We're cookbook readers in my house. Myself most of all, but Wife will pour through different tomes of recipes over breakfast, and the kids like to go through and imagine what it will be like when they are old enough to make molten chocolate cakes and bacon wrapped meats without anyone hovering over them providing moderation. My favorite is "The Joy of Cooking." It's dependable, instructive, and thorough. Though (at least according to the Meryl Streep film "Julie and Julia,") the recipes in the original "Joy" were hardly tested compared to the cookbooks of real chefs, I have found it invaluable as a starting point for nearly everything, and as somebody who really likes tinkering with the recipes I make, a starting point is all I need. Boy and Girl are both drawn to the holiday cookbook Mother-in-Law got us for Christmas, with vibrant pictures that really sell the food. But it is Wife who started the latest obsession--Cooking Light. She bought one of their magazines simply because we were trying to eat healthier, but I have come to appreciate the publication on its own merits. So many "healthy" recipes cut out any sense of flavor, but Cooking Light recipes have never disappointed me. I enjoy their recipes enough that when I saw a giant anthology collection at the public library, I knew I had to check it out.
|The aformentioned source of inspiration.|
West African peanut soup called out to me the moment I saw it. I know that it isn't the type of recipe Wife would have chosen. I know that it's summer, not exactly a time of year that screams "soup" (apart from gazpacho, of course.) I know that certain friends feel like I should be on a meat-eating rampage now that my vegetarian house guests are gone. None of those things mattered. Two years ago, Boy's elementary did a fundraiser that included a soup potluck, and among the various crock pots filling the cafeteria, one contained a variation on this very soup. It was fantastic. I went home, Googled a few different recipes, and made a bland pot of goo. Then I moved on. But looking at Cooking Light's recipe, I felt that enough time had passed to give it another go.
One of the big differences in this recipe is that rather than using peanut butter from a jar, you make your own in a food processor. 2/3 of a cup of roasted peanuts go in, and a couple of minutes (and one scrape of the sides) later you have homemade peanut butter. While the end result is clearly better than if you were to try and make the soup with some JIFF, any high-end peanut butter like Addams that doesn't add oil or sugar will probably do the trick. If you are making your own, it is best to have it ready before you start the soup.
After you have the peanut butter ready, begin sautéing 2 cups (about one large) chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of oil. The recipe specifies vegetable oil, but I used olive and things turned out just fine. The important thing is that you cook the onions until they begin to turn translucent, which takes about seven or eight minutes.
Once that's done, you're going to add everything else. In this case, everything else is:
|Yep, everything is low sodium. Does that mean I'm an adult now?|
That homemade peanut butter, or 2/3 of a cup additive-free peanut butter from the store
6 cups of cubed sweet potato, peeled
2 cans rinsed chickpeas
1 quart of vegetable broth
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 T cumin
1/2 t pepper
1/2 or 1/4 t salt
|Everything going in at once makes this super easy.|
The reason I give two measurements for salt is as follows; while Cooking Light has been a boon in regards to calorie counts, it doesn't really concern itself with sodium. So while the original recipe calls for the lower amount of salt, I used low sodium tomatoes, beans, and broth and just added a hint more of salt when seasoning. This ended up removing tons of salt that had been used as a preservative, but without much impact on flavor. Even Wife, who salts everything didn't feel the need to do so with this soup. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, bring it to a boil, then drop it back down to a simmer and relax for half an hour or until the sweet potatoes are tender and cooked through. That's it. This soup is ridiculously simple and makes enough for two meals for about ten dollars. What isn't to love about that?
Of course, no recipe is perfect (except for grilled guacamole, naturally.) Perhaps if I had added the peanuts to the food processor gradually instead of all at once, I would have developed a more rugged texture, but I got smooth peanut butter rather than chunky, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more crunch in my soup; also, the next time I make this I may go for a full cup of peanut butter--its flavor is the most compelling reason to make this, and it seemed muted to me. Perhaps 3/4 of a cup is a better starting place, as too much peanut butter could leave things tasting like peanut sauce, but I will definitely look to put more emphasis on the nut flavor the next time around. That being said, there will definitely be a next time; I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity to make this, and I still haven't eaten the leftovers from the first batch.