“To paraphrase Cher … sooner or later, we all eat alone.” – Joe Yonan, “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One”

We talk a lot about cooking for other people, but sometimes I really, really like to cook just for myself.

There’s something nice about being alone in the kitchen, singing along with the Stones’ “Tumbling Dice,” not worrying about anyone’s hunger (or food quirks) but my own.

I love cooking for and with Jeff, but there are certain foods he will not abide (a.k.a. “produce”), so I’ve learned to really indulge myself when I eat alone. Which, lucky for me, comes every day at lunchtime.

And I’ve found a like mind in Joe Yonan, who writes the monthly column “Cooking for One” for The Washington Post. His new cookbook, “Serve Yourself,” is full of mostly single-serving recipes for people who like to cook but don’t want to be buried in leftovers. Singles. Spouses who work different shifts. And people like me, who love foods that their significant other shuns. Like mushrooms. Or avocado. Or, yes, sweet potatoes.

Today, I made Yonan’s Sweet Potato and Orange Soup with Smoky Pecans.

I expected it to be slightly sweet and fruity, a liquid sweet potato casserole, but this soup is nothing like that. The base is savory, a velvety mixture of roasted sweet potato, carrot, celery, leek, stock and thyme, with a pinch of curry powder for complexity. The orange juice doesn’t sweeten the soup. It brightens the flavors. Like adding a squeeze of lemon to a plate of grilled vegetables.

While the soup is heating on the stove, you toast the pecans, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and stir in some smoked paprika. The paprika turns the oil red and coats the pecans. Gorgeous.

To serve the soup, you layer all of these flavors. First, you fill your bowl with sweet potato and orange soup. Then, you add a nice big dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. Finally, you top the soup with the pecans and spiced oil, and sprinkle the whole thing with orange zest for a little extra zing.

Every bite gives you a little something different.

In fact, Yonan’s sweet potato soup base was made for experimentation, so every bowl could give you something different. Measure out a one-cup serving of the concentrated base; thin it with water, stock, cream or orange juice; and add delicious things. Toasted pecans. Mushrooms. Chickpeas. Kale. Chorizo, on a day when you’re not going meatless.

I could freeze the sweet potato soup base in individual portions, but with snow in the forecast and so much variety at my beck and call, I’m pretty sure that soup will be on my lunch menu until the bowl runs dry.

Note: I received a review copy of Joe Yonan’s “Serve Yourself,” which is available in bookstores starting March 29, 2011. 

Sweet Potato and Orange Soup with Smoky Pecans

Courtesy of Joe Yonan’s “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One”

Makes 1 serving

  • 1 cup Sweet Potato Soup Base (recipe below), defrosted if frozen
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons pecan halves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika or ground chipotle chile
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt, whisked until smooth
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  1. Pour the soup base into a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the orange juice and water, adding more water if you want a thinner consistency. Cook until the soup is bubbling hot, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste, and add salt if needed. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and keep it hot.
  2. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pecans and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are fragrant and start to darken, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the oil, stir in the paprika, and cook for another 30 seconds to dissolve the spice. Use a heatproof spatula to scrape the spiced oil and pecans into a small bowl.
  3. Pour the soup into a serving bowl, dollop the creme fraiche in the middle, and top with the pecans and spiced oil. Sprinkle the orange zest on top, and eat.

Sweet Potato Soup Base

Makes about 4 cups

  • 2 (10- to 12-ounce) sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 small leek, white and pale parts, thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Pinch of curry powder
  • 2 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock, warmed*
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Use a fork or sharp knife to prick the sweet potatoes in several places. Place on a piece of aluminum foil and bake until the sweet potatoes are tender and can be easily squeezed, 60 to 75 minutes. (Alternatively, to speed up the process, microwave the pricked sweet potatoes on High for 1 minute, then carefully transfer to the oven on a piece of foil. Bake until the potatoes are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.)
  3. Pour the oil into a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the carrots, celery, leek, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Stir to combine well, then decrease the heat to low, cover the pot, and allow the vegetables to sweat in their own juices until very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. (Take care not to allow the vegetables to burn.)
  4. Scrape into the saucepan the soft flesh from the roasted sweet potatoes, add the curry powder, and stir to combine, mashing the sweet potato flesh with a spoon. The mixture will be chunky. Stir in the stock and combine well. Bring the mixture to a boil, then decrease the heat so the mixture gently simmers, and cook, covered but with the lid slightly ajar, for about 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then remove and discard the thyme.
  5. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup base, which will be very thick. (Alternatively, you can puree it in a blender or food processor. If using a blender, be sure to remove the center cap on the lid and cover with a dish towel to let steam escape, and work in small batches to avoid splattering the soup.) Taste and add salt if needed.
  6. Let the soup base cool to room temperature. Divide it into 4 portions and use immediately, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, or freeze in small containers or heavy-duty freezer-safe resealable plastic bags, pressing as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing. It will keep frozen for several months.

*Gluten-Free Tip: Use GF vegetable or chicken stock.