Weeknight Soup Improv

The workday had been long, and still at 6:30 last night, dinner remained a remote concept. As I worked my way through the produce bin of the fridge, I was greeted by a few sweet potatoes purchased over the weekend at the farmer's market.

Sweet potatoes put to good use at the last minute. (Kim O'Donnel)

What could I pull together with these, I wondered, in about an hour? I needed something that would feel like a meal, rather than just a part of a whole, so roasted sweets were out of the question. A soup, however, might do the trick.

I continue wading through the bin and pull out an apple and an onion. A few snips with the shears and I have some fresh thyme from the backyard. What else could I add...Ah! A few garlic cloves, a portion of a chile pepper, a small hunk of peeled fresh ginger.

Okay, so by now, I've got the sweet potatoes and apple as my base, with thyme, garlic and onion doing savory aromatic duty, chile and ginger taking care of the heat, but in order to make this equation complete, I needed something to bring out the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. A cinnamon stick might be nice, and will love playing with the apple as well.

After peeling and chopping, I throw everything into a large heavy-bottomed pot. No oil to get things started; I had no time to spare. Tonight's "stock" would be water, and just enough to barely-cover everything.

I bring the mixture up to a boil, then reduced the heat, covered the pot and let all the goodies talk to each other for about 30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are very fork tender.

With the cinnamon stick and thyme sprigs removed, I could proceed with pureeing my ad-hoc mixture. This is when a hand-held stick blender really comes in handy; this marvelous contraption allows you to puree directly in the pot. Be careful with hot liquids, which like to spatter.

The puree is smooth albeit a few minor chunks, but acceptable for a last-minute dinner. But as the proud owner of a new food mill, I can't resist hand-cranking out those chunks through the blade. The result is smooth and velvety on the tongue.

I return the puree to the pot, add a little more water for thinning and salt to taste. I sip and get a well-balanced spoonful of heat, sugar, spice and earth.

One hour later, dinner is ready. Who says last-minute cooking can't be glorious?

Have a favorite ad hoc, throw-together dinner up your sleeve? Share in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 12, 2006; 10:37 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Fall Produce , Hot Pot
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For years I've made a "Potage Jacqueline" adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook that always receives rave reviews ... I place a thin slice of lemon atop each bowl, and while it may sound a bit strange, it tastes quite delicious! A dinner I love to throw together is a tofu noodle soup: start off with some mushroom broth, add some udon noodles, garlic, mushrooms (cooked separately), and tofu. Spinach or bok choy added at the end to wilt. I also often make a quick stirfry of garlic, tomatoes, chickpeas, and chopped chard served with roasted baby potatoes or over couscous accompanied by a fresh salad. Delish! But soup, especially at this time of year ... it's so immensely satisfying.

Posted by: nicole | October 12, 2006 1:08 PM

Here's another soup recipe that can get cooked up in about 20 minutes. Start with a pack of chicken ramen noodles. Add 1 C of salsa, a can of rinsed, black beans and a 4 oz of peeled, deveined shrimp. When serving, add a squirt of lime juice. Served with some crusty bread it makes a quick hearty meal.

Posted by: ja | October 12, 2006 1:29 PM

I always toss together a stir fry when I don't know what else to do. I always have carrots lying around, so that's a good start. Then choose a meat (or lots of veggies), another veggie (or canned baby corn or water chestnuts) add garlic, ginger, and an onion. Make a "sauce" of soy sauce, a little rice vinegar, some chicken broth (or water), and maybe some lemon or garlic or ginger or basil. Thicken with some cornstarch mixed with water. When it's done serve over rice you cooked while you were hastily chopping and cooking everything else.

Posted by: kate | October 12, 2006 3:38 PM

Kim, speaking of delicious sweet potatoes, can you tell me what the taste difference is between them and yams? I tend to see more yams at my supermarket than sweet potatoes. Are they interchangeable?

Thanks, your soup sounds like a great idea as these temps drop!

Posted by: cb | October 12, 2006 4:38 PM

The soup sounds great and similar to one I make often. Throw in some canned (not sweetened) pumpkin for added vitamins and flavor. Add some curry and bring even more warmth to an already cozy meal.

Posted by: Raisin Sitz | October 26, 2006 11:25 AM

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