One of the great things about having writerly people as friends is the creative living and work arrangements everyone comes up with. Sure, some of us teach, some of us hold regular day jobs, and some of us, including my friend M. works part-time and house-sits full time! I truly aspire to her pared-down existence, if only for the luxe places she sometimes lives in.

One of her regular haunts is a historic, fancy-pants house in the Druid Hills area in Atlanta. We’re talking a brick mansion with a 1920s swimming pool out back. There’s a greenhouse, a sauna, a hammock house, a music-listening room, and the world most beautiful kitchen ever. The wife used to run a catering business, so you can imagine the industrial quality ovens, stoves, counters, dishwashers (yes, these are all plural), as well as the spices, pots and pans, knives (I would kill for the contents of her knife drawer), and various cutlery and dishes. It’s swanky and comfortable and oh so much fun to cook in.

The other week M. invited me over for a cookbook reading date and a chance to cook in the kitchen. Given the awesomeness of the kitchen, I’ll let you imagine the awesomeness of the cookbook collection. At least 200 volumes. Plus cooking magazines. Plus she cooks a lot of vegetarian fare, so there’s no shortage of amazing vegetarian/vegan cookbooks to browse!

One cookbook that I fell in love with is Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables. Politics aside, Alice’s recipes are spot-on. They’re simple, but somehow irresistible, complex flavors arise from just a few ingredients. I also love the organization of the book, by vegetable in alphabetical order, which makes everything easy to find. While there are no pictures, something I generally require for a new cookbook purchase, I could almost taste and smell every recipe that I read. While I didn’t make anything from the cookbook right then and there (just a simple Chinese-style stir-fry), I did copy down a few recipes to make later.

The Carrot & Cilantro Soup is definitely a recipe that embodies everything I noticed in the book: simple ingredients, simple technique, bold flavors. Personally, I hate cilantro. But that’s why I wanted to make the recipe. Maybe I’d like it better mixed into a pureed soup. The smell still gets me though, even though the soup itself tastes fabulous. It’s creamy and sweet with a cilantro freshness–the perfect bridge between winter and spring flavors! I’m not unhappy that I made the recipe, and I’m looking forward to finishing off the leftovers, but the cilantro just isn’t my cup of tea. If you like cilantro, though, please make this! For one, it’s cheap–probably cost $4 to make the whole pot, maybe less, and it’s also just simply delicious. What’s not to love about carrot soup?

Alice Waters’ Carrot & Cilantro Soup

from Chez Panisse Vegetables

1 white onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch of carrots (~1 lb)
3 potatoes
1-1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock (I used homemade)
1/2 bunch cilantro (add more if cilantro is your thing)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice the onion and put in olive oil to stew. Peel the carrots and potatoes and cut them into large chunks.

Once the onions are soft, add carrots and potatoes, salt generously, and continue to stew for approximately 10 minutes.

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and simmer until the vegetables are cooked and soft. Take the pot off heat.

Add the cilantro to the pot. Puree the soup in a food processor in multiple batches until smooth. Strain through a medium sized sieve.

Reheat on stove and serve with crusty bread!