So every winter I get a continuous cold. Maybe I’m still acclimating to the exotic Western New York cold viruses, or perhaps it’s just a byproduct of keeping the thermostat at 65. Either way I find myself turning to the certain comfort offered by really spicy food. Chicken flavored instant ramen dosed with enough Frank’s Red Hot to turn the sauce bright orange. Thai green chili paste for lunch and dinner. Tabasco on crackers. “I can finally taste something!” my taste buds scream as the congestion retreats for several blessed minutes.
Winter is also a time for “desperation soup,” a very special recipe that begins about an hour before mealtime, continues through a mental inventory of the pantry, and ends on the table as a soothing, warm, and usually tasty dish. Desperation soup is why I only panic if we’re somehow out of pasta, beans, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, and lentils. If we’re lucky I also have homemade stock and maybe some kale or meat or the makings of a pistou.
I wasn’t always good at improvising good food quickly, but after a year of more or less cooking three meals a day for three people you pick up a few tricks. My tricks are mostly soup and stew related.
Vegetable Desperation Soup
1. Start with a main ingredient, usually the vegetable you have most of
2. Pick a supporting cast of complementary vegetables based on what’s in your kitchen already
3. Decide on a seasoning concept (Pure and basic? Savory herbs? Hot and spicy? Curry and cumin? Butter and cream?)
4. When in doubt, puree and serve over rice or with toast.
For example: Yesterday’s desperation lunch was a potato soup inspired by the handful of spindly scallion-diameter leeks that N brought in from the garden last week. I sauteed them in butter with a miserly amount of Benton’s bacon from the stash that I hoard in the freezer in a grocery bag with “HANDS OFF!” scrawled across it – you know, for emergencies. As the leeks softened and the bacon rendered, I cut up five potatoes and threw them into the butter/grease melange, and left that to cook for a while, shaking the pot occasionally to reorganize the potatoes. Then I added water to cover plus two inches, a bouillon cube, lots of pepper, and a little salt. After bringing all that to a boil, I added about half a cup of milk (use cream if you’ve got it) and simmered until the potatoes were very soft.
It was a bowl of comfort food heaven. And obviously I dumped Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce all over it.