I moved to Chicago nearly six years ago. I had just graduated from the University of Tennessee, and I was about to begin a graduate program at Columbia College Chicago. The spring before my undergraduate graduation, we came to Chicago for a short vacation. I had never been here. I had no intention of staying very long, but I drove down Lake Shore Drive and announced, "I'm going to live in this city."
So, six months after that visit, I packed everything I owned into a rented U-Haul truck and drove from small-town Tennessee to the city. I didn't know a single person in Illinois, but I was determined to make a go of it. I moved into a studio apartment in Edgewater and lived on my own for the first time in my life. For the most part, I was content.
As happy as I was, it didn't take long for me to realize thatwhile I loved having so much "me time"there was one problem: I had no idea how to cook for just one person. As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a family that was half Italian and half Jewish. Either way, our kitchens were always full. We didn't understand portion control, we always had enough food to feed half of the neighborhood, and the cookware I'd brought from homethe cookware that had been passed down from familywasn't intended for solo meals. Cooking for just one person was a problem.
To complicate things further, I'm unreasonably picky when it comes to leftovers. Most proteins change texture when reheated, and vegetables become overcooked. Not only could I not cook in small batches, but I also ended up throwing away a shameful amount of food. Since I loved cooking then as much as I do now, and since the kitchen was the one place where I felt like I could remedy a bit of my homesickness, I was completely bummed. Was I inevitably going to become one of those single folks with a drawer full of takeout menus? It sure looked that way.
I was lamenting a houseful of family and quickly amassing a collection of accordion-folded menus, when I stumbled upon something in the back of my kitchen cabinet: my mom's soup pot.
Soup became my savior; I soon learned that it was the perfect single gal's food. While most dishes suffer from reheating, soup gets better with time. I couldand often didmake a whole pot, freeze part of it, and eat the rest for nearly a week. Also, there were endless variations. Not only did the soup pot invite me back into the kitchen, but it also encouraged me to experiment again. Change a root vegetable here, add a starch there, andwithout much effort or expenseI'd changed the flavor profile completely.Read more story below....
Nowadays, I don't live alone. My partner, Sona, finally joined me in Chicago, and we exchanged my Edgewater studio for an Andersonville flat. And, though I no longer have to worry about cooking for just one, I still defer to the soup pot. Now, soup serves a different function. It allows us to have healthful and home cooked meals all week long, even when our days are too busy to allow for any home cooking. Most Sundays afternoons, you find me stirring a large pot of soup. It's my way of preparing for the week.
A couple Sundays ago, I stumbled upon a recipe for sweet potato and chorizo soup. After spending a little time at the stovetop and tweaking a few ingredients ( including adding a can of beer that we had in the fridge ) , we ended up with a pot that we were happy to return to all week long. Whether you're cooking this soup for one or for a few, don't be intimidated by how much this recipe yields. Don't worry; it'll get eaten.
Sweet Potato and Chorizo Soup
1 lb. chorizo ( kielbasa will also work ) , sliced
3 large sweet potatoes, diced
1 large white potato, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of chicken broth
1 can or small bottle of a quality beer
2 cans of white beans
1 bag of baby spinach
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. chili powder
Salt and pepper
1. Pour a little olive oil in your soup pot and brown the sliced chorizo. Set aside.
2. Add a little more oil to the chorizo drippings and sweat your onions and garlic.
3. When the onions are translucent, add all of your diced potatoes and sauté until the potatoes are softened. At this point, season liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Deglaze the pan with the beer. Simmer for a few minute and allow the alcohol to cook off.
5. With a potato masher, lightly crush the potatoes. You want the potatoes to be crushed but chunky. Don't overwork them, just smash them a bit.
6. Add chili powder, bay leaves, white beans ( rinsed ) , browned chorizo and chicken broth. Simmer for 30 minutes.
7. Taste soup and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Wilt in bag of spinach right before you turn the soup off.