Is April the cruelest month? I can never remember. It seemed so this year, though, with never-ending grey skies and rain, the unexpected and untimely death of a dear old friend, Gram’s continued slow decline, and a work schedule that just doesn’t quit.
Of course, this all shall pass, and wonderful things are on the horizon. The sun even came out for an hour today, and plans are in the works for a vegan dinner to benefit Community Green (last year’s was an amazing experience, so save the date for June 27th), as well as summertime cooking demonstrations at the New York Botanical Garden.
Of course, the most thrilling news this spring was the publication of The Best of Vegan Cooking. I was honored to be invited to contribute to this book, and am so pleased that the proceeds benefit Friends of Animals. My heartfelt thanks to Priscilla Feral and Lee Hall for involving me in this project, and inspiring me to be a better chef and a better human being. Read an interview with Priscilla about the book here.
Now, let’s talk about what I’ve been cooking. Pressed for time and, quite honestly, feeling a bit down, the watchword in our kitchen at home has been comfort, and I’ve tried to make do with as few ingredients as possible. Although it is officially spring, winter foods are still in abundance, and none of the local markets have opened yet. Soup dominates my home menus year round, and soup it has been, on a near-daily basis. Here are two.
A definite favorite has been sweetpotato and kale soup, inspired by several sweetpotatoes that sat forlornly next to Rebecca’s high chair in my sister’s kitchen until I forced her to make this yummy and fortifying concoction.
I am also making lots of roasted tomato and chile soup, born of necessity and made from whatever I had in the pantry. It’s a little spicy, a lot delicious, and easily made by anyone. Yes, anyone. Recipes follow.
Sweetpotato and Kale soup:
Peel and dice two large sweetpotatoes (yes, it really is one word. Look it up.). Chop a large bunch of kale and a few cloves of garlic (I like two or three, you might like as many as six or seven. It’s your choice.). Open a can of cannelini beans and a box of organic vegetable stock (4 cups if you’re using fresh).
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauce pan. Sauté garlic briefly, then add kale and a pinch of salt. Cook kale over medium heat for two or three minutes, then add vegetable stock, sweetpotatoes, and about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Simmer until sweetpotatoes are tender. Drain and rinse beans, add to soup and heat through. Season with salt, pepper, and a little hot sauce and fresh lemon juice. Serve with hot bread. Eaten from a big bowl, on the couch in your pajamas or at the kitchen table, it is nourishment for body and soul.
Roasted Tomato and Chile soup:
I love Muir Glen tomatoes, especially once I have run out of my homegrown, canned tomatoes (this happened in February, so Muir Glen is really getting my business this year). The Fire Roasted variety add great flavor to soups and chili.
Go get yourself a big can (28 oz.) of Fire Roasted Tomatoes, and a little can of diced green chiles (a pantry staple, surely you have some!). Chop a large yellow onion and a clove of garlic. You will also need 4 cups of vegetable stock.
Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté onions with a little salt until soft but not browned, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for one minute more. Add chiles, tomatoes and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for half an hour. Taste and adjust with freshly ground pepper, lemon juice, hot sauce and a little agave nectar if you feel it needs sweetness. Serve hot in a great big mug. If you want to get crazy, garnish with sliced scallions, chopped avocado, or tortilla chips.
Here’s hoping that May will bring flowers (and fewer showers!), hope, happiness and good food to all.