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How a simple soup can be a gateway to 3 additional meals

Potatoes, Asparagus and Parmesan Soup is topped with mustard-butter and herbs and is finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon. (Photos by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Carolyn Robb for The Washington Post)

I love recipes. Though I teach classes on improvisational cooking, I’m happy for the guidance recipes provide: They set us up with a collection of ingredients that go well together and teach us a bit about technique.

At the same time, in their specificity, recipes may limit how we think about ingredients, by calling for precise amounts and preparations that lead to food waste and inefficiency. Besides leftovers or when we batch cook, one recipe does little to help us get a head start on another meal.

I think this should change.

So how can we benefit from a recipe’s specific instruction and, at the same time, use it as a cooking resource rather than just a path to a specific dish? How can we turn that recipe into a jumping-off point to make us more efficient, waste-conscious and help develop our off-the-cuff cooking mind-set?

Get the printable version of this recipe: Potatoes, Asparagus and parmesan Soup

We can do this by embracing my recipe “supercharge” strategy.

Below, I walk you through how to make a light but robustly flavored soup and then show you how you can take steps toward making a second (or even a third) dish — often at the same time you’re working on the original dish.

If you want to make “supercharging” a habit, you may have to retrain your brain a bit. To start, try making this soup and the recipes that grow from it. This way of cooking is not only good for your schedule, your wallet and the planet but also easy and gratifying to sustain.

‘The Nimble Cook’ can help you become more creative in the kitchen

For instance, while making the soup:

  • Cut, chop and grate extra ingredients the recipe calls for, then use them in a fresh way: Mince extra garlic or ginger, grate extra cheese or wash extra herbs to save time on future dishes. For example, the ginger goes into the Ginger-Miso Dressing, and the garlic and herbs (leaves and stems) go in the Caper-Herb Sauce (see recipes below). Feeling ambitious? Knock out these sauces while the soup simmers and use them for another day’s meal.
  • Buy extra ingredients for another dish: While the soup is simmering, boil the extra potatoes for Crisp Smashed Potatoes (see recipe below) and smash them while still warm. If not using them immediately, refrigerate them for up to 3 days. Once roasted, slather with or dip into a sauce, such as the Caper-Herb Sauce.
  • Batch-cook just one foundational step of a recipe: Why not cook double the aromatics for the soup (leeks cooked with butter, garlic, ginger and miso) to create the foundation for another dish? In this case, you would double-up the ingredients in steps 2 through 4 of the soup recipe, removing half of the cooked leek mixture (1 1/2 cups) and leaving the rest in the pot to resume making the soup. You can freeze these extra aromatics for making another round of the same soup or for a sauce, such as the Leek, Herb and Coconut Sauce (see recipe below). Think about this option the next time you’re cooking onion, bell pepper and celery for a Cajun dish or sofrito for a picadillo.
  • Sometimes, recipes are already written with “batch-steps.” Take advantage of that: In the soup, I have you make more Mustard Seed Butter than you’ll need because it is easier to make it in this slightly larger amount. Don’t let it go to waste. Use it to make super-simple dishes by pouring it over roasted asparagus (pick up extra while you’re shopping for the soup). Or, dollop the butter onto a baked sweet potato. Not in the mood to turn on the oven? Slather the seasoned butter on a ham sandwich, melt a spoonful on top of a pan-seared salmon, stir it into scrambled eggs, or drizzle onto blanched green beans or radishes.

How to clean leeks and do more with the versatile allium

Potatoes, Asparagus and Parmesan Soup

This soup, with its juxtaposition of long-cooked leeks and tender-crisp asparagus, is bright and rich, and hearty but not heavy.

The ginger-garlic-miso paste, along with loads of parmesan, do the heavy lifting to transform plain water into a delicious broth. I reserve the quick-to-make mustard seed butter to swirl into the soup right before serving. This is so the flavor of the butter doesn’t dull while the soup cooks.

Make ahead: Make the soup up to when the potatoes are fully cooked, then refrigerate for up to 4 days When ready to serve, reheat the soup, then add the remaining ingredients.

Get the printable version of this recipe: Potatoes, Asparagus and Parmesan Soup

Active time: 25 mins; Total time: 40 mins

Serves 4

For the mustard seed butter

2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch fine salt

For the soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

4 teaspoons minced or finely grated garlic

1 tablespoon yellow miso

1/2 cup crisp white wine, such as vinho verde or sauvignon blanc

1 large leek (14 ounces), pale green and white parts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

1 1/2 pounds small new potatoes, quartered

4 cups water

1 1/4 teaspoons fine salt, divided

8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and sliced on a bias into 1/4-inch pieces (1/8-inch if the stalks are thick)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, tarragon and dill, for serving

Lemon wedges, for serving

Make the mustard seed butter: In a large pot over medium heat, toast the mustard seeds until they begin to release their aroma, shaking the pan a couple of times, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and add the 2 tablespoons of butter. Cover and cook until butter melts and begins to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl, scraping the sides of the pot to get all of the mustard seeds. Stir in a pinch of salt and set aside.

Make the soup: Return the pot to medium-low heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, the ginger, garlic and miso. Cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture turns into a golden paste, 2 to 3 minutes. It may stick to the bottom of the pot — that’s toasty goodness — but adjust the heat if it starts to burn.

Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot, and reduce until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes.

Add the leeks, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, about 4 minutes.

Add the potatoes, water, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover, increase the heat to high and bring to a quick boil. Reduce the heat so the soup is at a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, in a medium bowl, toss the asparagus with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt; set aside.

Once the potatoes are cooked, turn off the heat. Add the asparagus and parmesan and stir well. Let the soup sit in the pot to melt the cheese and lightly cook the asparagus, about 1 minute.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls. Give the mustard seed butter a stir, then add 1/4 teaspoon of the butter, a squeeze of lemon, and sprinkling of fresh herbs to each bowl.

Get the printable version of this recipe: Potatoes, Asparagus and Parmesan Soup

Recipes for putting your supercharging skill to work

Now that you’ve read through the soup recipe and my supercharging tips, let’s put those ingredients and extra preparation to good use.

Ginger-Miso Dressing

You’ve minced extra garlic and ginger, so let’s make this dressing with it. I like to toss it with romaine lettuce and grilled chicken. You can add parmesan cheese and sesame seeds, too.

How to make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic, 2 teaspoons grated ginger, 1 tablespoon yellow miso, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, and 2 teaspoons sugar. Store the dressing in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Makes a scant 1/2 cup. Total time: 5 mins.

Caper-Herb Sauce

You’ll have an assortment of your freshly washed herbs left from the soup, so make this sauce to use on smashed, roasted potatoes (below) as well as grilled vegetables or meat.

In a food processor, blend 1 packed cup of mixed herb leaves and stems (from soft herbs, such as parsley, dill and cilantro), 1 clove of garlic, 2 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of capers and 6 tablespoons of olive oil until it forms a smooth paste, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, another 6 tablespoons of olive oil and salt to taste. If not using right away, store the sauce in the refrigerator, in a container covered with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent discoloration for up to 1 week.

Makes about 1 cup. Total time: 10 mins.

Crisp Smashed Potatoes

Potatoes are so versatile. When I make the soup above, I double-up the potatoes to get a head start on a side dish for another day:

While the soup is simmering, and since you’re already standing at the stove, you could boil the extra potatoes. These precooked potatoes would be convenient to have around for mashing, dressing for potato salad, or smashing to roast later in the week (as in the recipe below; and remember: One and a half pounds of thin-skinned, small red potatoes (1 1/2 inches wide) is about right as a side for 4 people.)

How to make the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with water. Salt generously, then cover, and bring to a quick boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and spill them out onto a roasting pan.

While still hot, use the bottom of a glass or a measuring cup to smash the potatoes flat until they are about 1/4-inch thick. (At this point, the potatoes could be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 3 days until you’re ready to roast them.) Brush each side of the potato discs liberally with oil and season with salt. Place the tray on the bottom rack of a 425-degree oven and roast until amber brown and crisp on both sides, about 40 minutes total. Serve as is or with the Caper-Herb Sauce above.

Makes about 4 cups. Total time: 1 hour.

Leek, Herb and Coconut Sauce

This delicious sauce is built on the same robustly seasoned base as the soup, but with a different flavor result. You can serve the sauce on the side as a dip for shrimp, much like a cocktail sauce, or you can toss the sauce with shrimp or grilled pork or just mix it into a big bowl of rice.

How I make the sauce: Place 1 1/2 cups of the cooked leek mixture, 1 1/2 cups (1 13.5-ounce can) of coconut milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, 2/3 cup cilantro, 2 serrano peppers, and up to 2 tablespoons lime juice in a blender; puree until smooth. Taste, and add salt and lime juice, if needed. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Makes 2 1/2 cups. Total time: 10 mins.

Ronna Welsh is the founder of Brooklyn-based Purple Kale Kitchenworks and author of “The Nimble Cook.” She teaches in-person and online classes on how to be a more creative and resourceful cook.