Monday, May 21, 2012

Two soups for studying

When studying for an exam, there's no better meal to have than soup. Soup is fitting to have in many time-pressing situations, but most of all on those occasions when you need to keep working and focused. It's not pretentious, it's easy to make and it will keep in the fridge for quite a while. If you are like me, and dread the disruption from studying that meals are, then you should seriously consider getting a cookbook for soups. I found such a gem at Barnes & Noble, on sale, and not being a fan of cookbooks at the time I quickly dismissed it. But curiosity pressed, and leafing through the book I discovered the recipes to be rather simple and the ingredients basic. So I bought it.

Ever since, I have been making soup as if to feed a restaurant. One of the things I love about soups is experimenting with spices. Being creative is great too and it can lead to glorious successes - but it can also lead to miserable failures. Following recipes, on the other hand, you learn about flavors and how spices work together. This is especially useful if you are a beginner and don't yet have enough experience cooking to have a knack about what goes with what. Also, following a recipe prevents you from committing serious catastrophes with very potent spices (such as the episode in which my otherwise trustworthy aide doctored an entire batch of black bean soup with two tablespoons of cayenne pepper - more on that in another entry).

For last week, I decided to make two very different soups, back to back. An hour and a half of cooking took care of an entire week's worth of lunches. I love that sort of project where I'm being very productive in a short amount of time. For the first soup, I thought about adding some meat for protein, but I also wanted it to be chunky and rich in vegetables. Turkey soup! I chose a slow cooker recipe because really, it's the easiest way to cook anything - just throw everything in there and leave for the day. By the time you get home from work, you have dinner ready. If you don't have a slow cooker, you can still make this by boiling everything together on low heat until the vegetables are soft but not mushy.

The idea for the second soup arose from my memories of Santa Fe at sunset, of New Mexican food and good company, of delicious vibrant green avocados in the summer. This is a refreshing soup made with fresh tomatoes and topped with cheese and avocados. If I'd grown up in Mexico (which, too often in my dreams, I have) this is what grandma would be cooking in her summer kitchen while the family would be sitting on the veranda, toasting apple cider and gulping down fresh bread with butter.

Santa Fe Tomato Chowder

1 Tbsp butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 can (16 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 ripe avocado, squared and scooped out
1 cup shredded goat cheddar cheese

Melt butter in large saucepan. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water, tomato sauce, corn, cilantro, cayenne pepper and chili powder.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Spoon soup into serving bowls. Top with shredded cheese and avocado pieces.
Makes 4 servings.

Recipe for Santa Fe Tomato Chowder adapted from Frank's RedHot.
Recipe for Simple Turkey Soup from The Soup Bible.

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