Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Handing Down: Sweet Potato-Corn Soup

Cooking, like many other things, is a continuum, the handing down of recipes and techniques so that others can learn and carry on the practice.
This recipe came to me from Oldest Daughter’s Southern Beau. He got it from one of the patients at the O.T. office where he works. They in turn made it together several times and shared some of the leftover soup with us during a visit. It was so good that I thought we should make it over the Christmas holiday when the house would be full and all would be hungry.
Youngest daughter and I put it together for dinner one night. I just asked for a list of the ingredients and went from there. While I did my best to measure everything, that isn’t important. It’s soup after all and it will be good even if your measurements aren’t exact. For example, I used two sweet potatoes:
 “White or orange?" 
It doesn’t matter.
“What size sweet potatoes?
Whatever you find is fine but there is an approximate measurement given.
In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff: Cook! You’ll learn from the experience and it will make you a more confident cook.
And by the way, before I had a chance to write this Youngest Daughter returned home with her beau and made a batch of this for the two of them. The handing down.
This recipe makes enough soup for about eight, depending on how hungry they are. The recipe can be halved for a smaller amount, but leftovers are always welcome and those can be frozen. The red bell pepper isn't essential. Oldest Daughter and her Southern Beau have made it using yellow and green bell peppers. Whatever you can find.

Sweet Potato-Corn Soup
1½ cups chopped onion
1 red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 ¼ cups)
¼ cup diced jalapeno (alter this to your heat-level preference)
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” pieces (about 5 cups)
5 cups white corn kernels (which is two 12-ounce bags)
6 cups vegetable stock* (or water)
salt and ground black pepper
chopped cilantro, for garnish
lime wedges, if desired
olive oil, for cooking

1. Place a 4-quart Dutch oven (or other large pot) onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl in two tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and bell peppers; stir and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes to let the vegetables soften. Adjust the heat if necessary. Add the jalapenos, stir and cook for another minute. Push the vegetables to the edges of the pot and add the cumin, allowing it to toast and become fragrant. After 30 seconds, stir the cumin into the vegetables and season with some salt and ground black pepper.
2. Add the sweet potatoes and corn to the pot and cover with the stock. Season the soup with some salt and ground black pepper. Raise the heat so the soup comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the sweet potatoes are cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and let cool slightly. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or a regular blender or food processor. Warning—if you puree hot soup in a blender, remove the little top knob from the lid and cover the hole in the lid with a clean towel before starting the blender). Puree until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge, if desired.

*Canned vegetable broth will work of course, but making vegetable stock is easy but will have to be made in advance of making the soup. Invade the crisper of your refrigerator. Chop a few carrots and some celery stalks and an onion and toss them into a pot. Cover the vegetables with water, add a pinch of salt, and place onto the stove. Bring to a boil then reduce the stock to a simmer. Cook the stock for 20 to 30 minutes, skimming the top if needed. Let stand to cool then pass the stock through a colander, saving the liquid, of course, and discard the vegetables. Voila! Vegetable stock! Taste and adjust for salt.

O.K., I admit it. I called this the Handing Down in order to shamelessly plug my friend, the superbly talented guitarist Ed Gerhard. "The Handing Down" is a piece of his which originally appeared on his first recording, Night Birds as the third movement from his four-part “Suite.” When Windham Hill records came calling for a contribution to their Guitar Sampler album, Ed rearranged it, giving it the title “The Handing Down,” which he again recorded for his second album, Luna. Got all that? The audio quality on  this YouTube version isn’t the best but it provides an introduction to Ed’s art. And you can check out Ed at his own website and get your hands on some Gerhard.

And yes, a big thank you all for your patience. Once again, the holiday season meant long hours toiling for others in the restaurant where I work, hence the prolonged silence. But it didn't keep me from cooking for the ones I love. Now, get into that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans! Begin the handing down.

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