A spin on familiar ingredients can get you out of a cooking rut
It's not easy getting out of your culinary comfort zone -- even if you do consider yourself a somewhat adventurous cook.
I may make 100 different kinds of soup, but the truth is I probably focus on less than a dozen taste profiles -- vegetable soup, bean soup, creamed vegetable soups and so on. I almost always use onions, celery and carrots as a base. Sometimes I add pasta, and sometimes I add potatoes. Basil, bay leaves, oregano and garlic are my go-to spices.
Sure, there's variety, but I do tend to circle back around to certain staples, and it's hard to get out of the rut.
That rut is why I decided to give Senegalese Peanut Soup a try. I love all of the ingredients, including ginger, garlic, squash, tomatoes and -- here's the kicker -- peanut butter.
Peanut butter and tomatoes are definitely out of my cooking zone. However, rich and creamy, the peanut butter adds just the right amount of nutty flavor, with a hint of sweetness. Paired with ginger and a squeeze of lime juice at the end, there's a warmth to the flavors, but it still tastes light and fresh.
Like any vegetable soup recipe, you can opt for hundreds of variations when making a peanut soup. Instead of squash, you can opt for sweet potatoes or any root vegetable, and lots of variations add chicken or tofu to the mix. And you can certainly serve this over rice.
I went with a simple and easy version by Mark Bittman that uses frozen squash and frozen kale. I also used a vegan version of fish sauce, which would appeal to the vegetarians in my family.
The result was something definitely out of my comfort zone but still warmly familiar. It got better with each spoonful, and I could see myself adding this to my list of go-to soups, experimenting and making it my own.
Sometimes you need something new to add to the rotation -- and this is definitely a good place to start.
• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's vice president of sales and marketing and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at soupalooza.com/.
Senegalese Peanut Soup
2 tablespoons peanut or neutral oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ cup chopped, roasted peanuts (more for garnish, if you like)
¼ teaspoon of cayenne
Salt and pepper
5 cups stock or water
2 10-ounce bags frozen butternut squash
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 16-ounce bag of frozen collard greens or kale
½ cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
Put oil in a large pot over medium heat until hot. Add onion, ginger and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the roasted peanuts and the cayenne and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the squash, greens, tomatoes and 5 cups of water or stock. Bring to a boil, and turn heat down to medium-low so the soup bubbles gently. Stir in the peanut butter and fish sauce. Taste, adjust seasoning (you may want to add more peanut butter at this point) and serve, garnishing with remaining peanuts and a squeeze of lime juice.
From "Dinner for Everyone" by Mark Bittman