My new friend Amanda was coming to dinner for the first time and a few days before the meal, she sent me a message: ‘Re: My intolerances . . . If you could steer clear of dairy, grains, oranges, tomatoes, game and beef, I'm a doddle to cook for.’ I scratched my chin and said ‘hmm’ out loud. A doddle, indeed.
I decided the best way to deal with this was to cook simply but well. The main part of the meal wasn’t too hard. I made a lemony chicken thing from Diana Henry’s latest book A Bird in the Hand (which is terrific, I cook from it all the time) and some garlicky roasted new potatoes from the same chapter. I intended to dress a leafy salad, but really, when you have enough garlicky new potatoes salad is a bit redundant. Both our plates were left clean. But what to do for dessert . . .
What I most enjoy — no, love — cooking for dessert is a custard tart. That, obviously, was out. Then I remembered a fruit soup I ate last Autumn in the Montefiore Hotel in Tel Aviv that had me singing for days. Cold fruit soups are popular in Scandinavia and eastern Europe and I was surprised to learn that there are Middle Eastern versions too. It satisfies many food intolerances, being both gluten- and dairy-free. It doesn’t, however, taste like it’s made for people with restricted diets. The one I had in Israel was a beautiful deep red and had a deep flavour, too. I looked online for a recipe but I found nothing on the hotel’s website, nor did any other recipes I found look anything like the garnet beauty that I’d eaten. There was only one solution – I had to invent my own.
I made this using cassis and the brandy and sugar solution that a kilo of cherries had been steeping in since last summer. I’d used all the cherries by April, but held on to the liquid for a time just like this. Plain brandy or kirsch would also work or cherry brandy would be lovely. I didn’t use much. The alcohol adds some complexity but you don’t want to taste the soup and think booze. It isn’t a post-dinner cocktail. You could easily omit the alcohol altogether without compromising the flavour much.
Making soup is also a way to give bland-tasting fruit a significant boost. The cherries I used were dull and watery, but after a few hours sitting in the sweet liquid they tasted the way cherries should. It won’t make unripe fruit soft, though.
Frozen blackcurrants are fine for this as fresh are hard to find at the best of times. Almost all of the UK harvest is sent to the Ribena factory. Blueberries also work well.