Not too sure how, but it's already November. And as the weather gets cooler, I, for one, am getting cozier at home, bubbling up all manner of pastas and braises and stick-to-your-ribs soups, all weekend long.
But what about weeknights—evenings when some warmth and comfort are sorely needed, but there's not a whole lot of time for "low and slow"? I think about this often. To help me ponder this question, I turned to my nearest work-neighbor (who also happens to be our resident Genius), Kristen Miglore.
Kristen first recalled her extensive cozy-dinner research (trust me, she knows a thing or two about cozy), which suggested that the key to the best soups and stews lies in their dynamic layers of flavor. But this can sometimes be hard to achieve when time is of the essence: the richest stocks and broths can take several hours to prepare, and cooking meat in these dishes can require a bit of attention and precision.
So Kristen considered her go-to flavor enhancers, shying away from meaty stuff in the interests of time. Naturally, she was inspired by some Genius tips she's discovered over the years, piecing together how these clever elements could also fit in to the context of an easy weeknight dinner.
That's where Cook in the Blank—our fill-in-the-blank game plan for easy, riffable weeknight meals—seamlessly fit in. With the help of this handy recipe tool, Kristen found a pretty brilliant answer, in the shape of a cozy, hearty, totally and completely vegan noodle soup recipe.
In this recipe, Kristen knew it'd be fastest (and easiest) to start with a soup base of water, as opposed to cooking up a separate stock. But water would also need a sturdy lift to give it a good deal of flavor.
She turned to two ingredients to kick-start this: tomato paste sizzled in olive oil, which adds depth, roundness, and umami to water-based soups (we have Victoria Granof's pasta con ceci recipe to thank for this trick); and dried mushrooms (she recommends porcinis or shiitakes), inspired by the rich, meaty flavor they add to the tomato sauce landing pad for Domenica Marchetti's eggplant meatballs.
The next broth-flavor-booster is a friend to vegans everywhere, nutritional yeast (affectionately termed "nooch"). Here, nooch is combined with a bit of hot water; the mixture is left unstirred and the thick residue discarded from the cloudy broth remaining (like you see it done in Andrea Nguyen's vegan pho recipe), to create an almost chicken-like broth with savory, round, kind of creamy vibes.
For the carb-y component, Kristen suggests adding in both diced Yukon Gold potatoes and slices of chewy glutinous rice cakes (like the kind often found in Korean cuisine). Macaroni or some other small-shaped pasta will also work. The important thing idea here is the double-carb action, for extra heft and heartiness.
Texture's big in this recipe, and to add a variety of it, Kristen returns to Andrea Nguyen for her quick soy-seared tofu recipe. She also then recommends chopping some napa cabbage to throw into the pot, and slicing up radishes, à la posole to add as well, which mellow out a bit after being cooked but still add an earthy funkiness to the mix.
Last, the garnishes, which are nearly as important as the soup that goes underneath them. First, pan-fried sesame seeds and any extra oil left in the frying pan. (To make, heat a tablespoon or two of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet and toss in a small palmful of sesame seeds, moving them around frequently until they become a rich golden color and smell super nutty and fragrant.) Next, lots of lime juice, which Kristen likes to put on everything.
All told, dinner's ready in about an hour, though it'll taste like you stood beside the stove, stirring it lovingly, for a lot longer than that. But if you won't tell, I won't—this Genius secret is safe with us.
What weeknight noodle soup will you start simmering with Cook in the Blank? Pick it up today and let us know in the comments!