One thing that I like about coming back to the States is that I get to cook. Don’t get me wrong. When I have been in Peru and Bolivia for the last 6 months, off and on, I have really enjoyed my almuerzos (lunches) in the mercados (markets) from las caseritas (the women at the markets that sell you scrumptious meals) who are eagerly trying to lure each passerby over with the menu that they shout out persistently until their food that day has been all eaten up. One walks by and smells things so delicious that I wouldn’t really dream of cooking in a place like this. It is a great way to try out new foods and a super cheap and fast option when you are constantly on the move. One of my favorite caseras almost always had a vegetarian option. Her name is Ernestina and she has the kitchen post in the corner of the downtown Urubamba market on the second floor. The first time I met her this summer we chatted like she probably chats with most tourists who stop to sit and dine at her bench…I introduced myself and told her I wanted to be back because her food was spectacular. I did go back, many times, and now I will go see her and enjoy her lunch any time I go to Urubamba.
Since I don’t have a caserita in the States, I do my own cooking. Cooking is an art and a stress reliever for me. It’s something I can also do with my mom and we greatly enjoy making things old and new. Sometimes we follow a recipe, but for a lot of dishes I just kind of make it up as I go and see what is in the season and the fridge.
So, one of my go-to “recipes” for the winter months when at 5pm it is already dark outside is a Curried __________ vegetable soup. The veggies that work well, I have found, are carrots, most any squash, and sweet potato. It’s super easy and fast, here goes:
Saute in soup pot with olive oil
as much garlic as you can handle (normally I put in at least 4 cloves)
celery or green pepper or whatever other more bland veggie you have laying around that you need to use up (optional)
When the onions are soft you can add whatever chopped up vegetable you have chosen to be the base of your soup. Following are some examples of tried and true great options!
Dice up small (if carrots you can scrub and peel and dice), with sweet potatoes (same thing) with squash I recommend baking the squash first if you don’t want to deal with having to cut it up into small pieces while the squash fights back hard–as is its nature. Just cut it in two, scoop out the seeds, then brush some olive oil on the inside and place it on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the squash. You can always do this the day before and have in the fridge. My roommate in California always complained that she didn’t like cooking with squash because it was such a hassle, but the thing is that squash is so good, just take the time to do it right and don’t get frustrated–if you get frustrated while cooking you are doing something wrong! Take out some wine and keep at it.
I like to add curry powder, herbs, tonight I added chipotle, or something of spice to anything I make, soup included, so do what you like or try something new.
Add some of your favorite broth or water. The best veggie broth (or meat broth for that matter unless of course you want to make it yourself) I have encountered is “Better Than Bouillon.” It comes in a small glass jar that will yield quite a bit of soup all told. Check it out and be prepared to never go back to those cans, bouillon cubes, or those Tetra Pak cartons that are so horrible for the environment, again.
Let simmer until the veggies are soft but not mushy.
Blend and enjoy!
Some people may like to make it creamier with coconut milk. Another option is garnishing with your favorite seed or nut or something green like cilantro or green onion.