Hello, March. Why is it that every year I have such high hopes for you? I envision you in sunglasses and a little cute dress, but instead you arrive grumpy and gray, dressed in a tattered old coat with a trash bag full of germs and allergies. Pmphffff. This year things are going to be different. This restorative, nourishing chicken soup comes together in under an hour but tastes like it simmered all day. It’s rich yet light and is the ultimate feel-better meal. (New video below!)
You know how grain bowls are all the rage? Forget them. In the dead of winter, you need a soup bowl. What’s a soup bowl, you ask? Good question, since I just made it up. Basically, you take the same concept of a grain bowl, which layers grains with different flavors and textures, but here the base is a thick and creamy (but vegan) sweet potato soup, which gets topped with a mound of rice, frizzled kale, tart green apples and crunchy peanuts. The soup is delicious on its own (that’s how my kids prefer it), but it’s made even better by the toppings.
As I write this I have a newborn lying on my chest. Our second daughter, Juniper Louise, was born right before the New Year. She is such a miracle. A beautiful, sweet, exhausting miracle. My mom flew in last week to help out, and she has been absolutely spoiling us with her cooking, cleaning and errand-running. The first thing she did upon arrival was to pull out a file folder of recipes and ask us to choose a menu for the week. Since I’m usually the one menu planning and cooking for others, this is luxury beyond words. One of the first dishes we chose was her White Bean & Chicken Chili. This chili is a longtime family favorite and has nourished my two older brothers and me through some of life’s biggest moments, including the births of our (now) nine collective children.
I would easily name soup one of my favorite foods. Nearly every week I throw together a big pot of soup, which we eat with buttery grilled cheeses, toasted crostini topped with clean-out-the-fridge fixings, or slabs of cornbread. Usually the soup is vegetable-based and pureed until silky, and it’s one of the only failsafe methods I have of getting vegetables into Ella. She’s a big fan of dunking her grilled cheese into the soup to create a crispy-soggy bite. Ah, heaven—I’m guilty of the same pleasure.
January is officially chili month. Ok, I might be making that up (although, out of curiosity I just did a Google search, and apparently there’s a “national chili day” on the fourth Thursday in February every year; who invents this stuff?), but it wouldn’t seem like January to me without a big bowl of steaming chili. When I was growing up, my mom made a crock-pot batch every year on New Year’s Day. We’d shovel back steaming bowls of beef and beans crowned with melted yellow cheddar, peaks of sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions (and, let’s be honest, a handful of Fritos) while watching—or pretending to watch, in my case—whatever football game was on. This year, after a two-week, three-state holiday traveling spree to visit family and friends, which was laden with pork and beef (in a good way), we arrived home in serious need of vegetables. I threw together a clean-out-the-vegetable-bin chili, which I thickened with leftover cooked quinoa from the freezer since I was low on beans. The result was surprisingly rich and luxurious—as comforting as my memories and yet light enough to kick off the year on a clean slate.
This soup might be the only recipe that I can (gratefully) attribute to apathy and laziness. A few weeks ago it was hot. I’m mean hot—high-90’s, height of summer hot. It was a Thursday, and I was having a heck of a time motivating in the kitchen. I knew I had to come up with something for dinner, but the fridge was nearly empty, and I was tired and feeling indifferent—takeout was even too much to bother with. So I sighed, grabbed a yellow squash that had been picked from the garden, snagged two shallots and some garlic from the basement and started chopping.
I studied in the south of France during college, and like so many cooks before me, it’s where I discovered my passion for food. As the weather cooled, my host mom (mère Michelle) would serve a steaming bowl of potage to start each meal. It was a thick soup of pureed vegetables—whatever she picked up from the market that day—with root vegetables as the base. It was hazy with aromas of garlic and herbs, warming and pure. This version is as simple as it is satisfying. It has a base of onions, carrots and celery, scented with garlic and thyme, and is thickened with sweet potatoes.
This one-dish stew is my go-to dinner whenever anybody in the family starts to get sick. It’s warming, a bit spicy and has serious healing powers (well, at least I think so!). Best of all, it has a cooked-all-day taste, but it can be made in just over a half hour. The trick is to finely chop the aromatics—red onion, garlic, jalopeno and ginger—in the food processor until they form a coarse paste. The paste cooks quickly and forms a powerful the base for the stew. From there, garam masala, cumin and coriander, along with canned tomatoes, chickpeas and collard greens are layered into the pot. I love collards in soups and stews (and this is a great time to experiment with them), but you could also use spinach or Swiss chard. To finish things off, the stew is topped with mango chutney and yogurt.
Hurricane Sandy is currently making her grand entrance into New York’s Hudson Valley, sweeping the leaves off the trees and filling our streets with water. In preparation, I’ve cooked. James tended to the outdoor tie-down yesterday, and I stocked the cabinets and fired up the stove. Slow cooker braised chicken, quinoa pilaf, pasta salad, pumpkin muffins and this curried buttercup squash soup. It’s one of my go-to fall soups—it’s thick and warming with a hint of heat that’s tempered by coconut. It will be an easy but delicious dinner to heat-up on our small butane stove if the power goes out.