Slapdash.

You guys? I can’t stop making things with beans in them.

And this last time, I didn’t think my creation would even be that good. I slapped it together using techniques that weren’t particularly graceful, and ingredients that didn’t necessarily, at least in my imagination, immediately call one another to mind. All I knew was that I wanted to make some more beans, and put them into a soup this time.

You might remember my first foray into the wonderful, if not very wide, world of dried legumes at my local grocer. So this time I assumed my options were limited from the get-go.

Arriving in the dry goods/fountain of homeopathic remedies aisle, though, I spotted a few more bean varieties than I had on my last visit. Maybe I missed them before; maybe The Paycheck was broadening its stock. Regardless, this time I was able to get my claws on a hefty pound of black beans, and immediately, I remembered one of the first recipes I used when I started cooking in college…

It was black bean soup, and one of those “Fake It, Don’t Make It” recipes in Real Simple magazine.

Hush up. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, and for a time in my life I was a devoted subscriber to Real Simple (and actually might still be, were it not for the fact that they often claim that investing in an Hermès bag is a legitimate move for someone wanting to keep it real… and… simple). For a beginning cook, in fact, their FIDMI (whoa!: “feed me”? Okay, I’ll stop) recipes are a really nice way to get into basic techniques/ingredients and still feel like you’ve made something a real person would gladly eat.

So the other night, a pound of black beans humming away in some water (using Mark Bittman’s “short soak” method for beans, which, I can now attest, does indeed work just as well as a 6-hour soak), I slipped on my beat-up moccasins and shuffled down the block to the second-nearest convenience shop (the first-nearest, a place whose roof I can see from my kitchen window, only accepts credit cards for purchases over $20. Selfish). I figured, since I was using high-quality/-class ingredients for the rest of my soup, I could go with whatever dirty, processed salsa I could find at the shop, which turned out to be… Tostitos. It was either that or Pace, which, though just fine and perfectly suitable for dirty microwave nachos, I feared might be too chunky for a soup.

Shuffling back to my apartment, I tried to think of what-all else beyond the original recipe ingredients I could/should use. My hoard wasn’t quite to SFMF-levels (“I have… a potato of indeterminate age, three spinach leaves and 1.5 pieces of bacon. GO!); in fact, I had the opposite problem of having gotten a little excited at the store a few days back, resulting in some items whose futures I hadn’t planned in very much detail. But again, my driving inspiration was just. To make. Some more. Damn. BEANS.

I’m not particularly proud of some of these methods and quantities. It was, as I said, a rather slapdash endeavor, and there was a lot of indiscriminate dumping and a few inefficient cooking sequences. And though I won’t go so far as to say I’m ashamed of them, I also don’t want you to make the same missteps, so I’ll narrate a bit and point out where things could stand a bit of refinement. Here’s what happened:
  • I yanked 1/2 an onion out of the fridge, diced it, and cooked it for about 10 minutes in a bit of olive oil.
  • Added a diced red bell pepper. Cooked for another 10 minutes or so… to the point, you know, where I could have just added some pasta and been happy. But I didn’t.
  • Instead, I added about 8 very thin slices of pancetta I had in the freezer. This, I realize, is a departure from the traditional ham-hock or whatever it is that’s supposed to flavor black bean soup. But pancetta is what I had, so there.
  • Also threw in about 3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic, and some red pepper flakes and cumin. Shameful to say, but my spice collection is still rather (read: embarrassingly) small. I’m working on it, but for now the theme is still pretty solidly Mediterranean with a few token exotics, which is usually fine, but of course falls short when I venture too far into other cuisines. But again, it’s what I had, and for a first try, it worked out pretty well.
  • I let the pancetta finish crisping, then dumped in the jar of That Dirty Salsa. A note here: I suspected, almost immediately, that whatever simmering the salsa was gonna do up in that pot was going to pretty much kill any nice crispness that the pancetta had acquired by that point. But, on the plus side, the salsa would pull up any tasty crispy bits on the bottom of the pot, which I kind of live for. So… that was a draw. (It occurs to me in writing this that this whole process might have been better served with either a. another pot/pan for the pancetta or b. an extra beginning step in which the pancetta could be crisped up, then set aside, then the veggies & salsa & spices would assume their positions in the same pot. Or, I suppose, c. I could have acquired a ham-hock from somewhere and done my meating in the other pot with the beans.) (See what I mean when I say that this whole procedure was rather less than sophisticated, and that there’s infinite room for improvement/streamlining?) (Yeah, “meating.” You know, like, meat, the verb: to meatify something. I meat, you meat, he/she/it meats. Okay, enough.)
  • Meanwhile, I had peeled and diced a sweet potato, put it in a shallow bowl with a bit of water, covered it, and steamed it in the microwave for about 10 minutes. Once it was finished, I shimmied that into the pot too. Along with…
  • An **ill-advised** entire pound of frozen corn. Here’s the thing, guys: I bought the corn shortly after a lovely trip to Door County, WI this past summer, during which my friends and I enjoyed some pretty fabulous local produce, including fresh corn. Inspired by my then-recent eatings, I picked up some frozen corn in hopes of replicating the experience in the coming fall months. Not only did that, clearly, not end up happening, but every time I opened the freezer I found myself confronted with the evidence of my silly late-summer visions (really just good intentions, but still. Unacceptable). So yes, my emotions got the better of me and I made the rather sweeping, perhaps irrational call to throw the entire thing into the pot, just to use it and get it out of my life.
  • While the corn thawed and mingled with the other vegetables (I gotta say, I had a fairly colorful collection happening up in that pot), I got to work on the beans, which had finished cooking by this time. Now, I drained them almost completely. I’m not sure whether this was the right thing to do, but I knew I wanted to add chicken and vegetable stocks to all this to give it a more complex flavor, and if I was also dealing with bean-water, I was afraid I’d have too much liquid on my hands. So anyway: Drained the beans, put them back in the pot and added about 2 cups each of chicken and vegetable stock.
  • Busted out my stick blender and went to TOWN. (Rosellen calls this the “outboard motor,” which is funny on a few levels, but mainly because she’s so not an outdoor person, so the fact that she’s nicknamed this after a part for a fishing boat is just kind of great). This bean ‘n stock goop wasn’t totally pureed – I still like a bit of texture but of course the busted-up beans make things nice & smooth too.
  • Finally, added the vegetables to the “soup” and heated it all up together.
So yes, it was chunky, and busy, and the meat-y flavor was quite distinctly pancetta and not hammy, delicious, cured ham hock. BUT: It was complex and reeeeally satisfying. The corn, sweet and still a little crunchy, was a good move – maybe not so much next time – and adding a combination of chicken and vegetable stocks also felt like the right thing to do. It was perfect for a late-winter soup, and there was a LOT of it, which always makes me and my fridge/freezer swell with kitchen-mama pride.
It would be here that I would normally post a picture of the finished product, and it would impress you and make your mouth water and your eyes go wide. However, I must tell you the truth: I was so done with this soup by the time I finished that I just divvied it up between two containers, put one in the freezer, and one in the fridge, did my dishes, and bolted out of that kitchen as soon as I could. (I did have legitimate social plans, mind.)
Also, it was… not a pretty soup, per se. I mean, it was colorful. But… all that corn. And… the dark, thick soup base. Well, I mean, I’ll just… leave it at that.
On an unrelated note: I apologize for the long hiatus. I have nothing to say for myself. I’ve been lazy yet busy, and the only things to come out of my kitchen in recent weeks have been various SFMFs and peasant breakfast for dinner. And I’ve already told you about those things. And you’re over them.
Looks like it’s time for a fresh start. See you back here soon.

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