The Week Before Christmas – 3 Different Soups

Three Soups and a Christmas Tree

As we were heading into the last few days before Christmas, I had the brilliant idea to make three different types of bean and grain soups. This way I would have my refrigerator loaded with healthy choices. At meal times when we are frazzled and tired, rather than snack on Christmas cookies or order pizza out, we’ll have three healthy soups that just need to be heated up. I am sure that we’ll eat more than our fair share of junk, but at least we have an easy option!

On Sunday I got out my trusty Fagor Pressure Cooker and settled in for a marathon soup-making session. Daughter is at home for the week so I am cooking for three people and I want to make things that will appeal to her too.

Garbanzo Beans and Bulgur Wheat Soup – This soup was easy to make but the garbanzo beans take a little extra time to get tender.  I didn’t soak that garbanzo beans. After picking over the beans and giving them a quick rinse, I put a cup of beans in my pressure cooker with 4 cups of water. I cooked them on high pressure for one hour. They were just barely tender after an hour. To the pressure cooker I added a cup of crushed tomato, chopped onion, celery and carrot, chopped cabbage, a quarter cup of bulgur wheat and some frozen spinach. For spices, I added a bay leaf, paprika and oregano. I got the pot back up to high pressure and cooked for another 20 minutes. At the end of that time, the garbanzo beans were quite tender and the bulgur still had a little bit of chewiness.

Garbanzo Bean and Bulgur Soup

You could make this soup on the stovetop, no pressure cooker needed, but plan on a good long cooking time for the the garbanzos. Just as  above, get the beans almost tender and then add the remaining ingredients.

My recipe yielded about six cups of soup.

I rinsed out my pressure cooker and started on Soup #2

Split Pea Soup – I love split pea soup but Husband and Daughter won’t touch it. I think that I will freeze half of it…save it for later.

To my pressure cooker I added one cup of green split peas, about 2/3 cup of potatoes in small dice, chopped carrots, celery and onion. I put is some thyme and a bit of smoky paprika. I added four cups of water and set my pressure cooker on high for 45 minutes. That was probably longer than it actually needed, but I like my split peas and potatoes to be really broken down.

Split Pea Soup

The soup was a little thick for my taste. And it will thicken up more in the refrigerator. Rather than thin it down right away I decided that I would just add water as needed when I was heating the soup to eat. My recipe yielded about 5 cups of soup.

I serve this with a lemon wedge and some pumpernickel bread. It is so flavorful. It seems very substantial. It is an excellent meal, lunch or dinner. I just wish I could convince Family of that!

Once again I rinsed out the pressure cooker and got started on Soup #3.

Pinto Bean Soup – this is one of my favorite soups of all times. I follow Deborah Madison’s recipe from her book Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
(one of my favorite cookbooks!).

To my pressure cooker I added 1 cup of pinto beans, 2 dried New Mexico chilies, seeded and stemmed, chopped onion and a clove of garlic, minced. I set the pressure cooker on high for one hour. At the end of the hour, I put a cup or so of the cooked beans and the chilies into the blender and pureed, along with 3 tablespoons of masa harina. I added the puree back to the pot, brought the soup to a boil (not under pressure) and cooked for about 10 minutes. The masa harina acts as a thickener and gives it that good corn-tortilla flavor. If you don’t have masa harina, just leave it out and the soup will still taste great.

The chilies that I added were not particularly hot. They added flavor but not too much heat. When I don’t have New Mexico chilies on hand I use chili powder. I would like to experiment with lot of different chilies – maybe chipotles would be good in this.

I made some Cajun Country Popcorn Rice to serve with this. The package directions called for 1 cup rice and 2 cups water. The rice ended up a little bit mushy. Next time I will cut back on the water.

Cajun Popcorn Rice

I serve the pinto bean soup over rice with grated cheese and salsa.

Pinto Bean Soup

How did my soup plan work out? I am not going to tell you that we didn’t eat some junk this week, but I will say that it was really handy to have all this soup ready in the refrigerator ready to eat.

Daughter really liked the garbanzo/bulgur soup. I served that to her a couple of times for a quick lunch along with some crackers and fresh fruit. All three of us liked the pinto bean soup. It made a quick, satisfying meal on more than one occasion. I was the sole enjoyer of the split pea soup, and I enjoyed it a lot. I still have a half batch in the freezer for next week, which will no doubt be busy too.

It took about 5 hours to get all three soups cooked, cooled and put in the refrigerator (though much of that time did not require my attention). When it was time to eat, any of the three soups could be heated up in just a few minutes either in the microwave or on the stove top.

The soup recipes could easily be doubled or halved depending on the number of people that need to be fed and their enthusiasm for soup. Using the pressure cooker cut down on the time needed for each soup but if you did it on the stove top, all three soups could cook concurrently.

All three of the soups had very different flavors. So outside of the fact that they were all “soup” they didn’t seem repititious. I think that with some imagination you could make three soups with flavors that are even more diverse. You could have a dal with Indian flavors, garbanzo beans with a North African twist, and black beans with a Caribbean taste.  The sky’s the limit.

Here is one last bonus to the bean and grain soup idea: If you have even  small bowl of one of these soups before you head out to a cocktail party or a family gathering, you will be much less likely to overindulge. These soups are so filling and good for you, you’ll be more likely to say “no thanks” when the bowl of queso is put in front of you!

 

Week Eight – Six-Bean Soup and Wheat Berries

With the holidays approaching, Husband and I decided that it would be fun to get out of town for a week; try and relax a little during this busy season. We hooked up our travel trailer and headed for Abilene State Park, 225 miles to our north.

We have a very well equipped kitchen on our trailer, but when we go camping I like to take some prepared foods so that meal time is quicker and easier. What better than a refrigerator stocked with precooked beans and grains?

We were heading out on Sunday and planned to be away until Friday. In preparation I made a pot of Six Bean soup, a pot of wheat berries and a pot of steel cut oats to take with.

I keep a pint-size Mason jar in my pantry and whenever I open a new bag of beans I put about a quarter cup of the beans in my jar. After a few weeks, I have a jar of multi-bean soup. I always put a quarter cup of pearled barley in my jar as well. The barley provides a nice thickener so that the soup is really soupy. You have probably seen bags of multi-bean soup at the store, and they are generally pretty pricey. This is my cheap version.  And it is every bit as good.

My Bean Soup in a Jar

You can season the bean soup any way you like. I used a bay leaf, garlic and smoky paprika.

I had never cooked wheat berries before. I had a package of Earthly Choice Wheat Berries. I followed the package directions which called for one cup of wheat berries and two and a half cups of water. The package suggested that it is good to use a rice cooker. So I tried that. It was a little messy, but otherwise worked fine. The wheat berry grains were separate, surprisingly large and surprisingly chewy.

Last but not least, I made a pot of steel cut oats using the Bob’s Red Mill brand. I prepared the oatmeal following Martha Stewart’s overnight recipe but this time I didn’t wait overnight. I brought the oats and water to a boil, let it sit for a couple of hours and then completed the cooking process. That worked fine. I should mention that you may want to thin out the oatmeal when you are ready to eat it, depending on the consistency that you like. You can thin the oatmeal with water, milk or milk substitutes (such as almond milk).

Wheat Berries and Oatmeal, ready to go

With a well stocked bean and grain refrigerator, we headed for points north.

Let me tell you a little bit about Abilene State Park. It is a beautiful place. It boasts a gorgeous swimming pool that was built by the CCC after the Great Depression. The park has huge, beautiful trees.  And this is the really neat thing… they have yurts. You can rent a yurt. Each yurt had a tag on it that said “Colorado Yurt Company“. Check out their website. You are going to want a yurt!

Yurts at Abilene State Park

Here’s the catch. It was cold. It was really cold. We had checked the weather before we went, but it was colder than that. And it snowed. And there was a bitter wind. And the sun would not shine.

Camping Trip with Snow

We were warm and comfortable inside our trailer, but it was not so nice to go outside. And Beloved Family Dog frequently demands a trip outside!

 

Beloved Family Dog - back at home and warm

Boy was I glad I had a pot of bean soup on hand.  So here is how the week went down:

Day One – Bean Soup. Husband loves bean soup. He loves to have bean soup with a couple of grilled sausages, some good bread and a salad. This is one of his favorite meals. Tucked into our little trailer, had a delicious hearty meal with all the things husband enjoys. The bean soup reappeared the following day for lunch, and the we were out of beans!

Bean Soup on a cold day!

Day TwoOatmeal for breakfast, Wheat Berry Pilaf (and leftover bean soup) for lunch. Heated up some oatmeal for breakfast. Topped it with bananas and pecans.

Hot Oatmeal for breakfast

For lunch, using the precooked wheat berries, I made a quick pilaf. I roasted some broccoli and cauliflower in my tiny little trailer oven. I heated the wheat berries in the microwave. Tossed together wheat berries, broccoli, cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon.

Wheat Berry Pilaf

Day ThreeOatmeal for breakfast,  Wheat Berry Casserole for dinner. Shortly after the oatmeal breakfast, Husband and I decided to throw in the towel. It was just too cold! We packed up our stuff and headed home. It was 24 degrees outside, the wind howled, the Sun refused to show his face. But don’t despair, we can still eat those beans and grains at home.

Husband's Artsy Photo of Snow on Cactus

By the time we got home, unpacked and warmed up, we were ready for some comfort food. I did a quick recipe search and came up with an idea for a sort of baked wheat berry casserole. I wanted something cheesy, fluffy, hot, comforting. That’s not exactly how things turned out. I rarely bake things so this is not my expertise. You will do better! I mixed together 4 eggs, a cup of wheat berries, a ton of cheese, some cooked spinach and sauteed mushrooms. I baked that for 20 minutes or so. Then topped it with cheesy breadcrumbs. It tasted good but it was just too dense. Husband thought that the wheat berries, with their chewiness, were overpowering. It was OK, but I am sure it could be much better in the hands of someone more qualified!

Wheat Berry Casserole - not as fluffy as we would have liked!

Day Four – Oatmeal and Wheatberry Breakfast; Butter Beans for Dinner. I was trying to incorporate those wheat berries into my meals. Breakfast seemed like a good place to do just that. I mixed half oatmeal and half wheat berries. I heated that up. Stirred in a bit of Almond Milk. Topped it with banana and some agave syrup. Good. Nice chewy texture.

Half Oatmeal, Half Wheat Berries

We had been out of bean soup for a while, so I cooked a pot of butter beans (a.k.a. Lima Beans!). When the beans were almost tender, I added chopped carrots, celery and minced garlic and cooked until beans and vegetables were soft. On a cold night, nothing is better than butter beans!

Butter Beans - delicious!

Day Five – Butter Bean Soup. This is one of my favorite things in the world. I love butter bean soup. I used all of the remaining beans and their broth. To that I added more carrots, celery and garlic. Also added about a cup of canned, crushed tomatoes, chopped green cabbage, a healthy splash of red wine. I cooked that in my slow cooker for 4 or 5 hours. At the very end I added the remaining wheat berries. The wheat berries were a great chewy addition. Unlike pasta…wheat berries don’t get mushy!

Butter Bean and Wheat Berry Soup

The Recap – Let me start by saying that wheat berries are perhaps one of the more challenging grains. They are big and chewy. Their flavor is pleasant but distinct and nutty. Husband gave up on the wheat berries pretty quickly. He would have preferred rice! I think that until you develop a taste for wheat berries, it might be best to use them as additions to other things, like soups or casseroles.

The bean soup is always a hit at my house. We ate that up in the first two days. Meat eaters would probabaly enjoy this soup with meat cooked in it, bacon, ham bone or sausage. Bean soup is very hearty and warming. It was perfect for our first real cold snap.

I did make a second pot  beans…the butter beans. The cold weather really made that seem appealing. And I did enjoy that oatmeal on the cold mornings. Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to one pot of beans or grains each week!

Give the Gift of Beans and Grains

Now that I am totally hooked on beans and grains, I thought it would be a nice idea to share that with friends and family this holiday season. Here are two great ideas that you can put together in your own kitchen. They are inexpensive, easy and make great gifts.

A Bean Gift: Six Bean Soup

Six Bean Soup: The final product

You will need five, one pound bags of different types of beans. You can use any combination that you like, but it’s nice if the beans are a variety of different colors. I used pinto beans, black beans, small red beans, baby lima beans and split green peas. You will also need some pearled barley. I purchased the barley in the bulk section of my store.

For the spice bag:

  • Dried minced onion
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Basil
  • Dried ginger (entirely optional)

Keeping the beans separate, pick through each bag of beans removing any ugly beans or debris. Using 12 clean pint jars, gently layer a heaping quarter cup of each bean variety in the jars with barley being the bottom layer. Try to layer the beans so that the colors make a pleasing array. You will have a little over a cup and a half of beans in each jar.

I got some really small zip lock bags at the Container Store, but any little plastic bag will work. You will need 12 little bags. In each bag place 1 tablespoon Minced Onion, 1/2 tablespoon paprika, a half teaspoon basil, a quarter teaspoon each garlic powder and ginger. You can can vary that to your own preferences.

I also bought tiny bottles of Tabasco at World Market to attach to the bean soup. Daughter and I cannot eat anything without some sort of hot sauce. We’re Texans…what can I say?

I cut little fabric circles to put under the jar rings…just to make things more festive. Cut a circle of fabric that is about an inch larger than the top of the jar. Put the fabric under the ring as you screw the jar shut. Not necessary, but cute.

Make a little gift tag with the following instructions:

“Place beans in a large stock pot or slow cooker, with 6 cups water. Add contents of
spice packet. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about 3 to 4
hours. Stir occasionally, adding water if needed. Soup is done when all beans are
completely tender, soupy! Garnish with fresh parsley, chives, Parmesan cheese,
lemon wedges. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.”

 

Six Bean Soup: The components

 

 

A Grain Gift: The Best Granola in the World!

Granola ready for giving...unless we eat it first!

As for the grain to give this holiday season, my niece Lilla Bernal gave me her unbelievably good granola recipe. This recipe is so good that every time Husband sees Lilla, he asks (begs?) for some granola. Husband is hooked on this stuff.

And Lilla has credentials. It’s not just that she’s my niece. Lilla is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, or as we like to say, she received her Toque.  She is currently the Pastry Chef at the best restaurant in San Antonio, Biga on the Banks. Her name is on the menu…she’s a big shot. She sells her fantastic pastries and baked goods every Saturday at the, oh so chic,  Pearl Brewery Farmers Market.  She is also the mother of the two most adorable children in the world.

Trust me, this is good stuff.

Lilla’s Granola

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Any combination of nuts, seeds, dry fruit your heart
    desires….to equal about 1 and 1/3 cup

In a large bowl toss the cinnamon and oats. Mix together in a different bowl the salt, oil, honey, sugar and vanilla. Whisk until fully incorporated.

Add the liquid to the dry. With your hand, or a spatula, mix it until the oats are coated with the honey mixture.

Pour it onto a non-stick baking sheet, or a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake about 25 minutes at 300 degrees. With a metal spatula, stir the granola around on the pan; this prevents you ending up with big clumps of granola. If you like big clumps, skip this step. Bake about 10 more minutes.

Add the nuts/seeds/dry fruit and give it another stir.
Bake about 10-15 minutes longer. Let the granola cool completely. Granola can
be stored in a zip-lock or other air tight container for about a week. It can
be frozen, for even longer.

 

Granola right out of the oven

 

Bean and Grain Gifts to Purchase:

If you would rather purchase bean and grain gifts to give, here are a couple of websites that you should check out. Both sell gift packs that anyone would be happy to receive:

Ranch Gordo Bean Samplers – heirloom beans beautifully packaged

War Eagle Mill – Check out the beans and cornmeal. It looks great.

 

I love receiving food gifts because it is something that I can use up. I don’t have to find a place to put it. It doesn’t have to be dusted. Both the bean soup and the granola make great gifts. They are easy and inexpensive to prepare. Give these a try…you will get raves from your friends and family!

 

Week Five – Red Beans and Farro

Let me start by telling you that I have never cooked either red beans or farro. I’m sure that I have eaten red beans in my life. I don’t think that I have ever even eaten farro.

On Sunday I cooked a half pound of small red beans – that is how the package was labeled: small red beans. I was surprised by how pretty they were. I was also surprised by how dirty they were. When I picked over the beans, I found five little clumps of dirt.  Occasionally I have found a little clod of dirt in beans, but I have never found five! That just goes to show that it is always a good idea to pick through the beans before you cook them.

Some red beans and a chunk of dirt!

The red beans cooked in about three hours in my crock pot on low. The beans really held their shape and they created a beautifully colored broth. I cooked the beans with about 5 cups of water and no seasonings.

I had a package of organic “quick cooking farro”. I cooked one cup of farro with a cup and a half of water. The grains were tender after about 25 minutes. The farro didn’t absorb all the  liquid. I drained the pot of grains in a collander.  I had just under three cups of farro, when all was said and done.

Cooked Farro

If you look up farro online you will not get a very clear idea of what it is. It is described as “wheat like”.  It is also “spelt like”. Barley can be subsituted for farro beacause they are similar. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that it is an ancient grain and it comes from Italy. My farro was rather large grains that were pretty chewy. It didn’t give off a lot of starch so the grains remained very distinct.

Here is how we ate the red beans and farro:

Day One – Red Beans and Rice (or farro). Having never before cooked red beans, I decided that I should start off the week with that Cajun favorite, red beans and rice. I ate my red beans with farro but I made some rice because Husband tends to be a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to food. I knew he would prefer rice.

I used a recipe from the back of the bean package to prepare the red beans. I sauteed onion, bell pepper and celery in a bit of oilve oil. To that I added a cup and a half of beans and bean broth. I seasoned the mixture with red pepper, bay leaf and thyme. At the end I added a teaspoon of cider vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. That seemed very weird to me but it was actually a pretty good addition. It made the beans very zingy.

Husband grilled a chicken sausage and served that on the side.  I also made some cornbread. This was a delicious and hearty meal.

Cajun Red Beans

Day Two – Fruity Yogurt with Farro. I got this recipe from the farro package. I sweetened two cups of plain fat-free yogurt with agave syrup. Then stirred in some frozen raspberries and a half cup of cooked farro. I would say this is three breakfast servings. I spooned a serving of that into a bowl, topped with sliced banana and some slivered almonds. The yogurt tasted great. I’m not sure how I felt about the farro in the yogurt. I found the flavor of the farro to be a little overpowering here. Nonetheless, it was a healthy and filing breakfast. I ate the remaining mixture over the next couple of days. Husband passed on this one!

Yogurt and Farro

Day Three – Farro Pilaf. This was excellent. I loved this combo. I sauteed onions and mushrooms in olive oil. To that I added a cup and a half of cooked farro. When the farro was heated through I added some chopped sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil) and a big handful of chopped fresh spinach. When the spinach was slightly wilted, dinner was ready.  The farro tasted great with these flavors. The farro is so substantial that this was a very satisfying dinner. Meat eaters could easily use this as a side dish. Delicious.

Fantastic Farro Pilaf

Day Four – Pasta Fagioli.  It seems like every week, I am making soup. I love soup. With a chunk of crusty bread, soup can’t be beat. In my mind red beans are traditional in pasta fagioli, so that’s what I decided to make. I threw all the ingredients into my crock pot at about 9 in the morning. By lunch time, I had soup. To the crock pot I added: one cup of beans and broth, one cup crushed tomato, chopped onion, celery and carrot, 2 bay leaves, some paprika, red wine and enough vegetable broth to almost fill my little crock pot. about 15 minutes before I was ready to eat, I added elbow pasta and some chopped fresh spinach.  I could have used farro instead of pasta. Farro Fagioli. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!

Ingredients for Crock Pot Soup

Pasta Fagioli

 

Day Five – Turkey Chili and Taco Salad.  On day five I hauled out my pressure cooker and made turkey chili for Husband, adapting Jaques Pepin’s chili con carne recipe. I used ground turkey rather beef. And, my red beans were already cooked so it was not necessary to add the 3 cups of water his recipe calls for. Husband says that cooking the chili in the pressure cooker makes it taste better. If Jacques Pepin thinks it’s a good idea, then I am all for it. If you don’t have a pressure cooker this can be prepared on the stove-top.

While husband ate chili, I ate a nice little taco salad. This was a simple salad with vinaigrette, but I added crispy baked tortilla strips, rinsed and drained red beans, grated cheese. I served some salsa with that. Avacado would have been a nice addition. This was a nice, fresh tasting salad.

Turkey Chili for Husband

Taco Salad

 

So how did I like red beans and farro? They were both new to me. I was surprised how much I liked the farro. It was particularly good as a pilaf. I will make that again. The red beans were fairly mild tasting so they are easy to add to all kinds of preparations. The fact that they really hold their shape makes them a great addition to salads. We ate all of the beans.  We had a little bit of farro left over. But having had no experience at all with farro, I felt like we did pretty good.