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.

Hot 'n' Cold

Yes, today is the first day of fall. And if I the weather of both today and the last three weeks were to have a theme song, the royalties would have to go to our very own Katy Perry because yes, this weather is PMS-ing like a bitch, I would know! It rains…a lot…and drops down to 45 degrees…and then rains again…and then goes up to 85 degrees, turning the universe into a giant sauna. And this is all in the matter of a day! I’ve been waiting and waiting but those typical crisp cool days where the sky is blue and the air fresh and dry, yeah, they haven’t made a single appearance.

So you know what I did. I decided that maybe the only fix is to be a little mocking. Maybe, I thought, if I brought a little Hot 'n' Cold, a little contrast, I might just get this weather to whip itself back into shape. So of course I used food to implement my plan.

The Hot: Beef Meatball Curry. 

Oh man. This stuff is pretty insane. I loooove curry but don’t get to eat it a lot because my dad isn’t too crazy about spicy stuff and there are no Indian restaurants in my hometown. So now, living on my own, I took full advantage of the fact that I can make a big pot of curry and eat it for four days straight. I just ate the last bit of it a few hours ago and it was still as delicious as it was on day one.

Organic grass fed beef is mixed with hot red chili and ginger and shaped into little meatballs. And then they are slowly simmered in a vat of tomato and coconut sauce flavored with shallots, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and cayenne. The aromas in my kitchen wafted around me in en exotic dance. My tastebuds did the same with each spoonful of sauce and beef-soaked brown basmati rice and naan. The recipe came from Aarti Sequeira. You can find it here. I made it almost verbatim but excluded the cilantro (yuck), used only half of a milder red chili, only 3 cloves of garlic, used a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh, and reduced the added water to ¼ cup. I really like her by the way and her approach at making Indian food accessible to everyone. I hope she comes out with a cookbook soon.

The Cold: Mint Ice Cream

I actually made this a while ago but one can only go through so much ice cream. The dessert plays up the coldness in two ways. First, obviously, it’s physically cold in the mouth with microscopic ice crystals melting into creaminess on the tongue. But second, a refreshing coolness comes from the fresh peppermint that I got at the farmer’s market. When making it, the mint hangs out with the milk for about 2 hours, permeating it with its tingling qualities. I got the recipe from David Lebovitz and just left out the chocolate because I wanted the pure mint flavor to shine. I loved it although if I try mint ice cream again I may go for a Philadelphia style because the custardiness of the eggs overpowered the mint somewhat.

So will my culinary weather mocking work…I guess we’ll see. If not, I got an amazing meal out of the situation. I guess that’s one way to brighten up the day.