Curried Peanut Soup

I’ve wanted to tell you about this soup for a long time, over five years actually. I remember making it for the first time in the 2-bedroom townhouse where I lived (I now pay 3 times as much for an apartment that is half the space, ugh) and attempted to photograph it. Even then I was far too unhappy with the picture to post it, and mind you this is when I was still using my on-camera flash on a regular basis. But perhaps the root of the problem was the sheer fact that the soup itself is downright ugly, a problem that props, lighting, or camera quality can’t fix.

It’s a shame really. The soup is so vibrant and unusual once you taste it, a combination of coconut, curry, and peanut with a slow-burning heat and some pops of acidic lime alongside a slew of hearty vegetables. But it’s hard to get that point across when the final product is so… brown. And not the good brown like steak brown. This is a light sickly orange-green brown, one that it reminiscent of many unpleasantries that I’ll leave to your own imagination. And unfortunately it just so happens to taste really delicious with couscous (beige) and toasted coconut (brown). Sigh. But after making this soup so many times these past 6 years, I couldn’t hold back any longer. So here it is, in it’s many shades of brown, one of my favorite dishes of all time, curried peanut soup.

I’ve made this a variety of ways, trying different vegetables and proteins, but this is how I like it best. You get a good mix of textures and flavors to help break through the richness of the coconut and peanut with the chunks of fire-roasted tomatoes and the earthy sweet potatoes and spinach. But, feel free to add green beans and/or frozen corn in addition to or instead of some of the other vegetables to change it up. If you’re craving something lighter, you can use a fish like cod or some peeled shrimp instead of the chicken if added raw to the simmering soup at the end until cooked through. Or, leave out the protein altogether for a filling vegetarian main. The couscous, toasted coconut, and lime squeeze are pretty clutch though and I wouldn’t skip out on those add-ons. No matter how you make it though, you’re going to end up with a crazy satisfying soup, albeit an ugly soup, but a good one for sure.

Curried Peanut Soup
Serves 8
Adapted slightly from The Traveler’s Lunchbox

4 Tbs. olive oil
1.5 lbs chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick coins
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into chunks
2 Tbs. curry powder
a pinch of cayenne
5 cups chicken stock
1-28oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
8oz fresh baby spinach
1 handful chopped parsley

to serve
1 cup couscous, cooked according to package instructions
toasted coconut chips
lime wedges

In a large heave-bottomed pot, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil over medium. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same, pot, add the rest of the oil and then the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until the onions are softened and starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add in the carrots, sweet potato, curry powder, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for about a minute more. Add the stock and the tomatoes with their juices. Scrape off any bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, add the chicken back in, and cook over low for about 20 minutes until the carrot and sweet potato pieces are cooked through.

Add the peanut butter, coconut milk, and spinach to the soup and stir. At this time you can also make your couscous. Let the soup simmer until the spinach is wilted and thickened slightly, another 10 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the soup alongside the couscous and top with toasted coconut and a squeeze of lime.

Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls and a Table for One

I recently moved into my own place, a decision that only those not entirely disgusted by watching their paycheck drop into a bottomless pit every month should undertake.  The part of me that can overlook the pains of that, however, thrives in this situation. Quiet solitude may not be for everyone, and as a frequent assembler of people, it’s certainly not what I want all the time, but for the time being this solitary physical space feels very right.

In the month leading up to my move, I dished out at sizeable portion of my savings for apartment staples. You know, things like a couch and a TV so that I can at least maintain my solo nights of Netflix and chill. A dining table and four chairs also took a high priority on my furniture-buying list, because what home would not be complete without a place to eat, right? So now a simple wooden round table with four unabashedly hipster, white plastic bucket-seat chairs divide the space between the kitchen and my TV corner.

I envisioned having bi-weekly dinner parties, filling those four spaces with friends, good food, and hours of storytelling at its finest.  Just as the kitchen table during my childhood was a fundamental place where the family reassembled each night to share the day’s experiences, I desired that my table too would become central to the little life I’m creating here. And yet, eight weeks after moving in, I can probably count on my two hands the number I times I’ve, including on my own, sat at the table to eat.

I’m afraid to say that that I play victim to the monotonous rhythm of the daily eat-work-eat-run-eat-sleep routine. I cook the same handful of go-to recipes, ones that make enough to serve 4-6 and that I heat in the microwaves at work all week. I find that I all too often park myself on a stool at the countertop or on the couch to idly take in forkful after forkful alongside a daily dose of unnecessary and unfulfilling Facebook perusing. Amidst the repetition, the kitchen table remains ignored.

Unfortunately I don’t see this changing too much. My goals of hosting frequent dinner parties were lofty to say the least, though let it be heard that I will gladly welcome anyone who wants to let me cook for them in exchange for bringing the wine. And the reason I find myself turning to the same old recipes month after month is because, well, I like them. I mean, yes, cheesy eggs on toast does get a little old after 4 days in a row but somehow I still crave it pretty frequently. But above all other go-to dishes, the one that stands alone as the meal that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and die happy, is little more than a bowl of rice.

That might be why I’ve kept this recipe to myself for so long. Something about the dish feels inherently solitary. It provides the “wrap yourself in a blanket on the couch and eat while watching Anthony Bourdain or The Bachelor” sort of comfort you want to experience alone, whether you’re feeling lonely or not at all.  It pairs well with contemplation, red wine, and the threadbare pair of leggings you’ve had for ten years. And since it was a dreary sort of day where many may not venture outside of the confines of their homes, it seemed right to finally share it.

It starts with a pot of rice, a 50/50 mix of brown and white rice cooked in Alice Waters’ foolproof method of boiling and then oven steaming. I mix it with kale and coconut that have been roasted with a sesame dressing until crisp and smoky-sweet. It’s seasoned with furikake and sesame seeds and beyond that, this simple rice base only needs a variety of topping options. The simplest add-ons are slices of avocado and sheets of nori which I use in place of utensils to grab onto a clump of rice. It’s not a very graceful way of eating which is probably another reason why I consume this alone. Other options are a fried egg with a runny yolk or chicken, salmon, or shrimp that’s been diced, doused in soy sauce and sesame oil, and sautéed. So tonight, hungry and alone, though not at all lonely, and with a lot of things on my mind for good contemplation, I set my table for one.

Coconut Sesame Rice Bowls
serves 4
adapted from Shutterbean's recipe 

½ cup brown medium grain rice
½ cup white medium grain rice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 bunch of kale, stripped from its stalk and torn into rough pieces
1½ cups large flake coconut
2 Tbs. furikake rice seasoning
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
salt and pepper, to taste

Topping options: fried egg, avocado, nori, sautéed chicken, shrimp, or fish

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a large, ovenproof and nonstick pot. Add the brown rice and let the water continue at a low boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes. If you are using all white rice, skip this step. Add in the white rice and cook for 10 minutes. Drain almost all of the water, stir in a splash of olive oil and cover the pot with the lid. Transfer to the oven to cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until dry. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

While the rice cooks, add the kale and coconut to a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Add two thirds of this dressing to the kale and coconut and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast in the 400 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, tossing periodically. When cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt.

Toss the cooked rice with the rest of the sesame dressing along with the furikake and the sesame seeds. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Add in the kale and coconut mixture. Place a portion of the rice in a bowl along with your desired toppings.