When my children were young, the kitchen was my refuge. It was, of course, the place I would go to prepare food for my family, but it was also a creative outlet. I spent precious “me time” in that sacred space. I can recall very few group projects with the kids in the kitchen. There were always cookies, to be sure, but they were not baked with little helping hands. I wasn’t that kind of mom, alas. When one of them came into the kitchen as I was preparing a meal or a treat, my refrain was “You’re underfoot!”
Maybe that’s the reason that the now-adult Cohen kids are not particularly eager to explore the alchemy in a perfectly seasoned soup or to know the precise time to remove a fragrant cake from the oven.
But every family has its outliers. Enter Eve, youngest of the five. By the time she came on the scene, I was eager for the company. I wanted to share my enthusiasm. She liked baking and cooking. Reading through a recipe made her impatient, but she learned the wisdom of putting in the time. She developed a palate and a curiosity for blending ingredients. Her older brothers and sisters call her “Mini Mommy.”
Eve even considered becoming a chef but settled for a career in chemical engineering. She still experiments in the kitchen, ever on a quest for the sublime combination.
And now, when I visit Eve in her kitchen, she graciously welcomes me in. We peel and chop. We sweat onions and take care not to brown the garlic too much. We discuss the merits of celery and beets, of using sweet potatoes versus butternut squash.
The hearty winter fare below was inspired by our time together, doing what we love best.
Kickin’ Black Bean Vegetable Soup
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeños (or to taste), finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 red, yellow, or orange peppers (or a combination), chopped
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 cups frozen corn (or 1 15-ounce can, drained)
3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
1 carton (32 ounces) vegetable broth (or 4 cups water)
1 lime, juiced
In a large soup pot, heat oil. Stir in onions and salt. Cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until soft but not browned. Stir in jalapeños, vegetables, and seasonings. Cook about 7 minutes until vegetables soften. Add corn, beans, and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes.
Stir in lime juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as is or topped with avocado and tortilla strips.
Crock-Pot Savory Sweet Potato Soup
5 large sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered (or 3 large sweet potatoes and 2 parsnips, peeled and quartered)
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon roasted garlic powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces vegetable broth (or water)
Place potatoes (and parsnips, if using) and onion in Crock-Pot. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on high for 4 hours.
Purée in batches in blender or food processor.
Note: This is a savory version. To make a sweet rendition, substitute a stick of butter for the oil, skip the garlic and red pepper flakes, and add 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
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