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December 10, 2013

"Taking the Soup"

This morning, the Blog Princess awoke to a winter wonderland. By sunup, the icy remnants of Sunday's snowfall were lightly dusted with fresh powder and the cows in the neighboring fields were mooing softly in gentle protest.

When it gets cold or when we find ourselves too disgusted with politics to write, we like to make soup (negative cultural stereotypes notwithstanding). Sunday, we made a big batch of Lentil Soup. There's no real recipe - just start with a bag of dried red lentils. Rinse and boil in unsalted water with two bay leaves until tender. Add 1 large minced yellow onion, 2 large minced celery sticks and 2 large minced carrots (the real kind), 1 ham hock or - if it's snowing and you don't have ham hocks lying about - a spoonful or two of Better Than Bullion ham base - sea salt to taste, somewhere between 1/2 t. and 1 t. ground cumin, several dashes of Morton's Nature's Seasons seasoned salt, and 2 cans of Del Monte diced tomatoes (since The Spousal Unit doesn't like tomatoes much, we use the Petite cut variety).

Cook long enough to let flavor develop, then add cayenne pepper and adjust salt and cumin as needed. We like it on the spicy side. We didn't have a ham hock on Sunday so I diced up a leftover sausage from an Italian restaurant dinner Saturday night and added it at the last minute.

When the boys were small we made a lot of soups with dried beans and peas. Today, we're making Cuban Black Bean soup.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

1 lb. dried black beans
2 qts water (I don't measure)
2 t. salt (1 for cooking beans, 1 for the soup itself)
2 or more cloves garlic, depending on size/freshness
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. oregano
1/4 t. dry mustard
2 T. olive oil
2 onions, finely minced
1-2 green peppers, minced
1 T. fresh lemon juice

Soak beans overnight in water. Next day, add 1 t. salt and boil until beans are tender. This may take a while.

Crush garlic, 1 t. salt, oregano, dry mustard. Saute minced onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes, add minced green peppers and sauté until tender. Stir in crushed seasonings and lemon juice along with 1/2 cup of hot water from the beans. Add vegetables and seasonings to beans and cook for about an hour or until flavors have blended.

Remove about 1 C. of beans and puree in blender or food processor. Return pureed beans to soup pot to thicken soup. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve with the following garnishes in separate dishes: minced green onion tops, diced hard boiled eggs, diced fried bacon, diced peanuts or cashews, thinly sliced fresh lemon. Sometimes we serve over white rice.

Another favorite is Tortilla Soup:

1/2 canola oil
6 corn or flour tortillas, cut into wedges (think pizza slices)
1 t. oil
1/2 C sliced green (spring) onions
2 t. garlic, minced or crushed
3 C. cooked rice
1 1/2 C. cooked and diced chicken breast meat
3/4 C. green chiles seeded and chopped (for convenience, canned work fine - if using fresh, you'll need a lot less unless you like hot peppers)
6 C. chicken broth
1 1/2 t. lime juice, fresh
1 1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. black pepper
3/4 c. diced fresh tomatoes (I prefer Roma tomatoes for this)
1 avocado, diced
4 sprigs cilantro or 1/4 C. minced fresh cilantro
1 lime, thinly sliced

In large frying pan, heat 1/2 C oil over med. heat. When hot, add tortilla wedges and fry until crisp light brown. Drain wedges on paper towel.

In large saucepan, heat 1 T oil. Add gr. onions and garlic, sauté for a few minutes. Add cooked rice, chicken, green chiles, and chicken broth. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add lime juice, salt, pepper. Pour into soup bowls, sprinkle with diced tomato and avocado. Stand fried tortilla wedges around sides of soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with cilantro and a lime slice.

Feel free to ensmarten the assembled villainry with your own soup recipes in the comments!

Posted by Cassandra at December 10, 2013 08:38 AM

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While I like most beans, lentils are nature's version of sawdust. The only worse beans are lima beans. Damn you Peru!

Posted by: a former european at December 10, 2013 02:23 PM

Normally I am not a huge fan of lentils, but I do like my homemade soup!

But I agree - there is no real reason for lima beans to exist, except perhaps to make life here on earth a living hell.

Posted by: Cass at December 10, 2013 02:59 PM

My recipe for Jambalaya:

What's in the refrigerator?


Oh, don't forget the smoked paprika.

Posted by: Allen at December 10, 2013 08:55 PM

Much concern about the uncivilized prejudices against lima beans, which may well involve unacceptable political or philosophical deviations. Try my mom's lima bean recipe:

--large dried lima beans
--boil until soft
--add lima beans to pan in which hamburgers have been fried
--(onions should already be in the pan..LOTS of onions)
--add some of the lima bean cooking water to pan
--thicken with corn starch
--serve...some prefer ketchup)

Posted by: david foster at December 10, 2013 10:10 PM

As one of the few people on this earth who actually *like* liver (at least when I cook it), I will endeavor to be tolerant of your inexplicable acceptance of the evil that is lima beans :p

My stepfather in law likes fresh lima beans too. I am working on my attitude because he is a good guy, but it is very difficult...

In general, I don't like any large bean with a skin. I think it may be the texture I can't tolerate - I can eat small kidney beans in chili, but not the larger ones. And I don't mind fresh small or Le Soeur peas (did I spell that correctly?) but can't stand canned peas or the really big ones.

I really think it's the skins that bother me. There are few foods I don't like - large beans are about the only food I can think of right now that I don't eat.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 11, 2013 09:25 AM

Think of the Lima Bean farmers whose livelihoods are being destroyed by this prejudice. Are they less-deserving of success and happiness in their lives than, say, the Barons of Broccoli?

But I see that the prejudice is so deep-seated that nothing short of government action will result in fairness to the noble Lima Bean.

Returning to the subject of soup, here's a simple onion soup recipe that's pretty good...originally developed for cooking underway aboard the racing cutter Jolie Brise:
"Place four medium-large onions, peeled and cut into quarters, into a covered saucepan with 3 to 4 cups cold water. Add 2 tablespoons Bovril (or other strong beef stock) 4 ounces butter, a dessertspoonful of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a little black pepper, and (when the cooking is nearly done) a small glass of sherry or rather more white wine. Boil gently for 30 minutes or until the onions have fallen to pieces and are soft, stirring occasionally.”

Posted by: david foster at December 12, 2013 12:17 PM

Ooh! I can't wait to try that!

I still remember the french onion soup at a little place called Peter Christian's when I was a freshman in college. Boy was it good!

Somewhere I have a really good recipe for cheese-broccoli soup - haven't made that one for years!

Posted by: Cassandra at December 12, 2013 12:44 PM

There are two soups I make constantly. Both freeze well and both can be made with ingredients I always have on hand.

One is Rachael Ray's Tomato and Bean Soup. It calls for fresh zucchini but you can omit that and just add more of some kind of green bean. I like this best with Italian green beans and cannellini beans but I've used frozen lima beans (yes, I like lima beans); mixed veggies; regular green beans; even pink beans. I also skip the diced tomatoes and add an extra cup of chicken broth. Neither the basil nor the cheese are necessary, yummy though they are.

My other favorite is the Barefoot Contessa's Mexican Chicken Soup. I omit the chicken - it seems to get rubbery when I re-heat and/or freeze the soup - and throw in a couple of 15-ounce cans of pink beans instead. The cilantro isn't necessary (although it is delicious) and the soup is wonderful even without any of the toppings she suggests.

I've still got a container of the Tomato-Bean soup in the freezer and plan to make a big pot of the Mexican Soup during this weekend's 2-4 inches of snow followed by 2-4 inches of snow and sleet.

Posted by: Elise at December 13, 2013 03:34 PM