Not surprisingly, one of my favorite pass times is reading cookbooks. And food blogs of course. There’s something incredibly gratifying about finding that one recipe I’ve been searching for or stumbling across a combination of flavors that gives me a spark of creativity. Even better than the recipes found in cookbooks and on food blogs are those inspired by friends and family.
Our freshman year, Melanie and I lived two rooms apart in our dirty dorm, whose walls were infused with the stench of Skol and Jose Cuervo. We bonded during late night study sessions taking breaks to question the composition of the ominous stain in the middle of my carpet or dance to the dub step and top 40 hits emanating from the frat quad. Three years later she still lives two doors down, this time in our apartment.
I visited Melanie this summer at her home in D.C. Her mom cooked me chicken Parmesan and salmon with a dill yogurt sauce. We sat around her kitchen table – Mel, her mom, and I – taste testing Godiva chocolate and gossiping about boys at school. And then her parents treated us to tapas: endives with goat cheese, almonds, and oranges, bacon wrapped dates, potatoes topped with a spicy tomato sauce, and more salmon, this time with raspberries and cauliflower puree. Those couple days were filled with the deliciousness that was unsurprisingly absent from the summer camp dining hall I had been eating from for the previous month.
The gift of food can only be repaid with more food. So I dragged Mel in to her kitchen to bake a batch of scones for her and her family. Melanie told me she couldn’t bake, describing the time she forgot to add baking soda to chocolate chip cookies, which naturally then spread across the entire baking sheet. Her sister jokingly called them “diarrhea cookies”. Enough said.
She may not be able to bake (Although, I don’t quite believe that seeing as how she baked a decadent raspberry vanilla cake just a couple weeks ago.) but she has proven she can cook, recently making lasagna, quiche, and butternut squash soup. It was soup season she said. And I agreed. Her soup was thick and creamy. And as it bubbled over the stove its aroma filled my apartment reminding me that at last my favorite season had arrived. And so a week later, it was a fall soup I was craving to cook up and devour.
While Melanie gave me soup inspiration it was Kirstin who brought sweet potatoes in to the picture. Kirstin and I first crossed paths shortly before our first day of college. From the area, we had both made the drive to school towards the end of August intent upon picking up our student IDs before the rush of other freshmen flooded the office. As we waited in line Kirstin turned around to introduce herself. That was luckily not that last time I was greeted by Kirstin’s friendly smile and warm hello. Our paths have continuously crossed since that day from classes to student group events to most recently, a potluck at my apartment, to which Kirstin brought the best, yes the best, salad. “Fall Salad” she had titled the recipe sent to me via email. Riddled with pecans, goat cheese, apples, and dried cranberries it was a salad I throw together for lunch on a regular basis. But then I found the sweet potatoes hidden beneath a mix of leafy greens. It was the sweet potatoes that elevated the salad from lunch time fare to a potluck worthy dish. And it was the sweet potatoes, roasted in dijon mustard and maple syrup, that gave me my final needed push of soup inspiration.
And so this soup was born, subtly spicy and slightly sweet, out of good friends and their adventures in the kitchen. Grab a spoon. Join me. Dive in. And thank Mel and Kirstin for the sweet potato soup warming your body and your heart.
Sweet Potato Soup
Loosely adapted from the Food Network’s Claire Robinson
Makes 4 to 6 servings
3 pounds sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock or broth
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
Dried cranberries, finely chopped (optional)
Pecans, finely chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°. Roast sweet potatoes until very soft, about 1 hour. Let cool. Cut a slit from one end of the potato to the other and remove flesh with a spoon. Place in a bowl and set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, vegetable stock or broth, maple syrup, and dijon mustard. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the sweet potato is broken down, about 15minutes.
Cool the sweet potato mixture for about 5 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth, transferring the puree to a clean saucepan as you work. Season the soup with salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat to combine the flavors. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and stir in goat cheese just until it begins to melt in. Top with cranberries and pecans or sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.