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Cooking – Bean Soup – from simple to superb

The subject of food has come up on this blog a few times. A couple of regular Moosers have suggested writing diaries about cooking. It didn’t take much persuading to get me to write one, since, like most people with a passion, I love to talk about it.

Many people think of cooking as a chore. They are only too happy to outsource it. I’m not in that group. I fell in love with cooking as a child. I still love it. What’s not to love? Cooking is a creative process. It can be viewed as both a craft and an art. It also serves an essential purpose. There can be a great deal of satisfaction in putting a good meal in front of hungry people. We have to eat every day. Why not make it as enjoyable as possible?

The recipes below came from tonight’s dinner menu. We had a ham for Christmas dinner and I needed a way to use up some of the leftovers and the ham bone. Making bean soup seemed like a good way to do that. The meal is simple, fairly healthy, and filling. It makes a great cold weather meal.  

While this meal may seem like a lot of work, it is really quite easy. Unlike a lot of meals, the timing on this one is hard to screw up. Start cooking the soup a couple of hours before dinnertime. You could also start the soup in a slow cooker before you leave for work and then finish the meal when you get home. The rest of the meal only takes 15 minutes.

About 10 minutes before you are ready to eat start the sausage browning and then make the garlic bread. Keep an eye on the sausage while you are preparing the bread, but keep most of your attention on the bread so you don’t burn it. The bread should be done before the salad. Dish everything up and serve.

Any of these recipes can be adapted for vegetarians. Skip the ham and the chicken broth in the soup and you have a totally vegan meal. The same can be done with the salad by leaving out the Andouille sausage and adding a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to replace the lost fat. You can also substitute olive oil for the butter for the garlic bread. I have never used vegan cheese in a recipe so I don’t know whether you could substitute it for the Mozzarella cheese. You could add garlic croutons to the salad and skip the garlic bread entirely. The crunchy croutons would make a nice contrast to the texture of the soup.

Bon appétit

The Recipes

The bean soup recipe is mine. I’ve been making bean soup for decades. It’s a common dish in snow country. Over the years, I’ve tried different beans and mixes of beans. I’ve tried it with all water and all chicken broth. I’ve made it with and without garlic and onion. I’ve also tried several different kinds of meat. Ham hocks work well. Smoked neck bones are my favorite, but they are harder to pick clean and have to be boiled for a bit to get the salt out. My mother almost always used ham bones. After all the trial and error, this is the recipe I finally settled on.

Michigan Style Bean Soup

  • 1 lb Navy or Great Northern beans – rinsed and cleaned and then soaked overnight.
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • 1 medium white onion – chopped
  • 1 medium carrot – shredded
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic – minced = approx.1 tbsp
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups chicken broth – low sodium
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Rinse the beans in a colander and then sort through them looking for stones or damaged beans. Place in a large dutch oven then add 6 cups of water. Soak overnight.

Drain beans in a colander.

Clean and dry inside of dutch oven then place on burner and add olive oil.

Cook the onion and carrot in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  

Add the garlic. Cook for 1 minute stirring frequently.

Add the ham bone, beans, salt, pepper, water, and broth.

Tie the herbs in a bundle and add to pot.

Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently until the beans are tender – 1 ½ – 2 hours

Put half of beans in a food processor or blender picking out any meat.

Puree the beans.

Remove ham bone from pot. Cool for 10 minutes and then carefully pick meat from bones. Discard any fat or gristle and then reurn meat and bean puree to pot.

Stir well. If the soup seems too thick, you can thin it with warm water or broth.

Serve in bowls with a dot of butter and a little cracked black pepper.

Notes: Eliminate the seasoned salt if the ham is particularly salty. Add some chopped ham if the ham bone doesn’t have much meat on it. The beans can be mashed with a potato masher instead of pureed in a food processor or blender.

Serve with a salad and grilled cheese sandwiches. My versions below.

Bean soup isn’t exactly an elegant dish. It’s supposed to be stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. I make it a few times a year during cold weather. This time, I wanted to do something a little different  to turn a ho-hum meal into something a little more interesting. I decided to go with a variation of the grilled cheese sandwiches usually served with bean soup.

The salad recipe was a timely and fortuitous discovery. I stumbled across this recipe on the intertubes the day before I was planning on making the bean soup. It reminded me of a warm bacon-Dijon vinaigrette I once made to serve over baby spinach. This recipe looked like it would be a great complement to the bean soup, so I decided to try it.

The only change I made was to use baby spinach instead of mustard greens. I would imagine you could also substitute other cabbages, like Kale. I might even try it with red and green cabbage and sliced onions instead of the minced shallot.

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover until dinner was served that some of the people I was cooking for don’t like Andouille sausage. Those who didn’t like the sausage also didn’t like this dish. The rest of us thought it was very good.

Recipe: Warm Cabbage and Bitter Greens with Mustard and Andouille Vinaigrette

Makes 6 to 8 servings. This is made in one skillet and served immediately.

  • 1/2 lb. diced Andouille sausage
  • 1 tbl. cider vinegar
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tbl. olive oil
  • 2 tbl. brown sugar
  • 1 lb. Napa cabbage
  • 4 tbl. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 lb. baby mustard greens (or baby spinach)

Get skillet hot, add diced Andouille. Brown evenly and add minced shallot.

Add brown sugar, mustard and cider vinegar. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Add olive oil and stir again.

Add mustard greens and stir until stems begin to soften.

Stir in cabbage and cook for 30 seconds.

Place wilted salad on plates and top with fried onions and serve.

Original recipe by Regina Charboneau

Cheesy Garlic Bread

In a continuing effort to add some variety to my menus, I used the following recipe instead of making grilled cheese sandwiches, which are the usual accompaniment to bean soup. It has the added benefit of being healthier.

I do love a good grilled cheese made with thick-sliced homemade bread and a slice of Colby or sharp cheddar or both. So does the rest of the family. They would have been just as happy or happier with regular grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe next time.

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 cloves garlic – pressed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme – tied in a bundle
  • 1 baguette of crusty bread
  • 1 cup Mozzarella cheese – shredded
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese – grated

Directions:

Put the butter and olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and herbs when the butter melts. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Split the bread and toast under broiler. Do not burn. Remove when it is light brown. Discard thyme. Brush the bread with the garlic oil and butter sauce. Sprinkle with shredded Mozzarella and then with Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until cheese melts, about 30-40 seconds. Slice on a diagonal into 8-10 pieces.


32 comments

  1. sricki

    Glad to see you finally writing this! In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that part of the reason I want to see you, Hubie, and whomever else writing such diaries is… I am fairly inept in the kitchen. I can follow a recipe, but I have no talent for the art itself — no real “feel” for it. So I am just here to learn (as is often the case for me with many topics on the Moose).

    It all sounds delish though. I truly am bad about the “why bother if it’s just for me?” mentality, but hopefully I will grow out of that in coming years. In the meantime, I will think on this for the next time I cook for the family or girlfriend.

    Really pleased to see this posted.

  2. Pea Pancakes

    Something that is ridiculously simple, but stunning to plate. Just great little pancakes that make a great appetizer or even a side dish.

    For the smaller batch:

    4C hulled peas–frozen or fresh

    1C scallion–chopped

    1C heavy cream or 2/3C milk

    Flour to bind

    salt and pepper to taste

    Puree peas in food processor or blender. Yes, it’s going to be a green paste. Add your scallion to the mash, and buzz it  in to incorporate. Add your heavy cream or milk. I prefer heavy cream, because fat is where the flavor is at, but I can understand that folks may not want to blow their caloric bank in the appetizer course. Buzz in your food processor or blender just enough to smooth out your mixture, and then dump your bright green paste into mixing bowl.

    Start with about a cup of flour to add to the green goop. Work the flour in with a whisk, and you may need to add more flour to get a medium thick pancake batter. Your target is a smooth batter–no clumps, not so thick that it won’t pour, not so thin that it runs. Think buttermilk pancake batter. Depending on the moisture content of the peas and scallions, you can add up to 2-3C flour, but 1C to 2C is more probable. Add in your flour in dribs and drabs, and whisk to incorporate and don’t be afraid to hold back when you get your batter to bind, but not run.

    The fun: set up your griddle top/saute pan/flat top over a medium high flame. If you are a heathen and using an electric stove, shame on you. Shame, shame, shame, but set your burner to around 7-8. Let your pan, griddle, flat top get hot, then hit it with a bit of oil. You can use pan spray if you prefer, and even that faux buttery stuff. The important thing is to get a layer of oil to keep the batter from sticking.

    Pour your batter onto your hot surface, and let it pool in a  nice even manner. A pancake as it were. I would suggest a small tester at first, to make sure that the consistency is correct. Too thin, and it will just spread out in a rush, and you don’t want that. Too thick, and it will clump and burn. Too thin?  Add a bit more flour to bind it up. Too thick? Thin it down with a little more milk or cream. Salt and pepper to taste after you get your tester done, and then go to town.

    Pour your pancakes out in even dabs. Like any pancake, when it begins to bubble through the body of the cake, it will be time to flip. You’ll see the consistency change as that occurs, and the bottom should have a lovely sear, and you will be able to flip the pancake without breaking it apart. If it does, then no hoo hoo. Next one will be better.

    After both sides sear, flip them onto a plate. Evenly spaced so they won’t steam one another.

    The above pancakes were garnished with a simple salad of edamame and scallion, and a wee bit of Mae Ploy Sweet Chili. It’s one of my favorite sweet chili sauces. Period.

    You don’t have to top it with a salad. You can have your pea cakes just plain as a side dish. Or topped with a hollandaise. I like these little pancakes to pair up against beef or lamb–they look dainty and set off a plate well, but the pea flavor is concentrated and sweetened by the sear. They also make a nice appetizer, or even brunch item that bridges the gap between breakfast and dinner.

  3. spacemanspiff

    I know my sweets.

    Superb.

    No.

    I’m not drinking one right now with a side of hot chocolate chip cookies.

    How much am I getting for this plug anyways?

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