- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Spend and eat. Eat and spend. Encouraging these two activities in whatever combination seems to be the essence of the holiday season.

The denouement of all this is New Year’s Eve, which is followed by a crash into the cold sobriety of January. Our waists have grown thick; our wallets are thin.

Where so recently we were exhorted to acquire, now we are serenaded with odes to austerity.

Ah, January. The bitter crash landing of it all. Staring at our credit-card invoices, we wonder:

Where are all those cookies now that we need them?

How can we keep up the cheer? Surely, it’s not meant for just six weeks of the year.

Where are the media articles that are supposed help us figure out how to reduce everything, to rein it all in and still stay happy?

Where’s the plan for tightening our kitchen budget as the holiday bills come due?

One of the best ways to save money while eating well is to make delicious vegetarian soups thickened with potatoes, flavored with vegetables and enriched with just a touch of dairy. The price is right, both financially and calorically, and this type of soup is deceptively rich-tasting while actually being lean.

My favorite soup is this potato, chili and cheese concoction, which can be the opening event of a light supper of scrambled eggs, dark toast and a big leafy green salad.

You also can pack it in a wide-mouth Thermos for lunch on a cold day. It reheats beautifully and even can be frozen if you leave out the milk until just before serving.

Potato-chili-cheese soup

Use fresh Anaheim or poblano chilies, if available. Also called mild green chiles, even though they are slightly hot, Anaheims are long and pale green. Poblanos are dark green and triangular. Both types are available in specialty markets and many supermarkets.

To save time, grate cheese with a food processor’s grating attachment. Then remove the cheese; change to the steel blade; and, without cleaning the machine, use it again for pureeing the potatoes.

Use dry and powdery russet potatoes in this recipe rather than a waxy variety. Russets puree nicely, while waxier potatoes turn gluey in the blender or food processor.

4 medium (3-inch diameter) russet potatoes

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ cups chopped onion

1 medium bell pepper (any color), diced

2 medium Anaheim or poblano chilies, minced

1½ teaspoons salt or more

1½ teaspoons cumin

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1½ cups milk, at room temperature

3/4 cup (packed) grated Monterey Jack cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

Minced basil, scallions and cilantro for garnish

Scrub potatoes and cut them into small chunks (size unimportant). Place them in a large pot with 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, partially cover and cook until tender (15 minutes or so). Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for several minutes, then add the bell pepper, chilies, salt to taste, cumin and garlic. Saute over medium heat until vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Puree potatoes in their cooking water, using a blender or food processor. (If it seems too thick, add a little extra water.) Add puree to sauteed vegetables, then stir in the milk until well-blended.

Heat the soup very slowly, being careful not to cook it. When it is hot, stir in the cheese and grind in some fresh black pepper.

Serve hot, topped with a light sprinkling of fresh herbs.

Makes 5 to 6 servings.


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