galician white bean soup with chorizo

With the weather finally starting to dip into the low 60’s (oh gosh, I really have lived in the US for too long!) … I mean teens, it’s officially the season for baking and soup-making in our apartment again. Finally, the oven can stay on for more than 10 minutes without creating a 650 square foot sauna. (Do I hear a roasted beets cheer?)

I haven’t been going crazy or anything, but there has been much more in both departments, whether it be my favorite grainy muffins, or trying new soup recipes. Unfortunately, my last two trials were a little disappointing. (Lesson number one: don’t use light coconut milk in soups, and lesson number two, as good as the idea of a spicy eggplant and peanut stew sounds, I still prefer peanuty stews of this variety. Eggplant is easily overshadowed.

Wanting a soup worthy of this new “season,” (all we can call them here in SoCal) I turned to a book that hasn’t let me down yet: The Daily Soup Cookbook. Full of delicious-looking recipes from old standbys to exotic stews, I grabbed some dried beans that a friend gave me when she left town a year ago (!) and turned to the bean chapter.

I always learn something when I cook soups from this book. This time, I learned that when it comes to making a bean soup, it’s best to just cook the beans right in there with the rest of the ingredients. Apparently, this reconstitutes the beans using broth, as opposed to pumping them full of plain, boring water. The starch from the beans also leaks out into the surrounding liquid, thickening the soup. Unfortunately, I had already started soaking my beans before I read this step, but I’ve made a note for next time.

Despite yielding a really tasty finished product, the soup turned out to be more of a project than I’d intended. It’s WAY harder than it should be to find chorizo sausage if you live on the stretch of beach highway between Cardiff and Encinitas, as I do. I had everything I needed except bacon and sausage, so I walked down to our cute little local grocery store. In response to my chorizo inquiry, one of the meat counter employees asked “Spanish or Mexican?” “Spanish, I think,” I responded. He led me to a bunch of dry-cured salamis. I gave him a skeptical look. He then led me to the Mexican chorizo, packaged up as one long link.

When I got the supposed chorizo home, the package informed me that I had to remove the casing before cooking or eating. I dug a knife into the end to begin removing the casing, and something resembling a chunky sauce spurted out all over the counter. I quickly dumped it into a pan to cook it, where it turned even more soupy. Apparently in Mexico, chorizo sausage means really runny chili. Duly noted.

I headed back out, this time to the Encinitas Whole Foods, thinking surely they’d be able to help. Of the eight or so house-made sausages they had behind the counter, none were chorizo. So I asked. “We don’t have it right now, but I can make some for you.” Score! I returned 10 minutes later, as instructed, and was handed a package of what looked like ground beef. I asked why it wasn’t in sausage form, and the reply was simply, “this variety doesn’t come as links.” Ohhhhh-k. The guy had taken the time to grind and season the pork for me, so I wasn’t going to argue with him. It didn’t look like tomato sauce, so I paid for it and took it home. (I later read “natural pork casings” on the ingredients list. Grrrr. Is it too much to ask, people?)

So with the help of my more meat-savvy partner, I made teeny tiny meatballs to poach in lieu of the sliced chorizo. A friend declared it acceptable, and even delicious. I’ll get you next time, chorizo sausage!

Galician* White Bean with Chorizo

makes 12 cups

1 pound chorizo sausage
6 cups water
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 pound thick cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large Spanish onion
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp paprika
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 lb Great Northern beans, rinsed  (I used Cannellini and some stray lentils, because that’s what I had)
2 medium potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch cubes (I used one sweet potato because I didn’t have enough)
6 cups vegetable stock or mineral water
1 bunch radish leaves, chopped (I used kale)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped scallions

  1. Combine the chorizo and water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and poach for 10 minutes. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon, reserving 2 cups of the poaching liquid. When cool enough to hangle, slice the chorizo into rounds and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon and saute for 10 minutes, until golden brown and the fat is rendered.
  3. Add the onion, carrots, and 2 of the garlic cloves and saute for 4 minutes, until tender.
  4. Add the thyme, paprika, bay leaves, and pepper and stir to coat the vegetables.
  5. Add the reserved poaching liquid, beans, potatoes, and stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours.
  6. Stir in the sliced chorizo and simmer for 2 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in the radish leaves, vermouth, and salt and remaining garlic cloves.
  8. Remove bay leaves, ladle into bowls, and top with chopped scallions.

*Galicia is an autonomous community in northwest Spain, with the official status of a nationality. It’s bordered by Portugal to the south, the Spanish autonomous communities of Castile and León and Asturias to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Bay of Biscay to the north.

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smoky sweet potato soup

Who would’ve thought that after moving to Southern California from Canada I’d start finding culinary Southwestern inspiration in a book out of Victoria, B.C? Well, it happened.

I’ve been wanting the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook ever since a cold late-winter day in 2008 at my friend Lenora’s in Ottawa. In hopes of distracting myself from thinking about whether Syracuse University was going to accept me into their Masters of Journalism program, I drank coffee and flipped through this colorful book. It’s one of those cookbooks you just never get around to buying for yourself, but then when someone finally gives it to you, you wonder how you lived without it.

The masterpiece

OK, OK, so I’ve only made three things out of it so far. And two of them were soups. Hardly thorough sampling. But I’ll be the first to tell you: these soups are made of smoky chile-infused dreams. The perfect comfort meals for this prairie transplant, new to a part of the country where cliffs and cacti make up my backyard. Perfect for a place where avocados and limes daily compete for my affection. (If gin’s nearby, the latter usually wins out—especially when priced at 10 cents apiece).

You start by roasting three of the best-tasting earthy things known to eaters: Sweet potatoes, garlic, and red peppers. They’ll fill your house with aromas as they pop and spit away in the stove.

Sweet potatoes are my second-favorite root vegetable (beets have my heart). Not only because of their “superfood” status (they’re packed with fiber, beta-carotene, and vitamins A and C), but because they are just so good. They’re the candy of the earth—would that be “bon-bon de terre”? Taste some of the syrup that leakes from the roasted ones and you’ll know what I’m talking about. (I was so excited I forgot to get out the camera…hence having to borrow this one!)

Another trick this soup taught me? Chipotle puree. Mix this stuff up once and it will give back to you for months. You’ll forsake all others: ketchup, salsa, possibly even Sriracha. (The horror!) All ya do? Buy a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and puree away.

addictive

good on everything

While roasting everything takes a bit of time, it’s 100% worth it. Plus, you won’t spend as much time chopping as you normally do. With this one (boringly named Roasted Yam and Garlic Soup with Chiles and Lime), most of the time is spent sitting around waiting for the roasting to finish. I recommend a cup of coffee and a book to help make this time go speedily.

Give this soup an hour of your time, and it’ll reward you with silky, smoky (I said that already, didn’t I?), sweet-tart bursts of flavor. Whether you’re smokin in the Southwest or freezing in Philly, D.C., or New York, I promise you’ll love this soup.

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yosenabe (Japanese hot pot)

If there’s a life conducive to food blogging, it’s being unemployed in a college town and newly attached. Conversely, if there’s a lifestyle conducive to letting that blog go stale as an opened box of wheat thins, it’s a nine-to-five job in a full-fledged city with your mate 370 miles away.

These things—with all their promise, exhilaration, and loneliness—have wrecked the most havoc here on these pages.

The excuses fly in: I don’t have the time. I’m too tired and too transient. I don’t have a car. I already spend my days thinking about and working on food. With three new housemates, there’s no space in the fridge for leftovers.

But every good excuse has a better antecedent: I have my weekends. I need the energy and the sense of home good meals bring. I have my bike, the metro, and a great co-op nearby. I can never get enough of food. And lastly, when you share life with great people, there are seldom leftovers anyway.

Perhaps without knowing it, my new housemates have helped eased my transition back into domesticity after more than a month spent country, county, and couch hopping. (Shout out to my wonderful sets of parents, June and Raul, and Rebecca and her parents for their respective hosting!)

They’ve been there with cookies at midnight after long days exploring the city. They’ve offered liver and onions before a treacherous bike ride through D.C.’s morning traffic. They’ve shared roast chicken and salad after a long day at the office, and left notes on perfectly-ripe avocados to spread on my evening slice of supper toast. And they’ve introduced me to Japanese hot pot: a first, and a delight to come home to one chilly Monday night.

As the chef herself put it, nabe is a “true communist meal”: each diner gives and takes according to their ability and need. There’s one big pot in the middle, steaming and stewing away with fresh cabbage, spinach, and seafood. Rather than tending your own little morsel, as is the case with fondue, you simply toss things into the pot at will and fish them out as you so desire.

In the end, everyone is amply fed.

I’m slowly relaxing into life here: exploring the smooth corners and rough edges of the communities around me, giving my hours to this new world and taking from its pool when I need to. There will be times, I know, when take-out will triumph and I will succumb to canned soup. But because I believe in and love good food, my fully-stocked (and darling) kitchen will call me back to a place I hope to never unlearn.

Until then, I owe it to my housemates.

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kabocha-udon noodle bowl

As I mentioned in my recent buttercup soup post, I’ve been trying to sample all the squash varieties I can get my hands on this fall. I never thought of squash as an ethnic food, but I recently discovered the Japanese pumpkin, or kabocha:  a nutty-sweet, smooth-fleshed variety that often sneaks its way onto tempura vegetable platters.

Squash is usually paired with heavy dishes like risotto or creamy pastas. This brothy soup however, showcases the richness of the kabocha against a much lighter backdrop.

Kabocha’s seaweed co-star enlivens the soup with minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and zinc) and is touted by some of the gurus as being essential to detoxifying and overall health. (One of them being Lance Armstrong. As an aspiring triathlete, I’m inclined to believe him.)

If you don’t prepare a lot of Japanese food, this dish will require a special trip. I was short of only two ingredients, but thankfully there’s an Asian market half a mile down the road. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to shop somewhere where most of what I buy will be new taste sensations. I biked there for udon noodles and kelp, and was back in time to have the whole thing simmering away in under an hour.

Udon noodles are thick and chewy Japanese wheat flour noodles often found packaged fresh in the refrigerator section. If you can’t find them, you can substitute almost any type of Asian noodle. These give the stew a certain heft we’re all craving this time of year, and it’s worthy seeking them out.

As for the other obscure ingredients, I promise that you’ll enjoy having some of them on hand. Shoyu and mirin are great marinades, dressing ingredients, and deli-tofu staples. The original recipe called for kelp, which is a brownish color and comes in sheets you then remove. I used a thinner seaweed (hijiki? arame?) which I liked enough to leave in the soup.

Japanese food always leaves me with a clean, fresh feeling. This delicate yet chunky soup, thanks again to the geniuses at Veganomicon, is no exception.

Kabocha photo courtesy of The Kitchn.

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buttercup lentil soup

Squash is a rather deceiving name for the vegetable to which it refers. With pudgy approachability and even cuteness, the squash family is far from cushy. Take, for example, this buttercup. Looks delightful enough. With its little cap and almost folded-in appearance, it’s the grandmother of the fall harvest.

But set a knife to it and it sure puts up a fight. This hard fact is what led me to one of the most important realizations of my cooking life: squash need not be peeled before cooking. Nope. No matter what those recipes tell you, “squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped” need not require a follow-up cool down and protein shake.

The secret’s in roasting the squash first: Hack it up (or not, as some argue) throw it in the oven, and digging into that squishy soft squash-flesh will become one of your happiest soup making memories.

Lately I’ve been trying to venture out of my butternut rut. There are just so many other squashes to try: hubbard (not so impressed with my specimen), spaghetti, and acorn (one of my favorites to stuff), to name a few. I finally got around to this buttercup, whose dense, creamy flesh surprised me. I’ve also got two Delicatas on hand to try sometime this week.

There are as many ways to prepare squash as there are to love it, but one of my favorites has to be soup. I know I could have just substituted this buttercup into any squash soup recipe, but instead decided to do an off-the-cuff version with whatever needed to be used.

And it was good. Very good. With bright tomato red, spinach green, and buttercup orange, this soup is fall’s palate in a bowl.

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pleasant thoughts tomato soup

I posted on cold soup once before, and it was a hit. It even got me a link on Wikipedia. (Applause may now commence.) I tried another one last night from my latest Bon Appetit, titled unassumingly “Summer Tomato and Bell Pepper Soup,” and with one spoonful fell instantly in love.

Never one to order soups that prance about menus with names like gazpacho and vichyssoise, I approached this cold soup with some reluctance. The recipe began, however, with the promise that “ripe summer tomatoes are perfect just as they are…” and I was lured deeper. Summer tomatoes simply make me weak.

The day had been another scorcher. Some new friends were coming over for dinner, and I was determined to use as little heat as possible for its preparation. I still had to visit three different locations to procure the appropriate ice cream, roasted red peppers, and good bread, but managed to keep my cool. The dessert was baked early in the morning, and the main course quickly seared and delivered to plates without too much of a sweat.

All the other accoutrements were served in the cool-as-a-cucumber-style of this fresh first course.

This soup’s preparation is as simple as a sandwich. “But I’m not a cook,” you might say. Well, this here concoction involves none of that intimidating heating-of-ingredients business. Like all simple dishes, the result rests only on the quality of your ingredients, not your skill.

Finding those really special tomatoes was, I have to admit, a bit of a chore. I tasted local tomatoes at the co-op, and smelled red globes at two major grocery chains: Disapointment lurked in every overflowing bin. The mushy, bland, and boring specimens reminded me that my dear tomatoes just haven’t yet hit their peak. But I wasn’t willing to give up yet. A stop at a friend’s garden led me to lush green plants bearing their tiny, heavy treasure.

In all shades of fire the tomatoes fell into my hands and into my soup. Yes, I still had to use some less-than-perfect “over the counter” tomatoes to plump it up a bit, but I believe it was these little explosions of sweetness that truly saved the day.

Just when I thought I’d have to kiss my soup craving goodbye until November, this one snuck up and told the humidity where to go. I instantly fell under its spell of fresh-picked tomato goodness, because, as American humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote, “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Mr. Gizzard, I couldn’t agree more.

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give peas a chance

One of my fondest school days memories is a grade four geography project. Our teacher put us in teams and gave each team a country to research and report on. At the end of the unit, we put on a cultural fair for our parents and other classrooms. Each team hosted one of the booths set up around the perimeter of the classroom.

What country did I get assigned to? France. Trying to ignore pangs of jealousy for the kids on the African, Asian, and South American teams, we began to brainstorm. One thing on the list was which French food we would provide samples of. My vote for fries was quickly bulldozed by the safety issues of a deep fryer in an elementary classroom.

The next best thing? Pea soup. As if France wasn’t bad enough. Now nobody would come to our booth.

I was a naive child. In the end I was proud of us, decked out in berets. I was also proud of the booth we ran, with its red-and-white checkered tablecloth and café atmosphere.

But oh, the soup. I can’t remember whose mom made it, but it was silky-smooth and a bright crayon-green. Sweet, with a gulp of robust legumes. Fresher than chili but more satisfying than your average, pedestrian vegetable soup. Parents were passing up  chow mein and strudel for our soup.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t eat pea soup again until a few months ago at a friend’s house. It was one of those simple suppers — one I’d never think of making, but that delighted me with every slurp. Pea soup went back on the back burner.

And then I bought a cookbook that convinced me to try it for myself. With one success down, I decided to go for it. After all, the first day of spring passed on Friday with nary an offering from me—how could I be so ignorant? A new season, one of my favorite things, and a warmer, friendlier one at that.

To you spring, I offer this bowl of pea parmesan: surpassing my expectations with its richness, the heartiness of a passing winter and the freshness of new green.

Good thing seasons don’t eat soup, because I’m a selfish sparrow.

bracelet2*bracelet by Rachel Sudlow

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