News Flash: when I get home from work I don’t go to the kitchen and cook myself a 3-course meal. Shocking, I know!
In fact, what I eat at home after cooking all day is probably pretty pathetic. Far too many nights I roll into my kitchen exhausted and smelling like lamb and much like your teenage kid, I stand at the fridge with the door wide open for 20 minutes thinking, there’s nothing to eat. When really, it’s just a disconnect between my brain and mouth because I’ve been cooking all day, tasting all day, but haven’t sat and eaten a proper meal. And then I’ll graze on condiments – olives, cornichons, cherry tomatoes, a piece of chocolate – and call it a meal. Or, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll pour myself a bowl of cereal.
But when I’m not utterly exhausted and I do actually feel like cooking for myself, I can totally get into the challenge of making something from a supposed “empty fridge”. It’s like a challenge calling to me to create something really good from whatever paltry scraps I can pull together. But making a good something-from-nothing, for me, means having at least a good arsenal of condiments and spices to work with. Anything that adds a big burst of flavor with minimal effort can turn “nothing” ingredients into something spectacular.
I’m a spice-a-holic if there ever was one. I bring home spices and pastes and weird ingredients from everywhere I travel. Garam masala, 5-spice, dukkah, za’atar, yellow curry powder and myriad curry pastes are all staples in my pantry. Harissa, Sriracha, fish sauce, tapanade, truffle mustard, anchovies and a few quality vinegars are also really handy for big flavor, fast.
Today I had one of those “nothing in the fridge” moments where I figured I’d eat out because I was too lazy to shop or do dishes (I realize I’m crushing your fantasies about how chef’s eat when nobody is around). But I had a small butternut squash from a friend’s garden that had been staring at me from my kitchen window for well over a month, begging to be used. I only had an hour or so before I had to head out the door, but the squash beckoned. The produce in my fridge consisted of pretty much nothing: half an onion, a bulb of garlic, a nub of ginger (all with not much lifespan left in them), one sorry-looking carrot and a few stalks of celery. I gave it all a rough chop. Peeled and seeded the squash and sliced it thin, so it would cook quickly, and then tossed it in a pot with some curry powder a squirt of sriracha and some coconut milk and then pureed in the blender and in 20 minutes: voila! I had a great soup!
This is also where having quality appliances comes in handy. I’ll save my appliance and kitchen equipment rant for another blog rant but in the ongoing Vitamix vs. Blendtec blender wars, in my kitchen, Blendtec wins. The Blendtec has more horsepower than the Vitamix, more settings, costs about $100 less, and I’ve never had one break on me. I bought a new Vitamix recently for a client and the quality just didn’t feel the same as the older ones. It broke within a month so I sent it back. Where was I? Oh yes, when it comes to soup, a good quality blender will turn even raw ingredients into the silkiest soup imaginable. Hence, my partially-cooked-I’m-in-a-hurry butternut squash soup. Enjoy!
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- ½ onion, sliced
- ½ inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of your favorite curry powder
- 1 14oz can of coconut milk
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt to taste
- Over a medium flame and in a medium pot, add coconut oil. When it has melted and the pot is warm, add the onion, ginger and garlic. Cook until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes, until curry powder is fragrant.
- Add remaining ingredients. If coconut milk does not cover everything, add a little broth or water to cover (remember, you can always add but you can’t take away – so add a little liquid and then you can thin the soup as much as you’d like once it is pureed). Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes (unless, like me, you are in a hurry and have a good blender that can puree everything, in which case, simmer for 8 minutes).
- Puree the soup in small batches.
- Return to the heat and taste for seasoning.