This Foolproof Soup Is Restaurant Quality

Actually, it's better. (Plus, 30-minute Bánh Mì and the case for refried beans.)

It’s inevitable: Some days you haven’t planned anything to cook, the afternoon sneaks up on you, and all you can do is throw your hands up and say, “Gahhhh! What’s for dinner?” For those times when you need something fast, easy, and tasty, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few recipes to help you navigate this week.


Curried Carrot-Coconut Soup

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 40 minutes

Do you ever cook a dish and proudly think to yourself, “Damn, I could serve this at a restaurant”? Well, this is one of those dishes and it’s not even hard. The base of this soup is the near-perfect combination of carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, curry, and coconut milk. You simmer everything until the carrots are basically mushy (low-stakes cooking at its finest), then purée with a blender until silky smooth. You could eat this soup as is, and it would be absolutely delicious, but for me, the fun really begins with the toppings. I like crunchy things with my puréed soups; the version pictured above got a sprinkling of crispy kale and shiitakes, toasted coconut flakes (right out of the bag), some chile flakes and a drizzle of olive oil, but there is no shortage of options for adding crunch, freshness, or more heft. (Just promise that when you serve this dish at your new restaurant, you’ll think of us.)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

  • 1 or more small fresh hot chiles (like Thai or jalapeño), chopped

  • 1 tablespoon turmeric

  • 1 tablespoon sweet or hot curry powder

  • About 1 pound carrots, thinly sliced

  • Salt

  • 4 cups coconut milk, or 2 14-ounce cans plus a little water

  • 2 limes: 1 zested and juiced, 1 quartered for serving

  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

  • Optional garnishes (see list below)

Instructions

1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chiles. Cook, stirring and turning occasionally with a spatula, until the garlic is golden and the onions and chiles begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the turmeric and curry powder and cook, stirring, until it darkens and becomes fragrant, no more than a minute.

2. Add the carrots and a large pinch of salt and stir to combine. Add the coconut milk, lime zest and juice, and 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently but steadily. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot. Or let the soup cool a little, carefully purée it in a blender (working in batches if necessary), and return it to the pot. (You can make the soup in advance up to this point. Cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.) Reheat the soup until it’s hot without letting it come to a boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding the sugar if you think the tanginess and heat need balancing. Top with any of the garnishes listed below, if you like, and serve with lime wedges.

Ideas for Topping Your Curry-Carrot-Coconut Soup

For Crunch

  • Kale chips (Toss kale leaves with olive oil and salt, cook on a baking sheet at 300 degrees until crisp, 12 to 15 minutes.)

  • Chopped toasted nuts (pistachios, cashews, peanuts)

  • Toasted coconut flakes

  • Fried shallots

  • Crispy shiitakes (Sauté thinly sliced shiitakes in oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 15 to 20 minutes.)

For More Body

  • Cooked beans or grains

  • Leftover roast chicken

  • Sautéed shrimp

  • Sautéed crumbled firm tofu or ground pork or chicken

  • Frozen (thawed) edamame

For Freshness

  • Cilantro, basil, or mint leaves

  • Thinly sliced radishes

  • Thinly sliced raw sugar snap peas or snow peas

  • Bean sprouts

—Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

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Refried Beans With Flour Tortillas and Pickled Red Onions

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes with cooked beans

I do most of the cooking in my house, not because my wife isn’t a really good cook (she is), but because I just enjoy it a lot more than she does. When I used to go away on trips and she stayed home, I would pretty reliably return to find a half-opened can of refried beans in an otherwise empty fridge. This always struck me as a little melancholy until I realized that this was not for lack of other options, but that she just really loves refried beans and is pretty delighted to eat them for dinner. Now that I think about it, she’s right. Refried beans usually get the side-dish treatment, but there’s no reason they can’t or shouldn’t be the main event. With a few garnishes and some flour tortillas for scooping, that’s exactly what they are. And whether you start with home-cooked beans or not, actually frying, mashing, and seasoning them yourself makes a huge difference.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup lard, bacon fat, or drippings from Mexican chorizo, 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, or 1/4 cup good-quality vegetable oil

  • 3 cups drained cooked or canned pinto, pink, or black beans (reserve the liquid if you cooked them yourself)

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin, or to taste

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

  • Salt and pepper

  • Pickled red onions (optional, see method below)

  • Flour tortillas for serving (recipe below, if you feel like making your own)

Instructions

1. Put the fat in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add the beans. Mash with a large fork or potato masher until they’re beginning to break up.

2. Add the onion, cumin, and cayenne and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue to cook and mash until the beans are more or less broken up (some remaining chunks are fine) and the onion is lightly cooked, about 5 minutes more. Thin with a little reserved cooking liquid or water to adjust the consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish pickled red onions and/or anything else from the list below, and serve with flour tortillas.

Quick Pickled Red Onions
Put about 1/3 cup vinegar (red wine, sherry, or apple cider) in a medium skillet. Squeeze in the juice of a lime and stir in 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. When the mixture bubbles, add a thinly sliced red onion and cook over high heat, stirring, until the onions soften a bit and turn pink about 2 minutes.

More Garnishes for Refried Beans

  • Minced fresh or pickled chile

  • Chopped fresh cilantro

  • Sliced radishes

  • Chopped seeded tomato

  • Grated cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Chihuahua cheese, or crumbled queso fresco

  • Crumbled cooked fresh or chopped smoked chorizo

  • Sour cream or crema

  • Hot sauce

  • Limes wedges or zest

—Recipe from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

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Flour Tortillas

Paying members can check out the video here.

Makes: 8 to 12 tortillas
Time: About 1 ½ hours, partially unattended

There are plenty of halfway decent flour tortillas available at supermarkets these days, but eating a freshly rolled one right out of the skillet is a pleasure reserved for the home cook. Nothing about the process is difficult. You don’t even need a tortilla press, although if you have one, here’s a chance to use it; if you want to make big ones, a rolling pin is the way to go. Here’s the recipe, and there’s a bonus video of the whole process above (for paying members).

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (like grapeseed or corn), olive oil, softened butter, or lard

  • About 1/2 cup boiling water, or more as needed

Instructions

1. In a bowl or food processor, mix the flour and salt. Stir or pulse in the oil. Add the water slowly — a tablespoon or two at a time if you’re mixing by hand or in a thin stream with the food processor running — until the dough holds together in a ball.

2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it becomes smooth and elastic: 4 to 5 minutes if you’re mixing by hand and about 1 minute if you’re using a food processor. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to a couple hours (or in the fridge for up to a few days; bring it back to room temperature before proceeding).

3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces if you’re rolling by hand. On a lightly floured surface, slightly flatten each piece into a disk, then cover and let rest for a few minutes. When you’re ready to cook the tortillas, use a heavy rolling pin to roll each disk as thin as possible into a circle at least 8 inches in diameter, stacking them between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper as you work. To save time, you can continue to roll out the dough while the first pieces cook.

4. If you’re using a tortilla press, divide the dough into 12 pieces (you need less dough because it will get thinner). Shape each into a slightly flattened disk and let rest for a few minutes. Put a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on the inside of the press, add the dough, top with another piece of plastic, and close the press. Squeeze the clamp as hard as you can; if you’d like it thinner, rotate the dough and repeat.

5. Put a large skillet or griddle (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Cook the tortillas one at a time until brown spots begin to appear on the bottom, about a minute; turn and cook the other side for a minute. Wrap the finished tortillas in a towel to keep them warm while you cook the rest. Serve immediately or let them cool, wrap tightly, and store in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to a few months.

Mostly Whole Wheat Tortillas
Substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

—Recipe from How to Bake Everything

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30-Minute Bánh Mì

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

Bánh mì — a Vietnamese-style hoagie — is often a complicated affair with different components. Here it’s pared down to the absolute essentials: pork and pickled vegetables. Pretty cool for 30 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 small daikon radish or 4 small regular red radishes

  • 1 large carrot

  • 1 small cucumber

  • Salt

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 1-inch fresh ginger

  • 1 garlic clove

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil

  • 1 pound ground pork

  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha, or more to taste

  • 4 hard sub rolls

  • Several sprigs fresh cilantro

Instructions

1. Trim and peel the daikon or 4 small radishes, carrot, and cucumber. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you’re using a food processor for grating, cut the vegetables into chunks that will fit through the feed tube. Shred them by machine or by hand on a box grater. Put the vegetables in a colander in the sink; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt and 3 tablespoons sugar, and toss. Let sit.

2. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Peel and mince 1-inch ginger and 1 garlic clove. Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the skillet along with the ginger and garlic. After a quick stir, add the ground pork; let it brown in the pan, 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add 1 tablespoon each fish sauce and soy sauce to the pork. Stir and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. When the pork is fully cooked, remove the pan from the heat.

4. Turn the broiler to high; put the rack 6 inches from the heat. While it heats, stir together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 teaspoons Sriracha in a small bowl. Split the sub rolls open and broil them until lightly toasted, 1 to 3 minutes. When the sub rolls are toasted, remove them from the broiler; spread with Sriracha mayonnaise.

5. By now, the shredded vegetables will have released some water; squeeze out the water through the colander. Divide the vegetables among the sub rolls. Lay the pork on top of the shredded vegetables. Top with several cilantro sprigs (stems and all) and serve.

Tofu Banh Mi
Skip the ground pork. (If you also skip the fish sauce and use eggless mayo, this becomes vegan.) In step 2, crumble 1 ½ pounds (1 ½ blocks) firm for extra-firm tofu into the skillet. Cook, stirring, and scraping the bottom of the skillet occasionally, and adjusting the heat as necessary, until the tofu browns and crisps as much or as little as you like it, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about a minute, then stir in the fish sauce and soy sauce. Proceed with the recipe.

—Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast

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