Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Debi: Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

Stori is right; I have the much-appreciated blessing of plentiful sources for fresh produce. In fact, the only things I buy in the can are beans, and that's just because I am too lazy to soak dried beans. I buy frozen peas, I suppose, but I don't know many people with kids who DON'T buy frozen peas. What else do you serve with macaroni & cheese?!

My favorite place to shop for fresh produce is The MarketPlace on Oakton, only about 4 miles from my house. My husband and I jokingly refer to it as "The Mafia Market," because the produce there is so cheap and of such high quality that we can only assume that it is a front for some other type of more nefarious business. (Note to police and any other interested parties: I have absolutely no evidence of this!) We shop here for produce in the winter months, when nothing much can grow locally. It is a miracle of a store, catering to many ethnic restaurants and shoppers, and so the selection can be exotic and exciting. Gigantic, frozen durians hang in bags above enormous, overflowing displays of oranges and apples and peaches and melons and pineapples and cherries; avocados are often 75 cents and rest in mounds next to crates of mangoes, just across the aisle from hundreds of pounds of every variety of potato, onion, and squash you can imagine. I can fill three enormous grocery sacks for less than $25.

I love to take my daughters to this market, where we can imagine any number of delicious meals and try new things. The last time we were there, Ronni had been clamoring for sweet potatoes, so in they went, along with leeks, broccoli, green beans, apples, pears, peaches, canteloup, pineapple, mangoes, grapes, garlic, dates, russet potatoes, and portobello mushrooms. Since the store also sells dry goods from all over the world, we browsed further and came home with canned green olives from Israel, clover honey from Wisconsin, soup noodles from China, pastry dough from Greece, and a big block of tofu from lord-knows-where, since it wasn't labeled.

But. Back to the sweet potatoes.

We are a big soup family here, and I'll put just about anything into a soup to see how it tastes. Though I'd never had sweet potato soup, one night last week, I took a look at the sweet potatoes and figured it couldn't be that hard to make a soup with them. I baked the potatoes before leaving the house for our after-school activities, figuring it would get me a step ahead for the dinner that would have to be quickly prepared when we got home. I found a recipe on the internet that looked like I could adapt it to my non-dairy, vegetarian needs, and voila! Between that and a pan of cornbread, hastily mixed and tossed into the oven 30 minutes before dinner, we had a great start. Here's my version of the recipe:

Sweet Potato Soup
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons salted margarine
3 cup water, mixed with 3 tsp vegetable broth powder
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 cups cooked, smashed sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups vanilla soymilk

Make a roux-like mixture in your soup pot with the flour, margarine, and broth. Add the brown sugar and heat to a boil. Add the potatoes and spices and cook for 5 more minutes, then turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the potato mixture, then add the soymilk and heat again. Serve with CORNBREAD!
What to eat with this? Soup and cornbread is a nice start, but we need more than just this. A frantic bout of trimming green beans, and then a rapid-fire steam in the microwave, followed by liberal dousing of them with salted margarine and a tiny sprinkle of dried dill, was just what we needed. An overflowing bowl of chopped mango rounded it out nicely.

All in all, the prep time was perfect for a busy evening where dinner had to come together in less than 40 minutes. I won't lie; there are nights like this where we all eat cereal or yogurt for dinner, but having a fridge full of beautiful, bright fresh produce does inspire me to dig just a bit deeper for the creativity it takes to make a meal more than just fuel. Thank you, Market Place on Oakton!

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