Last night I ate a wonderful, comfort-foods dinner: a vegetable soup, pureed, swirled with yogurt, and topped with shredded cheese, almost like a baked potato in soup form; crunchy romaine lettuce, eaten in pure green form—no dressing, no nothing, just leaves; and a chocolate raspberry pudding cake, a Nigella Lawson recipe that I’d been eyeing for a long time and finally made into a kitchen reality.
To be honest, I thought the cake would steal the show. How could it not? A dense, fudgy cake, rich with chocolate and studded with raspberries, “like glinting, mud-covered garnets,” as Nigella says. I love the combination of chocolate and raspberry. It’s a match made in heaven, with the fruity tartness of the berries cutting through the palate-coating richness of chocolate. But to be honest, while the cake was tasty enough, and while I plan to eat another slice tonight for dessert, I’m not sure I’d make this cake again. Or if I did, I would make some changes. It wasn’t sweet enough for my taste, for one thing. It’s made with coffee, so it’s more like a mocha raspberry cake, and I think the bitterness of the coffee dulls the sweetness. Another thing is that the cake was more cake-like than I expected. I was hoping for a bit of a molten quality, a pudding quality, so I think I’d underbake this a bit, 40 minutes instead of 45 in the oven. The cake was pretty solid at 45 minutes.
Like I said, I’ll eat my cake and not complain because after all, it’s still chocolate and raspberries and oh man, it’s that time of the month when chocolate practically becomes its own food group at my table. But I should mention that making the cake was really quite fun. I got to use my springform pan for the first time (I’ve only owned it for, oh, three years now?), and it worked beautifully: no leaks! And my cake came out easily after its requisite cooling time. Also, raspberries! They’re gorgeous! And this cake features a layer of them, scattered on top of half the cake batter and then covered with the remaining batter. Putting the layers of cake together in their springform pan was my favorite part. Eating the cake was my second favorite part. Washing all the dishes was my least favorite part.
It turns out that the best part of dinner was my rather understated baked potato in soup form. The recipe comes from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, a much-loved cookbook with some fantastic soup recipes. I’ve made this soup before and liked it quite a bit, but yesterday, while wandering around the hippie food store, thinking vaguely of dinner and looking at yellow squash, I was reminded of the recipe and decided it would make for an easy, tasty, and soothing dinner. I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to remember all the ingredients for a soup I’d made once, but I felt confident that I could improvise if I forgot something. I knew it called for yellow squash, and potatoes, and carrots, and cheese, but what else? Onions? And that was all I could remember.
Which, as it turns out, was enough.
This soup appears like a humble little bowl, but I find it absolutely delightful. The flavors are really well balanced: the starchy mildness of the vegetables, really good vegetable stock, the punchy brightness of yogurt, and to top it all off, the savory melt of shredded cheese. The original recipe calls for stirring the cheese into the soup, but last night, when I was lazy and didn’t feel like shredding an entire cup of cheese, I just sprinkled a handful over one bowl and I loved the effect. I feel like the cheese has more presence when it’s not melted into the soup—it’s more pronounced, with a distinct texture and flavor apart from the soup.
Happy cooking, friends.
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (the original recipe is Golden Cheddar Cheese Soup)
Makes 4 servings
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 medium white or yellow onions, chopped
2 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I like red potatoes or Yukon Golds here)
1 medium or large carrot, sliced
1 medium yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (I didn’t measure this but used a lot of pepper and called it good)
1/8 tsp. tumeric (a big pinch)
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup water
Grated cheese, such as cheddar or jack, for sprinkling on top
1) In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for several minutes, until they soften.
2) Add the potatoes, carrots, yellow squash, black pepper, and tumeric to the onions. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
3) Add the vegetable stock, bring to a bubble, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
4) Turn off the heat and let the soup sit for a few minutes. Then blend it to smoothness in a blender or using an immersion blender, if you have one.
5) Mix the yogurt with the water and stir to combine. Pour the yogurt mixture into the blended soup and stir. Taste for seasonings (salt and pepper) and adjust if needed.
6) Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle the top with shredded cheese. You could also put more shredded cheese on the table and let your guests doctor their bowls themselves. Some people might even reach for the hot sauce, but I think this soup is perfect as is.