A genius trick for cooking fall vegetables + a recipe for West African soup

West African Pumpkin Soup.jpg

Two years ago I learned a trick that made cooking hearty vegetables a snap to prepare. The trick? Bake them--whole. 

When you bake a whole butternut squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, or other meaty vegetable, all the flavors stay locked in and the skins steam themselves off. I bake them on a sheet tray at 400 degrees until soft through, and--very importantly--I don't pierce the skins first. I've never once had an issue with the vegetables bursting in the oven (nor has the person who gave me this tip). 

Cooking time will vary depending on the size and age of your vegetable, so test for doneness with a small, sharp knife. Cool until you can comfortably handle it, then peel the skins off easily with your hands, slice your veggies open and discard any seeds. 

This is wonderfully handy for prepping CSA veggies in one go to be used throughout the week, or if you already have your oven on to bake something else, you can bake some whole vegetables in a pan to maximize your energy output. I like to keep these soft baked vegetables around for creamy soups, to stir into eggs for breakfast, to make my butternut waffles, and for use in a host of other recipes, including the one below.

West African Soup
This flavor combination was introduced to me by a good friend who shares my passion for cooking. It's unexpected but addictive, and perfect for the first cool evenings of the fall. If you have a couple of overripe tomatoes hanging around, use them. Otherwise, use crushed tomatoes from a jar (preferably one you canned yourself or a brand with no added sugar or salt).

This recipe is intended to serve four, but just to warn you, between the two of us, my husband and I can disappear the whole batch in no time. 

  • 1 large sweet potato, cooked as above

  • 1 c. chopped, very ripe tomatoes or crushed tomatoes 

  • 1/2 c. natural, unsalted crunchy peanut butter without added sugar

  • 2 t. freshly grated ginger

  • 2 c. vegetable or chicken broth

  • a pinch of cayenne (optional)

  • toasted peanuts to serve (optional)

  • salt to taste

In a medium stock pot, combine the sweet potato, tomatoes, peanut butter and ginger. Over a low heat, stir the mixture well until it is well combined and the tomatoes have broken down well. Slowly add in the broth and cayenne, and stir to combine. Taste and add salt as desired. Serve very hot as an accompaniment to chicken and rice, or in generously sized bowls, topped with toasted peanuts.

Serves 2 hungry people or 4 as a side.