To food editor Shilpa Uskokovic, when it comes to home cooking, cheap is the greatest compliment. Each month, in What a Steal, she’s sharing a highly craveable recipe—and showing us how to save some $$$ along the way.
I’ve been guilty of buying a sack of potatoes at the store, only to have them become a science experiment in my pantry a few weeks later, slowly growing green tentacles. Et tu? For us, then, I developed a potato soup so remarkably luxurious, so laughably cheap, that no potato henceforth shall ever be left behind.
Let’s start with the potatoes, a 5-lb. bag of which often costs less than a latte. There is perhaps no other ingredient in your kitchen that is so economical and so versatile. Potatoes are the ultimate actors, playing more roles than Meryl Streep, seamlessly going from mashed to boiled to stir-fried to just fried to roasted to baked.
This soup can handle either russets or Yukon Golds. The former evokes the familiar comfort of baked potatoes, while the latter yields a golden color and silkier texture. Use whichever you have around, or whichever costs less at the store.
A generous amount of onion, always in season and just as inexpensive as potatoes, provides further bulk and body to the soup. Their sharp allium bite tames into sweetness as they simmer away. White onions are mildest but use yellow onions if that’s all you have on hand (just avoid red onions as they’ll turn the soup a muddy greige). Dried thyme provides gentle depth and woodsy flavor, proving dried herbs have their place in every thrifty kitchen thanks to their long life and low price.
Simmering the potatoes and onions in broth releases the potato’s starch, slowly thickening the soup and rendering it velvety and thick. This natural creaminess negates the need to add a lot of fat, so it takes only a modest ½ cup sour cream for the soup to taste sumptuous and extravagant. And when it comes to the broth, boxed does the trick (or opt for a concentrate like Better Than Bouillon, which is even cheaper).
To finish the soup, skip spendy bacon and cheese for a scattering of herbs, more of that sour cream, and a bit of chopped pickled peppers, which bring the same sensory delight of salt-acid-crunch with none of the sticker shock of cured meat.
It is cold and drizzly as I write this and, now that I think of it, I do have a bag of potatoes in the pantry. Needless to say, I know what I’m having for dinner tonight.