“Stuff in the fridge” stew

Be afraid, people. Be very, very afraid. This is the first time in recent memory that I’m cooking… without a recipe. I sent out the call a few days ago asking if anyone knew what I could do with a bunch of vegetables I’ve got in my fridge. After considering the options and asking Marc what he wanted, I settled on a vegetable soup. (A vegetable stew, if I could manage it.) A curried vegetable soup. Because I didn’t have enough of a challenge already.

And this time, I’m flying blind.

I started with chopping. Lots and lots of chopping. I think it took me about an hour to get everything chopped up. Sigh. Clearly, I need to learn how to do prep faster. That said, things were relatively painless, at least in the “kitchen not exploding” way.

I started off by cooking two onions (chopped), a bunch of minced ginger (2-3 tbsp?), and minced garlic (three cloves — a similar amount to the ginger) in olive oil, on medium heat for about five minutes, until they were translucent but not yet browning. I’m good at that part. *grin*

Then I made a clearing in the middle of the big pot and put in spices: coriander (about 3 tsp), ground black pepper (1 1/2 tsp), cumin (2 tsp), and yellow curry powder (1 1/2 tsp). Let those toast up for about a minute or so. Then mixed them in with the onions.

Then into the pot went 1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes (cut in halves), 1 3/4 lbs butternut squash (peeled and cut in cubes), and 1 3/4 lbs carrots (peeled and sliced — and WOW that’s a lot of carrots!). In with that went a 10-oz can of chicken broth and about five cups of water, enough to cover everything. I wish I had more broth, but this is “stuff in the fridge and pantry” soup, and I just had to live with the idea of not having more broth.

Brought the whole thing up to a boil, which took a surprisingly long time — about 15 minutes. Then put on the lid and turned the heat down to a simmer. When it had been simmering for what I considered a sufficient amount of time (about 10 minutes), I put in one medium zucchini (about 1/2 lb, cubed), stirred it in. Cover went back on, and back to a simmer it went.

At this point, I had absolutely no idea how long it would need before all the veggies would be ready. So I decided to fork-test it every 10 minutes or so. At the 10-minute mark, the butternut squash was VERY tender, but the carrots and potatoes needed just a little more time. And the broth is much spicier than I expected! I decided to give it five more minutes. It seemed pretty good.

Now came the most experimental part of this experiment. I decided to add some leftover uncooked rice to the mix. I had just over a cup of basmati rice left from my last bag, and this is “stuff in the fridge and pantry soup.” So I put it in. The hope was that it would both thicken the soup a bit and also give it a bit of that nice rice taste. The package said to give it 15-17 minutes, so (cover still on, still simmering) I set a timer and decided it was finally time to do some dishes.

The dishes done (and precariously balanced) and some email answered, and it was time to see whether the rice was ready yet. Still chewy, needed a few more minutes. Back on with the timer! Three minutes later, it was ready.

And now came the second great experiment of this experiment: I’d read that you could thicken soup by blending it. I didn’t feel like pulling out my blender, so instead I took my hand blender and just put it right in the soup. (After turning off the heat, naturally.) Pulsed it a few times, never for very long. Success! There are still enough pieces that it’s clearly a vegetable soup, but it’s nice and thick and almost… dare I say it… stew like! It must be time for lunch!

A few interesting notes:
– I learned last year that I have some sort of reaction when handling butternut squash: it seriously dries out my hands. Way more than you’d expect. A bit of googling revealed that other people get this too, and the answer is just to wear gloves. So now whenever I’m handling butternut squash, I have to put on Marc’s paramedic gloves. Which strikes me as hilarious every time I do it.

– A cool tip I learned from the Interwebz: Instead of going back and forth to the garbage, just take a mixing bowl and use that as a “garbage bowl.” Then dump it all in the garbage at the end. Saved me a TON of time and annoyance.

– Another cool tip: When mincing, instead of collecting everything together by dragging the sharp edge of the knife across the cutting board, turn it upside down, so you’re collecting with the TOP of the knife. This prevents the knife from dulling. Cool stuff!

– Total time, start to finish, was somewhere between two hours and two and a half hours. Prep time (mostly chopping veggies) was about an hour; cooking time (mostly unattended) about an hour and twenty minutes.

So… 3:40 and time for lunch. It’s thick, stew-like, and gorgeous yellow-brown. And now for the taste test! Final verdict… spicy but tasty! A very nice, warm fall dish! If I had to do it again, I might go lighter on the curry and pepper (I figured I’d use a lot, since I was making a lot of soup), but in the end I could have used less.

Success!

Edited to add: I have just discovered that this soup apparently doesn’t freeze very well. The liquid tends to separate, and some of the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) taste pretty gritty. So eat this one before it goes bad! Have friends over! Avoid freezing!

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