A disconcerting thing happened in my kitchen recently: Grieving the departure of the 8-year-old boy my husband and I fostered for six months, I found myself unable to cook.

Unable isn’t technically right. But unmotivated, certainly, and so much so that it has felt paralyzing. Every afternoon when I would normally start thinking about what to put on the table that night, I would instead be overcome by sadness at the fact that he wouldn’t be sitting with us to eat it, making us laugh with his potty-humor jokes or saying he was full of vegetables but had room for dessert. There would be no more pre- or post-dinner footraces on our sidewalk.

As a result, none of my rotating menu of things he most liked to eat — crispy tacos, Frito pie, New Orleans-style red beans and rice, spaghetti and meatballs, along with sides of cauliflower, broccoli or green beans — made sense to cook anymore. Neither did trying something new, or even tried and true, just for me and my husband.

So for almost two weeks straight, after we put away the third place mat on the dinner table, we ate out or ordered in, saving leftovers for lunch. Dear friends helped by sending comfort food to our doorstep, so a few breakfasts consisted of bread pudding, honey biscuits — or both. Otherwise, much to my chagrin, the joy of cooking seemed to evaporate right along with the fumes of the child-services agency van, packed with his toys and books and clothes, that spirited the boy to his next home with extended family.

I’m finally starting to shake off my culinary doldrums, thanks in part to recipes I’ve continued testing for this column. Last week, I made a soup from Milk Street’s latest cookbook for our photo shoot and neglected to bring any leftovers home. So while writing these words, I made it again, remembering that while the kid isn’t exactly a fan of soup, this one’s major components — collard greens, potatoes, chiles — are among his favorite foods.

As I chopped the potato and stripped the collards from their stems, I thought about our time together and our efforts to make him feel safe, comfortable and loved, along with trying to teach him honesty, trust and respect — in addition to multiplication tables and grammar rules.

Will any of it stick?

As the soup simmered and the oil infused with chiles, spices and herbs for a garnish, I looked over a photo album I had made of our time with him. The grins, poses and funny faces, including teary eyes on his last day here, reminded me that we did exactly what we set out to do. As hard as his departure has been, mission accomplished.

I’m so glad I cooked the soup again. It’s soothing, energizing and, all in all, restorative, making me confident, finally, that I’d get my cooking mojo back soon enough. This is the kind of soup that’ll cause you to eventually put down your spoon and pick up the bowl to drink down the broth.

That’s what I did. And as I finished my last sips, I remembered a dream from a few nights earlier: We were at a corn maze in Maryland, and the kid was asking us, as usual, to chase him. He rounded one corner and then the next, and I soon lost sight of him for a moment. When I took a turn, he reappeared — in the magic of dreams, a decade older. Now he was 18, a track star, and was breaking through the maze to a clearing.

He looked at me, grinned and just ran, ran, ran.

Want to save this recipe? Click the bookmark icon below the serving size at the top of this page, then go to My Reading List in your washingtonpost.com user profile.

Collard Greens and Potato Soup With Chile Oil

The Milk Street team created this soup with the classic Portuguese soup caldo verde in mind, but skipped the sausage to keep the focus on the vegetables. Feel free to add sausage, vegan or not, if you’d like a hit of protein.

Storage Notes: The soup and the strained chile oil can be refrigerated, separately, for up to 1 week.


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grapeseed or another neutral oil, divided
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sweet or smoked paprika, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
  • 12 ounces red or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound collard greens, stemmed and torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

Step 1

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 1/2 cup of oil, the red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons of paprika, the garlic, oregano, 1 rosemary sprig and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil is aromatic and bright red, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it steep while you make the soup.


Step 2

In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the potatoes, carrot, the remaining rosemary sprig, the remaining 1 teaspoon of paprika, the salt and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the collards and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.


Step 3

Pour in the broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the collards are completely tender and the potatoes break apart when pressed, about 30 minutes.


Step 4

Remove the pot from the heat and discard the rosemary. Stir in the vinegar, then taste and season with additional salt and/or black pepper, if desired.


Step 5

Pour the infused oil through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much oil as possible.


Step 6

Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with the oil and serve hot.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (2 cups soup plus 2 tablespoons chile oil)

Calories: 434; Total Fat: 35 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 839 mg; Carbohydrates: 28 g; Dietary Fiber: 8 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 5 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from “Milk Street Vegetables” by Christopher Kimball (Voracious, 2021).

Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.