Winter workouts: we start out defiant, eager to triumph over icy trails, windy road routes, and broken pool heaters. We return successful but weary, craving honey cinnamon lattes (me), chocolate-chip banana bread (Bec), and everything bagels with a thick layer of cream cheese (Laurel). None of these treats are nutritionally terrible. But they all leave us short on hydration, a common pitfall when we come home sweaty but shivering, thinking only of comfort foods and hot drinks.
No more. The three of us have vowed to keep a pot of soup in our respective fridges this winter. A good soup offers the same warmth as our favorite comfort foods, plus more nutrition and fluid. I’m kicking off the series with this spiced sweet potato soup. It’s so heavily spiced that houseguests said they smelled the smoked paprika down in our driveway. But it stops short of being spicy hot.
I bake the potatoes on the weekend while my littlest kid naps, and then finish the soup sometime during the week when the kids are at school. If you don’t have an hour or two of down time at home to bake the potatoes, use this method instead: peel the potatoes and cut them into 1” to 2” pieces. After stirring in the spices, add the potatoes and enough broth to cover the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Then blend until smooth, and follow the rest of the recipe instructions.
A mug of this soup after a post-lunch hike through Percy Warner Park or 45-minutes in the pool, and I’m set until dinner with the kids at 5:30 pm. Then, I’ll toss in some sausage to make it a meal.
Next week Bec will share her protein-packed dal, and after that her Christmas Carrot Ginger Soup. I’ll reveal my secret to 10-minute pho (hint: shop Whole Food’s frozen food section) and share a twist on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Chicken Soup with Kale and Carrots.
Spiced Sweet Potato Soup
Time: 20 minutes, plus 1 to 2 hours to bake the sweet potatoes
Yield: about 10 cups
4 pounds sweet potatoes or garnet yams
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons harissa powder, plus more for serving
2 1/2 quarts (10 cups) low-sodium chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound bulk spicy chicken sausage, cooked, or 1 pound sausage links cooked and cut into half-moons (optional)
Heat the oven to 400° F. Wash the potatoes and prick them all over with a paring knife. Set them on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and bake until very soft, 1 to 2 hours depending on the size and type of the potatoes. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins. You can store the cooked sweet potatoes in the fridge for up to a week before proceeding with the recipe.
Heat a large heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil, heat for 1 more minute, then add the onion and salt and cook, stirring every minute or so, until the onion is soft, 5 to 7 minutes. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.
Add the smoked paprika, harissa powder, and 1 tablespoon of water to the onions, and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the cooked sweet potatoes to the pot, and mash them together with the onions. Turn off the heat, add 1 quart (4 cups) of the stock, and stir to combine. Blend the soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender until smooth, then return it to the pot. Pour in enough stock, 1 to 1.5 quarts (4 to 6 cups), to thin the soup so that it pours, not plops from a spoon.
Taste the soup. Depending on how salty the stock is, you might need another ¼ to ½ teaspoon of salt.
Serve piping hot, with cooked sausage, if you like, and with black pepper and harissa powder on the side because sometimes more is more.
Just in case you have never cooked bulk sausage: To do so, heat a frying pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat for another minute. Spread the sausage out in the pan and let it cook undisturbed until it starts to brown and releases from the bottom of the pan. (If it starts to smoke, lower the heat and/or remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is no longer pink in the center.