Curried Roast Vegetable Soup | FoodLovesWriting.com

October brought dark and stormy skies today, which is another way of saying it’s a good time for soup. We made this fiery version out of a heap of roasted vegetables recently, and while the corresponding recipe is posted at the bottom of this post, the truth is that making it is much more about a method than it is about a list of ingredients: roast a bunch of chopped vegetables in oil, simmer them in hot water, pureé, add milk, add seasonings, adjust.

The other truth is that, basically, this is how we cook most days.

Vegetables | FoodLovesWriting.com

See, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there are two main ways to approach recipes. (I have to say “for the sake of argument” in case any of those of you who are reading here today are the pesky, exacting sort [of which both Tim and I tend to be] and so, when you hear the words, “there are two main ways to approach recipes,” you can’t help it but your mind immediately begins making a case for why there are, in fact, actually at least six different ways to approach it, not two, and once you’ve realized that, you find it’s hard to hang in there through the rest of the paragraphs, having already deemed this post you’re reading to be written by an unworthy source. Listen, you just put those thoughts on hold a minute and rest easy because, right now, we are just talking about this for the sake of argument. Forehead unfurrowed, we continue.)

So let’s say one person gets a recipe, maybe like the one written in this post for an it’s-a-kick-in-your-pants soup, and she looks at her fridge and sees how her ingredients don’t match up with what’s needed and so, she either (a) saves the idea for another day when she’s able to buy everything listed or (b) abandons it altogether.

At the same time, another person gets the same recipe, understands the rough outline of what’s going on, and instead of following it to the letter, she instead pulls out all the carrots and onions, mushrooms, potatoes and zucchini lurking in her crisping drawers, and, experimenting, applies the same strategy to them.

One person caters to the recipe; the other, gets the recipe catering to her.

Soup + Fall Days | FoodLovesWriting.com

What’s the difference? Why is one person line-by-lining it and the other, just seeing instructions as a guide? For me, the biggest difference has been time—that incomparably valuable resource that is usually required to learn to do anything, be it speaking a language, riding a bike or handling basic HTML. Do you relate? Has it been that way for you? For me, cooking has been, and continues to be, all about practice, about trying over and over and over again in new ways and the same ways until, one day, you’re making roasted broccoli the way you drive a car, and you’re barely thinking about the way you’re waiting for the smell of crispy florets to tell you when they’re done. The progression from looking at a potato, thinking, how does this become French fries?, to pulling together a meal on the spot is not overnight, at least not for most of us, but usually, it comes.

In our life, Tim and I usually look in the fridge and opt for what’s easy, zucchini to roast and a salad to toss; leftover soup and garlic-rubbed toast; beets (roasted in the CSA apocalypse 2012) to top with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. There are times, of course, when we set to making something finer, something bigger, especially when we’ll be dining with guests, and some meals require more preparation, like soaking quinoa or slow-cooking pot roast or preparing a quiche.

But most nights, in our life, we’re throwing quick meals together—not from great skill but from practice, which is the kind of thing I wished I’d heard more often when I was just beginning and, to be honest, which I wish heard from food bloggers and home cooks and great chefs more often. Like a runner or a football player or a businessman, when it’s go time, we’re all mostly drawing on the years we’ve been trying—the failed frittatas and the terrible pie crusts and the cakes that turned gray.

When they happened, the failures were tragedies, but years later, they’re gifts.


Spicy Roasted Vegetable Soup
Makes between three and four quarts

Like the above post said, this soup is a method. I’ve outlined, in approximations, what I did for mine, but the idea is so simple and basic that it’s easily adapted to you. I should also note that, as written, with two whole jalapeños, this soup is hot (!!), so if you prefer your food on the mild side, do yourself a favor and leave them out or, at the very least, remove the seeds (do it with gloves! another life lesson!) before using. What’s wonderful about this recipe is that it’s crazy adaptable.

Ingredients:
1 eggplant, cut into discs that are then quartered
2 yellow squash, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 green pepper, chopped
1 tomato, cut in half
1/2 onion, peeled and chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
coconut oil
Water or chicken broth
Milk, to taste (I started with one cup and kept adding until it had sufficiently cut the heat I wanted)
Salt and pepper
Cinnamon, to taste
Grated Pecorino, as garnish

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425.

Combine all the vegetables in a bowl and massage with coconut oil, salt and pepper. divide among two baking sheets and roast for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are tender and beautifully golden.

Remove from oven and place all the vegetables in a big stock pot on the stove, adding enough water (or chicken broth) to come to almost the top of the vegetables. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Puree the entire mixture (I started with an immersion blender but ended up wanting a smoother texture and used the food processor). Return to stock pot, off heat, and add milk. Season with salt and pepper and cinnamon to taste.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Michelle

    I agree wholeheartedly. When I started falling in love with cooking, I found myself very much a line by line kind of cook. I felt comforted by strict instructions, but that’s the type-A, math-lover in me. The more I do this, the more I practice, the less it becomes steps. It becomes life. Routine. And it’s awesome.

  2. Kathryn

    Practice and, in the process, confidence are I think the most crucial element to becoming a good cook and the realisation that sometimes, it’s the meals that you throw together on a whim that are the best. And that, even if you get something wrong, it’s only food.

    Love the lessons in this post.

  3. Melissa

    I wholeheartedly agree! I call them ‘templates’ rather than recipes and, as I grow more confident in the kitchen, I am more on the lookout of these types of guides to direct my cooking, rather than the very precise recipes that require little deviation from the original idea. This allows creativity and flexibility – especially important when you are staring down double-CSA weeks. Thanks for adding another to my list! I just discovered your blog (via your review of Luisa’s book) and the comfortable, friendly style and wonderful photos will keep me coming back for more! One question (maybe particularly newbie) – why coconut oil? It seems to be the hot new ingredient and I’m wondering why the sudden interest (maybe I’ve missed the trend, having not been stateside in a few years)…

    1. Shannalee

      Hi Melissa, That’s an excellent question to bring up. We love unrefined coconut oil — it is probably the fat/oil we use most often to cook with. (I would also like to use ghee, but it’s pricey.) To put it really simply, coconut oil has lots of health benefits and is a more stable oil, meaning it can handle higher temperatures better than olive or other oils. To be more in-depth, here’s a great resource to read: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/20/coconut-oil-and-saturated-fats.aspx

      Also, Weston A. Price is loaded with good articles on coconut oil and other nutritional topics, so they’re a good place to get more info. Hope this helps!

  4. angela@spinachtiger

    Recipes for me have mostly always been a guide. Even my own I find hard to follow. But I get this idea of roasting first then cooking and third, I will put into my new Vitamix that I’ve been wanting to try out. I find that even in baking, once someone gets the general science behind it, there is room for experimentation, but others may disagree. Savory cooking, however should always be a bit of a recipe with room for much creativity (and practicality, thinking that’s how our ancestors had to cook. Roasting some veggies today and enjoying this tonight.

  5. Rachel

    This looks so good! It sounds so good, too since we are soaked in rain here today in Western New York. I have been on a veggie kick, which probably sounds so strange to you, someone who eats so many vegetables on a daily basis. I am working on it, I swear! I remember some times where I went a week without eating a single fruit or vegetable. I decided that needed to change, and fast. I love “recipes” like this where I can use what is fresh and available, not having to spend $25 at the grocery store on over priced, half rotten vegetables that were shipped 600 miles across the country. Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Katie

    Love this. I learned to cook by following random recipes to the T, but now I use them more as a suggestion. There’s always new techniques to learn, and I trust some authors/cooks more than others – for example, I always follow Suzanne Goin’s recipes exactly because I know the results will be worthwhile – but I love being able to go through the fridge and come up with a delicious meal on my own. A cook’s intuition – learned through trial and error – is also one of the reasons it’s so hard to answer the question “how do I learn to cook like you?”

  7. Abby

    I’m still very much a line-by-line cook, but slowly I’m stretching out into substituting different ingredients and making up recipes. It’s scary, though, for those of us who love direction! I’m glad you mentioned how you got to this point, since it gives me hope that one day I’ll be able to throw something delicious together without a recipe at all.

  8. Harriet

    I love this! Free-style cooking is how I love to cook and eat – it’s easy and some truly delicious things have come from it. (A few less than delicious things also…) I’m trying to write about these experiments in an interesting and novel way on my blog but I think you just nailed it!

  9. Jennifer

    Great post. My husband recently told me I had become an excellent cook, and I told him it’s the result of five years of preparing dinner most nights. Confidence gained, techniques mastered and lessons learned with a few meltdowns resulting in take out pizza along the way.

  10. Nancy @ gottagetbaked

    I’m extremely exacting with baking (which you need to be with the basic building blocks like baking powder, baking soda, flour, butter, etc). But with cooking, I’m totally a “throw whatever looks good into the pot” kinda gal. It’s a great way of clearing out the fridge and makes it a lot easier on myself to just roll with what I’ve got. Thanks for sharing this process for making fabulous soup.

  11. sarah

    I like this so much. Yes, practice and mistakes make one skilled in almost anything. I have finally moved on to owning the recipe, instead of the reverse, and it is a lovely place to be. But it took a long long time to get there. {I love the last line. And your paragraph on pesky readers. ;) }

  12. Kim

    You choose your words very beautifully, my friend. I am very much a fly by the seat of my pants, look in the fridge to see what we have, improvise my way to a meal kinda gal. My husband is a line by line, prepare in advance, shop for specifics kinda guy. Together, we make great foodstuff.

  13. Helene @ French Foodie Baby

    I very much relate to what you’re saying here, kind of funny, I wrote about a similar line of thought today. To have the recipe cater to you and not the other way around. You do need time to cook on a daily basis for that to be possible. I used to mostly cook for company, and cooking more regulary just for us has made all the difference in the world in my confidence to adapt and create recipes.

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  15. Pingback: Creamy Red Roasted Beet Soup / FoodLovesWriting.com | Food Loves Writing / Real Food Recipes

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