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Warming Soup for a cold Spring

Chickpea, tomato and bread soup

This soup contains four portions of vegetables and although it sounds rather ordinary it is delicious with an added blob of pesto to finish it off. It’s from Plenty by Ottolenghi and is based on a Tuscan dish, ribollita, and is a cross between a soup and a stew, it’s so good for lunch or supper.

Serves 4 -6

1 large onion, sliced

1 medium fennel bulb, sliced

A couple of tablespoons of olive oil

1 large carrot, scrapped, cut lengthways and in to half and sliced.

3 stick of celery, sliced.

1 tbsp of tomato puree

250 ml white wine

400 can of chopped tomatoes,

1 tbsp chopped oregano

2 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tbsp thyme leaves

2 tsp caster sugar or xylitol

1 litre of vegetable stock

160g stale bread

1 can of chickpeas 9 or 400g soaked and cooked.

4 tbsp basil pesto (I use 1 tbsp of pine nuts, basil, parmesan and olive oil and a garlic clove for each portion)

Handful of shredded basil leaves.

Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the onion and fennel in a big pot, add three tablespoons of oil and sauté on medium heat for four minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and cook for four minutes, just to soften the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the wine and let it bubble away for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and their juices, herbs, sugar, bay, stock and season. Bring to a boil, then leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes.

While you wait, break the bread into rough chunks with your hands, toss with two tablespoons of oil and some salt, scatter in a roasting tray and bake for 10 minutes, until dry. Remove from the oven and set aside. You can make the pesto.

About 10 minutes before you want to serve, put the chickpeas in a bowl and crush them a little with a potato masher or the end of a rolling pin - you want quite a rough texture, with some chickpeas left whole and others completely mashed. Add the chickpeas to the soup and leave to simmer for five minutes. Finally, stir in the toasted bread, and cook for another five minutes.

Taste the soup, and add salt and pepper liberally. Pour the hot soup into shallow soup bowls, place a spoonful of pesto in the centre, drizzle with plenty of olive oil and finish with a generous scattering of freshly shredded basil.

For a more authentic ribollita recipe, check out Nigel Slater in the Guardian.

Fennel has had a long association as a medicinal use in the Mediterranean. The Greeks knew it as ‘marathon’. It grew in a field where one of the ancient battles was fought and the battle was subsequently named the ‘Battle of Marathon’. Traditionally fennel is used for digestive complaints in Europe. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fibre. It’s a good source of phosphorous and folic acid and in addition, contains minerals; magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium and molybdenum.

The Carrot’s scientific name, Daucus carota dates back to ancient Roman writings of the 3rd Century. The original colour was purple and this was used commonly in mediaeval Britain. They are great source of vitamin A carotenes, as well as vitamin K, biotin and fibre, good levels of vitamin C and B6, potassium and thiamine.

Onion, like garlic is a member of the lily family. Onions have been a key part of cuisines in many European countries during the middle ages and were even served as a breakfast food. The Romans needed them spiced up, but it was exactly their pungent flavour that made them particularly popular with poorer people to pep up their meals.  They are a great source of vitamin C, B1, K and folic acid, chromium as well as fibre. Like garlic, studies have shown that their extracts help to thin blood and also have significant blood-sugar lowering action comparable to some medications given to diabetics.

Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family along with peppers, aubergine and potatoes. When the tomato arrived in Europe it was unpopular due to this family connection, they were right to be wary but it’s the leaves that contain toxic alkaloids. The tomato is a low calorie food packed with nutrition, especially when ripe. Red tomatoes have up to 4 times more beta-carotene that green tomatoes. They are a rich source of vitamin C, carotenes, especially lycopene, biotin and vitamin K. There’s also lots of B vitamins in them to, B6, B5, B3 and folic acid.

Chickpeas, an excellent source of protein have had many names, one of which is the Latin name, which means ram’s head, which reflected the ram head like shape. They are a good source of molybdenum, folic acid, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron. They are legumes and as such are classed as phytoestrogens, which research has shown can balance hormones.