The recipe for this aptly sunshine yellow soup comes from one of Hackney's most warm-hearted and generous projects: St Peter's Community Café in De Beauvoir. The café opens every Friday from noon till 2.30pm in term time in the smartly renovated crypt of St Peter's church. Energetic bands of volunteers, including the De Beauvoir WI and local cooks, give up their time to create nutritious and ambitiously good meals. Unwaged visitors can pay by donation, and it costs only around £10 for a three-course tuck in.
If you live in De Beauvoir and want to meet a genuine cross-section of your neighbours, then this is the place for you. When Eat Hackney visited there was a regular mother and baby group sitting down at a long table together – some of the the Mums live in hostels where they can't entertain visitors, so the café offers them a rare social opportunity. Creatives from the studios on De Beauvoir Road stop by to eat here, as well as the unwaged. One visitor regularly leaves a relative with dementia to have lunch under the caring eye of the volunteers, while she has some rare time off from caring duties. Tables are brightened with blooms donated by the Flower Appreciation Society, and the atmosphere is inclusive and upbeat.
The café sits in an interesting space between being a charity and a commercial operation, and is rare in the borough in the social mix that transpires. Each Friday, 35–40 people enjoy homecooked food together. When Eat Hackney visited there was sweet potato soup on the menu, followed by volunteer Elizabeth's slow-cooked beef and juniper stew rounded off with roasted pears with candied tangerine peel. There's always a veggie option such as beetroot and caramelised onion tart or buckwheat crepes with spinach and tofu.
If you fancy joining this happy band of cooks, waiters and washer-uppers then you can: email the café to find out about volunteering. Eat Hackney reckons it's a great way of trying out some large-scale cooking if you are thinking about running a pop-up or supper club. The cost of all your ingredients is refunded, so you can let your culinary imagination run free, and contribute to a great local project at the same time.
St Peter's Community Café, Northchurch Terrace N1 4DA
Here are some recipes from the café's regular volunteers:
Sweet potato soup
1 red chilli
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can coconut milk (400ml)
500 ml vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes
Serves 2 generously
Chop the onions and red chilli and fry gently in olive oil till the onions are soft but not brown. Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock. Peel and chop two sweet potatoes and add that to the liquid. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer for around 20 minutes or until soft. Finish with a hand blender (or just mash it up yourself) and a squeeze of lime. Serve with black pepper and roughly chopped coriander.
Freekeh is a smoked green wheat which is super healthy: it’s high in fibre, protein and calcium and has probiotic qualities. It is sold by Zaytoun, a community interest company, and can be bought locally from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serves 2–3 as a main, 4–5 as a side salad
1 preserved lemon
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 handful coriander, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
200g cracked freekeh*
1 handful of flaked almonds
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp sumac
Slice the preserved lemon as thinly as possible, then chop. Mix the preserved lemon, red onion, herbs and raisins in a large bowl.
Rinse the freekeh. Put into a saucepan and a litre of water. Bring to the boil, then simmer until the freekeh is tender and the water is mostly absorbed: this will take 20–25 minutes. Take off the heat and drain, then spread the freekeh on a tea towel to absorb the moisture. Once the freekeh has cooled, add it to the bowl with the onion and other ingredients.
Dry toast the almonds in a pan till they turn golden brown. Make the dressing by whisking your ingredients in a bowl and seasoning generously. Add lemon juice to taste.
Mix with the salad and top with the toasted flaked almonds.
Roast za’atar almonds
Makes a generous amount to snack on.
300g whole almonds with skins
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp sumac
zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with grease-proof paper.
Chop the almonds roughly, put them in a bowl, add the olive oil and rub it in. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet and bake, turning once, until lightly toasted – this will take about 10 minutes. They will give off a subtle toasty scent when ready. Take the almonds out of the oven and cool a little.
Toast the sesame seeds in a pan till they turn a golden colour, and combine in a bowl with the za’atar, sumac, lemon zest and salt. Add the almonds and mix, then allow to cool completely.
If you can wait the almonds are better after 24 hours when the flavours have combined. Keep them for up to two weeks in an air-tight container.
Butternut squash, membrillo and Stilton tart
If people see that a neighbour has a quince tree laden with fruit, there’s no harm in asking if they want them all. Because you can only eat them cooked, people can be overwhelmed with quinces if they are not into making jams and jellies. Offer to give them some of the results. Otherwise, the Turkish shops sell beautiful big quinces for several months of the year.
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
250g shortcrust pastry
200g Stilton, crumbled
200g membrillo (quince paste), cut into little chunks
300ml crème fraîche
Preheat the oven to 220ºC.
Toss the butternut squash cubes in the oil with ¼ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper and spread out on a baking tray. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Drain any oil off and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 190ºC.
Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface, roughly 3mm thick, and transfer it to a 24cm quiche or flan tin. When lining, leave some pastry hanging over the edge so that when it shrinks a bit in the baking, there will still be enough to form a case. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and chill for 20 minutes in the fridge. Line the pastry case with baking parchment, fill it with baking beans and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and continue to cook for 10 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Remove and leave to cool.
Spread the roasted squash out on the base of the quiche, dot the Stilton between and sprinkle the membrillo all over. Place the eggs and crème fraîche in a mixing bowl with ¼ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Whisk together and then pour this over the squash, leaving some of the filling exposed. Place in the oven for about 40 minutes, until set. Remove from the oven and allow to rest before trimming off any excess pastry, and removing from the tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.