Savoring Spring: Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

Emerging from winter always brings an interesting feeling of renewal. Just the other day, I was sadly mired in longing for real produce. Tomatoes so fresh they are a meal unto themselves. Opening the door to pick a handful of basil and thyme. The flood of zucchinis and Japanese eggplant.

There is still quite a wait to reach those days, but at least yesterday we had deliciously warm weather. In an amusing dichotomy, the kids down the street had a snowball fight in short sleeves and shorts. As for me, I enjoyed an almost French stroll with my dog, walking into town and returning home with supplies from the butcher and the wine shop. If I was not baking my own bread these days, a baguette would have completed the picture. And some cheese. Really good cheese. And why do the carrots you find in French outdoor markets make our carrots look so pathetic? I digress. French markets do that.

I was pleased to see that our butcher had made some fresh lamb merguez sausages, and that became our dinner. I threw together a country stew that was quick to make and complemented the full-bodied Spanish red I had picked up. This kind of meal is cozy and handy when time is short. You want to make sure you like the sausages, since they provide much of the flavor heavy-lifting in the stew.

Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

Serves 2
4 lamb merguez sausages, skins removed and chopped
1 onion, diced
14 oz whole, skinless tomatoes, chopped (with liquid)
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
10 oz spinach, washed and chopped
2 eggs (optional)

In a deep saute pan, heat up a splash of olive oil and brown the sausage meat, then remove to the side. Place a tablespoon of the oil back in the pan, and discard the rest.

Saute the onions until translucent, then add in the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in the lentils, wine, water and sausage meat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and continue to let simmer for 15 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the stew starts looking too dry, add a little more water (you want it to finish moist but not soupy). Salt to taste — this will depend on the strength of the sausages.

I served this with the wine and some thickly sliced bread, but if we had not been out of eggs, I would finished the stew off with two eggs baked on top (with a little ground pepper and a pinch of paprika on top, and the pot covered and on low heat). Apparently this is trendy now, but I ignore such things. I just think it would have tasted great. To see what I am talking about, check out We Are Never Full’s Eggs Cooked in Ragu.

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

The blog has been pretty quiet lately because the evul-death111 cold/flu plague struck and struck hard, and I stopped cooking for a couple of weeks. It’s nice to be back! Of course, I warn you that we will probably disappear again for a bit, since kiddo #2 is expected literally any day now. Tick tock. I have totally forgotten what the first six months are like with a baby, which is nature’s way of encouraging humans to have more than one child. And if our English starts looking like we not only didn’t sleep, but also failed our first grade equivalency test, just blame it on that state of self-induced mania called parenthood.

This soup was the first thing I made when it was clear that I was not going to turn into a zombie and spend the rest of my days lurking around malls and B-movies. It ended up being an interesting merge of a soup bubbling around in my brain and a recipe by Joy Manning posted on Serious Eats.

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

1 smoked pork chop or ham hock
1/3 lb ground pork shoulder
1/3 tsp fennel seed
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 coarse salt
1/4 lb dried cranberry beans
1 cup dried green lentils
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 rind of parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf
3 cups of chicken stock
4 cups of water

Soak the cranberry beans for several hours in cold water before starting the soup.

Heat up a splash of olive oil in a large soup pot on medium-high heat and brown the smoked pork chop on both sides, then remove to a side plate. Place the ground pork into the pot, along with the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and brown thoroughly. Remove to the plate with the pork chop.

Lower the heat to medium and place the onions in the pot and cook until they start to turn translucent, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Then add in the green pepper, carrots, celery, and fennel and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients: cranberry beans, lentils, garlic, crushed tomatoes, pork chop and ground pork, parmesan rind, bay leaf, chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a light simmer. Simmer for an hour or two and check the tenderness of the cranberry beans. Adjust for salt and pepper.

Notes: if you want to thicken the soup, you can remove a couple ladle-fuls to a food processor and puree, then add back into the soup. I do not recommend using an immersion blender for this step, because you don’t want parts of the soup partially blended.

You can keep on cooking this soup for hours, and like most soups, it is really good the next day. I just ate it with some good bread, but you can also try it with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

smoky legume soup

Andouille and Yellow Eye Bean Stew

yellow eye bean stew

On a cold evening, I like settling down to a healthy bean stew. This one is particularly simple to make, and lets the smokiness and spicy heat of andouille sausage do much of the work.

1/2 lb dried yellow eye beans*
1 smoked andouille sausage (approx 10″ long)
3 slickes thick cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 ” pieces
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
splash of dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt

yellow eye beans
Yellow Eye Beans

I like to soak my beans whenever possible to speed cooking time, but in any case make sure you rinse the beans and check for any small pebbles. Fill a large pot with water 1 inch above the level of the beans, bring to a boil, then let simmer, loosely covered for 30 minutes. You want the beans to be no more than al dente by the time you move them into the stew pot.

Halve the andouille sausage lengthwise and then cut into 1/2″ wide pieces.

While the beans cook, in a heavy bottomed pan (I was using a 3″ deep cast iron pan), cook the bacon on medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes, then add the sausage. Before the bacon turns crispy, remove the meat to a side bowl, add a splash of olive oil to the pot, and add in the onion.

Cook the onion, stirring, for a few minutes, then add in the carrots and celery. Pour in a splash of dry vermouth and scrape up anything on the bottom of the pan. Toss in the parley, 1/4 tsp of salt, and the meat. Lower the heat, and let simmer.

At this point, reserve a couple cups of the bean broth (more if you do not have chicken broth), and add the beans to the pot. Pour in a cup of chicken broth and then add the bean broth until the liquid is just below the top of the vegetables. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 40 minutes or so, until the beans are tender. Check for salt along the way. I used a little more than 1/4 tsp, but your choice of bacon and sausage can affect saltiness a great deal, so don’t add too much too soon.

Serve this by adding a little freshly chopped parsley and drizzling some olive oil on top.

Note: I left garlic out of this particular dish, but it would go quite well. One could also serve this dish with a garlic, parsley and olive oil pistou if you wanted that flavor kick.

Note on beans: I really liked the yellow eye beans from Rancho Gordo — they were firm and mild in taste, and a little more interesting than great northern. If you do not have yellow eye, then I think great northern, flageolet, or vallarta beans would all be nice alternatives.

While this is a fairly classic bean dish, I think I will submit it to My Legume Love Affair, a blog event I always enjoy, hosted this month by The Well Seasoned Cook.

Lentil Soup with Pesto

lentil soup with pesto

Ever since I married an Australian, one of those rare moments of perspicacity, I have developed a fondness for all things antipodean. For many months, I’ve been wanting to join in the “Hay Hay it’s Donna Day” event, needing no other motivation than the fact that it is from down under. This month’s event focused on pesto, and is hosted by two blogs I have long enjoyed: 80 Breakfasts and Bron Marshall.

For HHDD, I decided to make an arugula pesto, and put it to work similar to an aioli in a soup. In this case, I made a rich lentil soup with ham and a healthy dose of tarragon that complemented the pesto marvelously.

Arugula Pesto

arugula pesto

1 cup arugula, finely chopped (1 cup after being chopped)
3 small/medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
a small pinch of salt

The Donna Hay recipe that 80 Breakfasts put forth used a rough chop method. I decided to loosely follow in those footsteps and leave the food processor in the cupboard, but I still ended up chopping everything pretty finely.

To lightly toast the pine nuts, heat up a non-stick saute pan and then toast the pine nuts for a minute or so, shaking the pan to move and roll the nuts around.

I should note that when I normally make pesto to eat with pasta or with bread, I go much lighter on the garlic, but this pesto was purpose-made for the following soup. I had the strong garlic aioli of Provence in mind as a rough inspiration.

Lentil and Ham Soup

1/2 lb dried lentils, washed
3 carrots, 2 roughly chopped, 1 whole
3 celery stalks, 2 finely chopped, 1 whole
5 small/medium garlic cloves, minced
2 medium/large onions (1 white, 1 spanish)
1 cup of smoked ham, chopped in a 1/3 inch dice
4 slices of bacon, cut into 1/3 inch pieces
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt + more to taste
3 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
1/8 tsp ground pepper (to taste)
olive oil

In a large soup pot, heat up a tbsp or so of olive oil and saute, over medium heat, the garlic and onions until onions are translucent. Remove onions to a bowl and place the bacon into the pot. Cook the bacon until it is 2 or 3 minutes away from being crispy, then add in the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, for another couple of minutes. Remove the bacon and ham to the bowl with the onions and drain any excess bacon fat.

Heat up the pot again with medium-high heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan with the white wine. Add back in the onions, bacon and ham, and stir in the lentils, chopped carrots, chopped celery, tomato paste, salt, parsley, and tarragon. Pour in enough water to about 2 inches above the tops of the vegetables. Add in the whole carrot and celery stalk (for added flavor), and the bay leaf.

Bring to a boil and then immediately lower down to a gentle simmer. Skim any foam or excess oil off of the surface as it cooks, and simmer for 3 hours (if you can wait that long). Taste for salt and pepper, and if the soup is looking too thick for your liking, add some boiling water as needed. Before serving, discard the whole carrot, whole celery stalk and bay leaves.

Serve in a bowl with a large dollup of pesto in the middle. As with most soups, this only gets better the next day.

Additional notes: I do not usually make lentil soup with tarragon, but found that it added an interesting element (and I like the herb – if you are less sure, halve the amount). In particular, I found that the tarragon complemented the pesto extraordinarily well, and the two together elevated a hearty, peasant-like lentil soup to another level of sophistication.

If you choose not to go with the tarragon and pesto flavoring as shown here, serve the soup with a nice handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley.

lentil soup w pesto

Peasant Bean Stew

Peasant bean stew plated

Yesterday I set out to make a cassoulet-inspired dish, without sacrificing my entire Saturday to the process. Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I’m in love with peasant / comfort food. My problem with many cassoulets I’ve had in restaurants, even very reputable ones, is how dry they tend to be. I’ve read Julia Child’s cassoulet recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but always procrastinate taking it on because of the time involved. Here is one attempt to solve both those problems, and I admit to being very happy with the result.

The post is long because I’ve gone into some detail, but the actual time involved was quite efficient.

Peasant Bean Stew

3/4 lb dried red nightfall beans (or great northern)
1 bunch parsley, tied with kitchen string
4 carrots. 2 whole, 2 chopped
2 celery stalks
4 sweet italian sausages (4″ in length)
4 or 5 slices good quality bacon, sliced into 1/2 to 1″ pieces
1 to 2 inches of hot sopresatta salami, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 full tbsp of finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 or 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (3 slices of farm bread pulsed in a food processor)
reserved bean cooking liquid (from making the dish)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Peasant bean stew 1

The beans: I used red nightfall beans (part of my Rancho Gordo habit), but there are many kinds of beans that would work well for this dish. Flageolet or Tepary beans would be nice, as would I think Cannellini beans. If you are working from a normal US supermarket you can usually find Great Northern Beans.

I put the beans in cold water to soak in the morning, but this is an optional step. It does speed up cooking time, however. I also do a quick, and optional, step at the start to reduce the enzyme in beans that causes gas in folks not used to eating legumes. This step, suggested by Peter at Kalofagas, is a bit easier than the steps Bittman suggests in How to Cook Everything: you put the beans in cold water in a large pot, bring to a boil for 2 minutes and drain.

Place the beans back in the pot, fill with cold water to an inch over the top of the beans. Add in two peeled carrots, 2 stalks of celery (halved to fit), a bay leaf, and a bunch of parsley tied up with kitchen string. Optionally, you can toss in part of a ham hock or some bacon here. Bring back to a boil, and then reduce to a light simmer. Turn off the heat when the beans are just tender — cooking time will vary but start testing around 40 minutes in. Save the bean cooking liquid in one bowl, and put the beans aside in another.

Peasant bean stew 2

Discard the parsley. Place the cooked carrots and celery in a food processor, along with 1/2 cup of the cooked beans and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Puree and set aside.

Note: I then switched to a 3″ deep cast iron skillet, which I placed in the oven when prep was done. If you don’t have something similar, you can use a medium-size dutch oven or continue using the pan you used to cook the beans and transfer to a baking dish before putting in oven.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cook the bacon in the deep skillet until almost crispy, then set aside. (Note: I would have preferred to have worked from good slab bacon, rather than thin slices, and thus have chunkier pieces, but had to work with what I had on hand) Brown the sausages in the skillet until just firm, and set aside. Drain the excess oil.

Add a splash of olive oil and saute the onion and garlic on medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the onion starts to turn translucent. Add the chopped carrot and cook for another couple of minutes, then pour in the puree. Add 1/2 cup of red wine, another 1/2 cup of the reserved bean cooking liquid, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for several minutes.

Peasant bean stew 3

Slice the sausages into 1/2 inch segments, and add the sausage, bacon and hot salami to the pot. Then gently stir in the beans, chopped tarragon, and parsley. Add some of the bean cooking liquid until the pot starts to get a bit soupy (see below), but not to the point where everything is swimming. Keep the rest of the bean cooking liquid on hand, however, in case you need it at the end if it comes out of the oven drier than you want.

Peasant bean stew 3

Turn off the heat and sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Place in oven at 375F for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350F.

Peasant bean stew 4

Bake the dish for an hour or so. Optional: about 45-50 minutes in, you can test for how dry/moist the dish is by breaking into the breadcrumb crust and checking for moisture deeper into the dish. If it is looking too dry, ladle some more cooking broth around the top and place back in the oven for long enough that the bread crumbs get dry and toasted again.

Peasant bean stew 5

There are so many directions you can take a dish like this, in terms of the herbs you use and the meats. It would be a great use for leftover brisket or a pork shoulder braise. If you do end up doing a riff on this recipe and like the results, please let me know!

Farroto with walnuts and beans

This has been a busy work week, so it is time to catch up. First off, I was glad to see the very positive reception to my note to the Foodbuzz community, calling for restraint with the “send to a friend” feature, which was leading to email overload.

Second, I had a very enjoyable meetup with a great group of bloggers at Batali’s Lupa restaurant. That’s Kalofagas (whose being in town brought this gang together), Colloquial Cookin, Bacon & Rhubarb, Chefs Gone Wild, and Stacey Snacks below.
blogger lunch
It was a very friendly, unpretentious group of people and the conversation ranged all over the map. I had not been back to Lupa for about 8 or 9 years since its early days, and I have to say that I had an absolutely fabulous meal. The wine complemented my advil mercifully (I think it was a bit more walking than I was ready for, but I wasn’t going to miss meeting this bunch!).

Now, on to a vegetarian dish that I made earlier this week, adapted from a recipe by Lorna Sass in the Rancho Gordo cookbook (I thought I would give it another shot). I have discovered I really like farro. I find this word “farroto” to be rather amusing — it means farro cooked like risotto. I can’t decide if it is silly, harmless or pretentious, but I do admit that it is catchy and makes me laugh.

farro risotto
Farroto with Walnuts, Pecorino and Beans

With the recipe, I had to change a few things (including not having a pressure cooker or scarlet runner or marrow beans), and the result was healthy, filling and had a nice, nutty flavor. I enjoyed it quite a bit (including the leftovers for lunch), but Lisl thought it needed to be punched up with something green, like a big handful of chopped parsely. I’m thinking maybe some parboiled baby spinach? Or perhaps an earthy porcini angle? I’d love to hear your ideas on improvements.


Farroto with Walnuts, Pecorino and Beans
serves 4

1/3 cup dried Mayacoba beans (or a favorite bean)
1/3 cup dried Vallarta beans (or a favorite bean)
1 1/4 cups semi-pearled farro
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
2 to 3 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you are not vegetarian)
2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese (orig. recipe uses parmesan)
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme)
salt and ground pepper

After checking the beans for any small pebbles, place them in a pot and cover with cold water an inch over the top of the beans. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, until tender. About 15 minutes before they are done, soak the farro in cold water in another bowl and then drain, discarding soaking liquid.

Remove the beans with a slotted spoon to cool, and leave two or three cups of the cooking liquid in the pot. Add 2 cups of vegetable or chicken broth and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

In a large saute pan with a high side (I like to use my large cast iron frying pan), heat up a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat, then saute the onions until they start to turn translucent. Raise the heat to medium or just above, and add the farro, a pinch of salt, and stir for a minute or so. Then stir in the wine. Crumble in the saffron threads and begin stirring in the warm stock one ladle or 1/2 cupful at a time, treating it just like a normal risotto and not letting it get too dry. After about 3 1/2 cups of broth and 20-25 minutes, start checking to see if it is tender (but not mush). In my case, I found it took 4 cups and 30 minutes.

Turn the heat to its lowest setting, add another few pinches of salt and some grindings of pepper, and stir in the beans, walnuts, rosemary, and pecorino cheese. Taste for salt and pepper (gently stirring it in) — it will probably want a healthy amount in all.

Serve with a little extra grated cheese on top, and a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Rhone.


Chickpea Stew with Coconut Milk

chickpea kale stew

For Sunday’s dinner, I wanted to go vegetarian and hearty. This combination of chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, kale, and coconut milk really hit the spot. This was a real stick-to-the-ribs meal for a chilly fall evening.

Served 4

1/2 lb dried chickpeas
1 green pepper, de-seeded, de-stemmed and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 onion (spanish or vidalia), chopped
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium red potatoes, chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
6 or 7 stalks of fresh kale, loosely chopped
14 oz coconut milk
1 to 1 1/2 cups of chickpea cooking broth or vegetable broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp of salt, then to taste
ground pepper
hot red pepper flakes

After washing your dried chickpeas and checking for small pebbles, place in a medium sauce pan and fill with water 1 1/2 inches above the top of the chickpeas. Add in the green pepper and garlic, and bring to a boil. Simmer for several hours until tender, then save two cups of the cooking liquid, drain the rest and discard the pepper and garlic. (Note: you can soak the chickpeas overnight to speed this up, or just use canned, but make sure you thoroughly wash the chickpeas if you use canned)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large oven-proof pot, saute the onion on medium heat, then add the potatoes. Let this cook for several minutes, then add the cauliflower and the sprigs of thyme. Cook for a few more minutes, and then add the kale, coconut milk (make sure it is well stirred/shaken), the tomato paste, ground cumin, and 1 tsp of salt. We used about 1 1/2 cups of broth, but if you are using canned chickpeas or less potato, you might want to start with 1 cup and add as needed. Cover and place in the oven for an hour or so, checking periodically to give it a light stir. If it looks too dry, add a little more broth. Grind in a little fresh pepper and check for salt before serving. Finally, add some heat by sprinkling red hot pepper flakes on top when you serve.

Notes: if everyone likes heat, I definitely would stew it with jalapenos as well. I am thinking this might be good with some smoked paprika but have not tried that yet.

Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

I fell in love with Greek food the summer Lisl dragged me over to a tiny island called Serifos, and brought me to where the locals eat. Heavenly. I discovered a dish where large beans (“Gigantes”) are cooked in a tomato sauce. I’ve been meaning to make it for years. I guess I was waiting for a starting point.

Enter the blogosphere. There are a number of Greek-oriented food blogs I enjoy, and one of my favorites is Kalofagas, by Peter Minakas. I discovered that he wrote about “Gigantes St Fourno” in Oct 2007. I took the recipe in a slightly different, more anise-flavored direction, but want to say thank you to Peter for providing the framework.

Gigantes with Tomato and Fennel

1 bag (~450 grams) dried large lima/butter beans*
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 large onions, diced
1 lb canned, skinless plum tomatoes, loosely chopped
1/2 large fennel bulb (or 1 smaller one), diced
1 large handful of parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
large pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
large pinch of ground savory (optional)
2 tbsp pernod
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 380F early enough that it will be at the right temperature when you are ready to put the baking dish into the oven.

Cooking the Beans
I soaked the beans during the day in cold water, but you can skip this step and just cook them for longer. Place the beans in a large pot along with the carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf, then cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer (not a gentle simmer) and cook until tender. If you soaked the beans, this can be about 20 to 25 minutes, and if not, more like 45 to 50 minutes but only cook the carrots and celery for about 20 min. Remove from the heat.

Making the Sauce (can be done in parallel with beans)
Heat up 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook the onions. When they start to turn translucent, add the tomatoes, fennel, fennel seed, paprika, parsely, tarragon and savory, and cook at a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Add about 1/2 tsp of salt and several pinches of black pepper. After about 10 minutes, stir in the pernod and continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, adding more water if it starts to get too dry. Taste for salt and pepper. Because the beans will have no salt, it is fine to make the sauce a touch saltier than you might normally go.

With a slotted spoon, scoop out the beans, carrots and celery and place in a large baking dish (I had to use my biggest one). Pour the tomato sauce on top and gently mix in. Then pour in the cooking liquid from the butter beans until everything is just barely covered.

Place the baking tray in the oven and cook for an hour, or until much of liquid is gone and the top is browned. Note: I got hungry and pulled them after about 50 to 55 minutes before they really browned nicely, but they still tasted delicious.

gigantes baking dish

I don’t know what the blogosphere Greeks will say about my fennel/pernod/tarragon direction compared to the classic, but I really enjoyed it and Lisl gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up. In tonight’s case, I went in a non-vegetarian direction by pairing it with some lamb chops marinated with rosemary and then grilled, and served it all with a nice red Zinfindel.

grilled lamb

* Note: while I gather from online reading that true gigantes are a different bean from the large butter/lima beans we find in our supermarkets, most recipes allow for the swapping of the two.

I thought I would submit this to My Legume Love Affair, which is a blog event I’ve been wanting to join for a while now. This month it is being hosted by When My Soup Came Alive.

Chickpea Chorizo & Spinach Soup

chickpea chorizo soup

Several weeks ago, the food portions of my brain were tickled by Bitchin Camero’s chickpea and chorizo casseroles, and 80 Breakfasts’ cabbage, chickpea and chorizo soup. I decided that the chorizo and chickpea combination was a necessity for my tastebuds, and this soup was born. It was perfect for a crisp fall Saturday, and could take its time cooking while we buzzed around the house.

Chickpea Chorizo and Spinach Soup

1/2 lb dried chickpeas
2 oz chorizo, sliced into bite-sized pieces*
1 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken broth
Pinch of smoked paprika*
1 jalapeno pepper (in this case, red), de-seeded and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 oz baby spinach, washed and loosely chopped
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper

Put your chickpeas in a large soup pot with enough water to cover 2 inches above the top of the chickpeas. Bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Place a colander atop a bowl and strain the chickpeas, reserving 3 or 4 cups of the cooking water. Set both chickpeas and reserved liquid aside.

Heat up a dash of olive oil in the soup pot over medium heat and then cook the chorizo, stirring regularly, or a couple of minutes. Lower the heat, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Add the wine, chicken broth, reserved cooking liquid, smoked paprika, bay leaf, jalapeno, and about 1/4 tbsp of salt. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Loosely cover and cook for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf, and add the spinach, lemon zest, tomato paste, and a few grindings of black pepper. Once again, bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer. Loosely cover and cook for another 30 minutes.

Before serving, taste for lemon zest, salt and pepper.

* Notes
You can get very different types of chorizo, and this will definitely affect the soup. The 2 ounces I mention is probably equivalent to 3 inches or so of a normal chorizo sausage. If the sausage is potent, you probably don’t need to add much smoked paprika, but if it is on the milder side, you might want to add another pinch than recommended above.

On Legumes, and a Strikeout

cranberry beans
Work travel makes food blogging pretty impossible. However, when I got back yesterday, I found that our copy of the Rancho Gordo cookbook had arrived from I’ve been cooking a lot of legumes (i.e. beans) this year, but that’s a fairly new thing for me. I’ve always ordered bean dishes at restaurants, finding such things as cassoulet or “white bean crostini” to be irresistible words on a menu, but for the longest time felt uncomfortable making them myself.

When it comes to legumes, too many cookbooks stop short, writing things like: “serve on a bed of cooked lentils”. Well, what kind of lentils? cooked for how long? on what heat? soaked? no soak? soaked with what? soak with hot or cold liquid? do you keep soaking liquid? etc … you get the point.

It’s like there was this body of assumed knowledge that I somehow never acquired. I felt amiss because I didn’t know the fundamentals and I dislike blindly following a recipe.

This all changed when I received a copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything earlier this year. All it took was a few coherent paragraphs and the veil was lifted. I’ve been having fun cooking with dried beans since. I certainly don’t feel the archaic stigma that beans were “the poor man’s meat”, and I have to question if that stigma even exists anymore with any generation that came after the Baby Boomers. I will also note that the whole “gas” issue does indeed go away if you eat them on a slightly more regular basis — something confirmed by vegetarian friends.

Looping back to tonight, I finally had a chance to look through the Rancho Gordo cookbook (for those who don’t know, Rancho Gordo is a neat Californian business that grows and sells heirloom beans). First reaction: unlike my instant love affair with A Platter of Figs, I must say that I’m a little unsure of the Gordo book. For starters, there aren’t nearly enough photos, which I’m sure had to do with their publishing budget constraints but it is what it is. An honest photo can tell you a lot about a dish and how it was cooked.

I have to familiarize myself with more of the recipes before I can pass verdict, but I did try the Chili Con Carne recipe tonight and came away puzzled by the cookbook’s approach. I tried to follow the recipe pretty faithfully save for using fresh chiles rather than chile powder (the book stresses using pure chile powder rather than chili powder, which is a mix… but I couldn’t easily find pure chile powder). The result — a too-thin soup that was edible but not worth making again.

I’m willing to entertain the notion that I completely messed up, but suspect that more likely the authors and I just have different ideas on what a good chile is. All this said, I remain optimistic that the cookbook will give me good ideas to work from, and I certainly continue to be a customer of Gordo beans.

But, for tonight, my picture of cumin seeds was more interesting than the dish itself…
cumin seed