Heat treatment: Kick-start the new year with Mark Hix's healthy yet flavourful winter soups

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After all the excesses of the Christmas festivities there's nothing like a healthy winter broth to get the year off to a good start. But I'm not talking about just bunging a load of ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best – a truly delicious winter soup requires a careful balance of different tastes in order to create a fresh and flavourful soup. Here are four recipes to get your new year off to a great start.

Duck and ginger broth

Serves 4

I love the cleanliness of fresh, fragrant, Asian-style broths. You can also blanch the duck skin and crisp it up in some oil to make delicious duck scratchings. Black fungus is available at Asian supermarkets.

For the broth

1 duck
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, halved
50g root ginger, roughly chopped
20 black peppercorns
2ltrs of chicken stock or 3 stock cubes dissolved in that amount of water

For the garnish

10-15g dried black fungus, soaked in cold water
8 spring onions, cleaned and shredded on the angle
A few sprigs of coriander (optional)

Remove the breasts from the duck with a sharp knife and either freeze or use for another dish. Remove the legs and pull away; remove the skin and halve the legs at the joint. Remove any skin from the carcass and chop the bones into pieces. Put the legs and bones into a saucepan with the onion, garlic, ginger, peppercorns and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about an hour and a quarter, skimming every so often and topping up with water if necessary.

Strain the stock in to a clean pan, reserving the legs. Trim and cut the black fungus into even-sized pieces and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the duck legs and shred or cut into chunks. Add the leg meat to the simmering broth along with the spring onion and fungus. Season, then ladle into bowls with the coriander (if using).

Turnip and nettle soup

Serves 4

This is slightly unusual; I don't make turnip soup often, but I had a couple of jumbo turnips lying around and thought they'd go well with nettle tops from the hedgerows near my place in Charmouth.

A couple of knobs of butter
The white of 1 leek, chopped and washed
500g turnip, peeled and roughly chopped
500ml milk
500ml vegetable stock
A couple of handfuls of nettle tops, washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and gently cook the leek and turnip for a few minutes with a lid on and stirring occasionally. Add the milk and vegetable stock, season and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the turnips are tender, then stir in the nettles and remove from the heat. Blend in a liquidiser until smooth and add a little more stock or milk if it's too thick. Re-season if necessary; serve immediately. If you're making the soup in advance, cool it down quickly over iced water, otherwise it will lose its vibrant green colour.

Chicken soup with dumplings

Serves 4

2 chicken legs, skinned, plus a few chicken bones
2 leeks, one roughly chopped and washed, the other cut into rough 1cm squares and washed
1 small onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, halved
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
10 peppercorns
1.5ltrs chicken stock or a couple of stock cubes dissolved in that amount of water
1tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Separate the chicken drumstick and thighs; remove all of the meat from just the drumstick (reserve the bone for the stock). In a food processor or by hand, chop the chicken meat as finely as possible, season and stir in the parsley. Mould into small dumplings using a couple of teaspoons that have been dipped in cold water. Refrigerate until required.

Meanwhile, put the chicken thighs, drumstick bone and extra bones into a large saucepan with the roughly chopped leek, onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Pour over the stock and some water if the chicken isn't covered. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour, skimming every so often. Remove the chicken thighs; put to one side and leave to cool. Continue simmering the soup for another 30 minutes, then strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve and re-season if necessary. Remove the meat from the thighs and cut into chunks or shred it.

Check the strength of the chicken stock and re-simmer for a little longer if it needs strengthening. Add the squares of leek, the dumplings and chicken thigh pieces, season and simmer until the leek is tender.

Beetroot and red onion broth with spelt and horseradish

Serves 4

This is a nice healthy winter soup with a kick of freshly grated horseradish.

500g fresh medium beetroots, scrubbed
2ltrs vegetable stock
3 red onions, cut into rough 1cm dice
A couple of good knobs of butter
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp spelt (or pearl barley), soaked in cold water for a couple of hours
1-2tbsp freshly grated horseradish

Halve the beetroots and put them into a saucepan with the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer very gently for about an hour, or until the beetroots are tender, topping up with water during cooking if necessary, then drain, reserving the stock. Meanwhile, cook the spelt in boiling salted water for about 20-30 minutes or until it's tender, then drain. While the beetroot and spelt are cooking, melt the butter in a pan and gently cook the red onions for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the strained beetroot liquid, half of the beetroots and thyme and simmer gently for 45 minutes, then remove the chunks of beetroot and discard them.

Cut the remaining beetroot into 1cm dice; add to the soup with the spelt and bring back to the boil and season. Serve with the grated horseradish on top.

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