Picture the scene: just another endless weekday here at home. The kitchen is as chilly and cluttered as I left it, early that morning, when the sun decided to stay hidden behind a vast shroud of gray. Twilight’s no different — perhaps a bit more melancholic — but how would I know? I’ve been on shift all day, in the windowless bunker I call work, playing with wires and signals and listening to the monotonous drone of vacuum pumps and fans all working away at establishing the 24-hour rhythm of a lab that never sleeps.
Yes, it’s February, and I fear this month is getting to me. But after seeing this seductive little creation, I had to try my hand at creating a little bowl of springtime sun to call my own.
My version is pale green, like the first buds emerging from the monotonous brownish gray of winter, and calls for nothing more than a small bunch of cilantro and a few staples you probably already have in your pantry. It’s light, despite the potatoes, and a perfect antidote to the shortest month of the year.
Potato soup with almond and cilantro pesto
This recipe is admittedly a sketch. I didn’t carefully measure out the ingredients as I made this dish. But I urge you to do the same. Improvisation is the cook’s greatest pleasure, as a seemingly haphazard collection of ingredients — a little of this, a little of that — transforms itself into a cohesive work of art. You will appreciate a blender for this recipe, but can make do with a mortar and pestle, or a good knife and some patience.
- 6 c. broth. Vegetable and chicken broth will work; just try to make your own, or buy some good, low-sodium stuff.
- 2 large russet potatoes, cut into 1″ square(ish) wedges. Peel them first if you don’t like skin in your soup; it will eventually detach itself from the potato wedges. Don’t buy any that have a greenish tinge. If they’re green, they are already photosynthesizing, and are a bit toxic as a result. This is good if you want to plant them, but not if you want to eat them. I found gorgeous organic ones at my local health food store, and they were worth every penny at $0.99/lb.
- salt, pepper, and paprika, to taste.
- Two pinches saffron.
- ~3/4 c. olive oil.
- 1 large yellow onion, minced.
- 5 cloves garlic, mashed.
- large handful of cilantro, chopped.
- 3/4 c. sliced almonds.
In a heavy stockpot, heat 2-3 T. olive oil over high heat for a minute or so. Sauté the onions for 2 minutes, add the garlic and almonds, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring continuously. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add stock and potatoes to the pot, and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt, pepper, saffron, and paprika. Lower the heat until the broth is simmering. Cook until the potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, combine the almond, onion, and garlic mixture with the cilantro in a blender (or whatever you happen to be using as a substitute). Add the chopped cilantro, and about 1/4 c. of olive oil. Blend until you get a smooth paste. If your blender is having trouble completing its task, add more oil, or a spoonful or two of the potato stock. You should end up with a pale green paste, with a hummus-like consistency.
Just before serving, pour the almond-cilantro paste into the soup. Stir and heat for a minute or two more, until the soup is hot and the mixture is combined thoroughly. Serve immediately, topped with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro, and some chili oil (optional; pictured above).