Monday, February 4, 2013

Sweet Potato Soup

my 'helper' with flour on his chin
I love to cook. And bake. More importantly though, I don't understand people who don't. I understand people who can't cook or bake. That one's easy, having lived with my mother, who is a bit scary in the kitchen. Fried salad because stir fry is fried vegetables and salad is a vegetable so why can't you fry salad - kind of scary (Hi Ma, love you!).

I get most of my skills from my dad. Occasionally mom will come home with some nifty tool to use that I'll either figure out or not and use or not, but my inventiveness in the kitchen comes from dad. We all know that. I learned a lot about my cooking skills and different ways to combine things, and what can constitute a 'meal' when I studied abroad.

It's always interesting to me how adding a few different things or making a small change can change the taste of something completely. I love experimenting with new spices and dishes despite some of the restrictions I have to work around. Mom's a vegetarian and dad and I can't eat any kind of squash other than pumpkin. And I've been known to be allergic to some truly random things.

Anyway, I wanted to share recipes, and I thought why not today? Today is sweet potato soup for dinner.  This recipe usually makes two or three days worth of soup for my family of three. Reduce quantities and/or make substitutions or additions as needed.

Sweet Potato Soup 
  • 1/4 cup of butter or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced/chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced/chopped
  • 3 medium white sweet potatoes, diced/chopped
  • 3 medium regular sweet potatoes, diced/chopped
  • 2 small potatoes, diced/chopped
  • 2 large carrots, diced/chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced/chopped
  • 1 apple, diced/chopped
  • 3 large sugar pears (or you could use 1 pear of your choice, either Bartlett, D'anjou, etc,), diced/chopped
  • 1 large piece of dried (or fresh) ginger
  • 1 can of corn
  • a 2 inch square of bacon for soup stock/rendering, double scored (run the knife over the sides to slice the surface without going completely through - think of it like a blooming onion only not so deep on one side but scored on all sides)
  • 2 small or 1 large hot red pepper (can use hot red pepper flakes instead, just be aware of your tolerance of spicy foods and know that ours is pretty high), slightly crushed or broken in half
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 2 stalks of fresh tarragon, chopped leaves of
  • 1 Tablespoon each of dried thyme, rosemary, and parsley (or other preferred herbs)
  • 4 cups of coconut milk
  • 2-14 oz cans of chicken broth or stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried lemon peel or the zest of 1 fresh lemon
  • 4 oz of mascarpone 
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 cup of half and half or whole milk
  • salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a small frying pan, place the scored bacon chunk and turn the burner on at low heat. To start the rendering process, it needs to be cooked slowly on low heat till the edges start to get crispy. This is going to take some time, so chop up the other ingredients, read a book, do the dishes, whatever while you wait. Just be sure to check on it from time to time and turn it over now and then.

In a large pot melt the butter or oil and dump the contents of the small frying pan in the pot, oil and all. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and hot pepper (if using) and saute till the onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Throw in all of the potatoes: white, regular, and sweet. Saute another 10 minutes, until the potatoes don't have sharp edges, or you're bored out of your mind.

Add carrots and celery.  Saute for yet another 3 minutes. Add the apple and pears and stir for about a minute. Dump the corn, bay leaves, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, parsley, nutmeg, a few turns of fresh ground pepper, and white wine in the pot. Toss the whole mess around the pot a few times.*

Pour the chicken broth and coconut milk into the pot and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes or until you can pick one random piece of each kind of potato out and easily mush it with a spoon or fork. The veggies should be very soft but not disintegrated (unless already blended).

Scoop the mascarpone into a small bowl and mush it around till it softens a bit and loses its lumps. Slowly, a bit at a time, add the half and half or milk, mixing thoroughly each time. Mascarpone has a consistency like cream cheese which makes it hard to add to soup easily. By mushing the living daylights out of it and diluting it with milk or half and half, it's much easier to add. (You can also substitute the whole mess for a cup and a half of heavy cream if you don't like wrestling milk products.) Pour the whole bowl and the lemon peel into the pot and bring it back up to a simmer before serving.

Serve with crusty bread, pour over pieces of shredded chicken or pork, or however you prefer. Enjoy!

Leftover soup should be stored in the fridge and heated up before eating. You can also add mushrooms if you'd like, but I ran out of room in the pot, so back in the fridge they went. A vegetarian version can be made by excluding the piece of bacon and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.

*I prefer this soup to be broth-y with chunks of veggies in it. If you prefer you can wait to add the ginger, bay leaves, red pepper, and the herbs, blending it after adding the apples, pears, and corn using an immersion blender or by transferring it in pieces to a stand blender. Then add the ginger, bay leaves, red pepper and herbs before proceeding.

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