenghi soup is a great choice, especially for lunch or a light supper. it has complex spicy flavours but is not too filling, which gives you every excuse you need to serve it with crusty bread slathered with butter or toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

the recipe is quite flexible – you can use other beans (or  a mix); if you can’t find freekeh then barley/brown rice would work well or, if you need to get this on the table quickly, use small pasta shapes (farro pasta would give a nice nuttiness and texture). however, i disagree with the suggestion that the sour cream is optional - a creamy something (use creme fraiche or greek yoghurt instead if you prefer) contrast really nicely with the other flavours (however, if you do omit it, this is a great vegan soup).

yotam ottolenghi's spicy freekeh and butter bean soup (serves 6)

1 lemon, rind shaved off in long strips, plus 1 tbsp lemon juice

15g fresh thyme sprigs

15g fresh tarragon sprigs (abby note: i didn't have any, so missed it out)

50g fresh parsley sprigs

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp each ground cumin, paprika, allspice and ginger

1 tsp aleppo chilli flakes*

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tin tomatoes, chopped

1 dried ancho chilli, torn open*

2 tsp caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock (abby note: i used homemade chicken stock)

400g tin butter beans, drained and rinsed (240g net weight)

100g cracked freekeh, rinsed


15g coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

200g soured cream (optional)

tie the lemon rind, thyme, tarragon and parsley with string. put a large pan (for which you have a lid) on a medium-high heat. add the oil and fry the onion for eight to 10 minutes, stirring once in a while, until soft and caramelised. add the cumin, paprika, allspice, ginger and chilli flakes, and fry for a minute, stirring, until fragrant. add the tomato paste, cook for a minute, then tip in the tomatoes, ancho chilli, sugar, stock, beans and freekeh. add the herb and lemon bundle and a teaspoon and a half of salt, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cover.

simmer for 45 minutes, stirring now and then, until the freekeh is soft and the liquid has thickened slightly. lift out and discard the herbs and ancho chilli, and stir in the lemon juice. serve piping hot with a dollop of soured cream and a sprinkle of coriander, if using.

* if you can’t find ancho chilli, up the aleppo chilli to two teaspoons; and if you can’t get either, use a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes.