This comes together in about the time it takes to order takeout, and is miles more nuanced than your average Chinese restaurant's sweet and sour sauce. Ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, and rice or cider vinegar are boiled together with water (though pineapple juice makes for a tasty tropical twist), and thickened to the perfect dipping consistency with a little cornstarch slurry. Serve this with egg rolls, wontons, rangoons, and whatever other fried foods you want to perk up. Feel free to add some heat to the sauce with minced ginger, garlic, or chiles (or all three).
Basic Vegetable Soup
This soup is an equally wonderful way to use up all the leftover veggie odds and ends in your fridge, or to celebrate the freshest produce in season by buying it specifically for the dish (and if you get a CSA box, it can serve both purposes). Whatever vegetables you use, this is an easy, nutritious, and delicious meal, and endlessly customizable. Fresh pesto makes a great, vibrant garnish, but you could also simply sprinkle on a bit of grated Parmesan and cracked black pepper.
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Chicken Tortilla Soup
Softened vegetables, including onions and bell peppers, amped up with spices like chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cayenne, form the base of this tortilla soup. Chicken broth and tomatoes are added, along with soft corn tortillas that meld into the liquid to make a hearty, thick meal. Finally, shredded chicken is stirred in, and everything is garnished with crunchy tortilla strips, sour cream, shredded cheese, and scallions (avocados, pickled jalapeños, and cilantro would all work too).
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