Who would’ve thought that after moving to Southern California from Canada I’d start finding culinary Southwestern inspiration in a book out of Victoria, B.C? Well, it happened.
I’ve been wanting the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook ever since a cold late-winter day in 2008 at my friend Lenora’s in Ottawa. In hopes of distracting myself from thinking about whether Syracuse University was going to accept me into their Masters of Journalism program, I drank coffee and flipped through this colorful book. It’s one of those cookbooks you just never get around to buying for yourself, but then when someone finally gives it to you, you wonder how you lived without it.
OK, OK, so I’ve only made three things out of it so far. And two of them were soups. Hardly thorough sampling. But I’ll be the first to tell you: these soups are made of smoky chile-infused dreams. The perfect comfort meals for this prairie transplant, new to a part of the country where cliffs and cacti make up my backyard. Perfect for a place where avocados and limes daily compete for my affection. (If gin’s nearby, the latter usually wins out—especially when priced at 10 cents apiece).
You start by roasting three of the best-tasting earthy things known to eaters: Sweet potatoes, garlic, and red peppers. They’ll fill your house with aromas as they pop and spit away in the stove.
Sweet potatoes are my second-favorite root vegetable (beets have my heart). Not only because of their “superfood” status (they’re packed with fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and C), but because they are just so good. They’re the candy of the earth—would that be “bon-bon de terre”? Taste some of the syrup that leakes from the roasted ones and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (I was so excited I forgot to get out the camera…hence having to borrow this one!)
Another trick this soup taught me? Chipotle puree. Mix this stuff up once and it will give back to you for months. You’ll forsake all others: ketchup, salsa, possibly even Sriracha. (The horror!) All ya do? Buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and puree away.
While roasting everything takes a bit of time, it’s 100% worth it. Plus, you won’t spend as much time chopping as you normally do. With this one (boringly named Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup with Chiles and Lime), most of the time is spent sitting around waiting for the roasting to finish. I recommend a cup of coffee and a book to help make this time go speedily.
Give this soup an hour of your time, and it’ll reward you with silky, smoky (I said that already, didn’t I?), sweet-tart bursts of flavor. Whether you’re smokin in the Southwest or freezing in Philly, D.C., or New York, I promise you’ll love this soup.
Smoky Sweet Potato Soup
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (for the chipotle puree)
6 cups (1 1/2 liters) vegetable stock
3 large sweet potatoes
2 whole garlic bulbs (for roasting)
4 medium tomatoes
2 red peppers (OR the equivalent in jarred roasted red peppers)
2 T vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T minced fresh sage
2 T minced fresh oregano
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp ancho chile powder (I didn’t have, so used good ol’ chili flakes)
1 T maple syrup
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
- Make the chipotle puree by pureeing the contents of the chiles in adobo sauce. Store in the fridge for later. (*See what else you can use this puree for below*).
- Pre-heat oven to 375ºF. Using a fork, poke a few holes in each sweet potato. Place on a foil-lined baking tray and roast until soft and collapsed, 45 minutes to an hour.
- Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, cut just the tops off the whole garlic bulbs, until you can see the flesh. Place them on a square of foil, drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Wrap the foil up around the bulbs and gather at the top. Place this packet in with the potatoes. (It’ll be ready in about the same time. When it’s slightly browned on top, remove, unwrap, cool, and squeeze into a bowl.)
- Halve and seed the peppers. Place peppers and whole tomatoes on an oiled baking tray and roast in the same oven, until the skins begin to puff and brown, 20-30 minutes. (Make sure they’re quite blistered or you’ll have trouble getting the skins off … alternatively, you could use jarred roasted and peeled peppers as I’ll do next time!) Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Peel away the skins of both the peppers and the tomatoes and set aside.
- Heat vegetable oil in large soup pot. Add onions and saute until translucent. Add the fresh minced garlic, spices, and herbs, and cook until the garlic turns golden. Stir in the sweet potatoes, the roasted garlic pulp, and the peeled red peppers and tomatoes. Add the stock and 2 teaspoons of the chipotle chile puree. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minute.s
- Puree the soup until smooth. Whisk in maple syrup and lime juice and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more chipotle puree if desired. Serve hot with any of the following garnishes: chopped roasted pecans, fried sage leaves, corn tortilla chips.
*Try adding your chipotle puree to the following: beaten eggs before scrambling, softened butter for corn on the cob, stirred into cornbread batter, mayonnaise (for sandwiches), mac and cheese, mashed into hummus.