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!

Week Seven – Navy Beans and Steel Cut Oats (and some rice for good measure)

After a Thanksgiving week full of fattening, but delicious foods, I was ready to get back on the beans and grains bandwagon. On Sunday I cooked a half pound of navy beans and a pot of steel cut oats. I also made a pot of rice that we could use for dinners. I just couldn’t see us eating oatmeal any other time than breakfast.

As I was getting my navy beans ready to cook, I started wondering how they are different from great northern beans, which I cooked a few weeks back. Navy beans are a little bit smaller and I think they hold together better when they are cooked. As far as their flavor, they are quite similar. I think they could be easily interchanged in recipes.

Great Northern Beans (left); Navy Beans (right)

I cooked a pot of McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal.

I used Martha Stewart’s overnight method. To have my oatmeal ready on Monday morning, I started on Sunday night. I brought two and a half cups of water to a boil. I added 2/3 cup of steel cut oats (not the quick cooking kind). Gave that a stir, let it cool and then stuck it in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, I put the pot back on the stove, brought it to a boil and simmered for about 12 minutes.  Martha Stewart calls that two servings. I call it three.

 

A Pot of Steel Cut Oats

 

I also made a pot of rice. I used Ming Tsai’s brown and white rice mix. I soaked a cup of brown rice in water for a couple of hours, then drain. Mix the soaked brown rice with a cup of white rice, and three cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

So we had a whole lot of beans and grains on hand to start the week. Get busy eating!

Day One- Senate Bean Soup. This famous soup  is served every day in the US Congressional dining area. That is a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century. The recipe and the beans vary. But the traditionally, they use navy beans. I used the recipe found in the Joy of Cooking.  You can find lots of recipes online as well.  I used about 2 cups of cooked beans and all of the bean broth. I added some finely diced celery and onion, a bay leaf, a little bit of smoked paprika, and a cup of diced potatoes. I had some little Yukon Gold potatoes on hand, butI think Russet Potatoes are more traditional. I cooked this in my small crock pot. I added some water to the mixture as well. I cooked all this until the potatoes were not just tender, but falling apart. I put about half of the soup into the blender and pureed it (Be careful with hot soup in a blender!). I  added the pureed soup back to the pot.

 

Senate Bean Soup

 

This was really good. I have never cooked this before because the recipe calls for a ham hock. I was afraid that without the ham this soup wouldn’t have much going for it. But it was great. The paprika added a nice color and a smoky flavor. I served the soup with salad and a loaf of homemade bread.  Husband and I both loved this.

Day Two, Three and Four – Oatmeal for Breakfast. My partially prepared oatmeal had been sitting in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning I finished the preparation and had a nice bowl of oatmeal. I added some vanilla almond milk to it. And topped that off with chopped dried apricots, banana and some slivered almonds. I used agave syrup as a sweetner. But honey or brown sugar would have been every bit as good.

I had plenty of oatmeal for three breakfasts. I tried to change up the toppings each day so that I would have some variety. I found a link to a segment Mark Bittman did on the Today Show called “Five Ways to Jazz Up Your Oatmeal“.  Following his advice, on the second oatmeal morning, I added peanut butter and bananas to my bowl of steel cut oats.  And the next day I added coconut and raisins. I was sorry when my oatmeal was all gone! Oatmeal is a nice way to start the day.

One last thought about oatmeal. I found several websites that sang the praises of savory oatmeal. You could eat savory oatmeal for breakfast or for any other meal of the day. I was interested in that idea, but most of the recipes called for cheese, bacon, an over-easy egg, or some combination of those things. Runny eggs turn me off. But I am interested in the savory oatmeal idea. I just need a little more time to wrap my head around it. Check out this website for some savory oatmeal ideas and some gorgeous photos.

Day Three – Stir Fry and Fried Rice. I wanted a nice stir fry for dinner and Husband wanted fried rice. I am sure that you have noticed that Husband and I often eat different dinners. We have been doing that for years and it is a result of our different diets and preferences. He eats fish and fowl. And I don’t. There are many nights when we each cook up a separate meal. But we always cook together. And we always sit down and eat together. It works for us.

Anyway, on Day Three, I cooked for both of us. Our meals were similar enough that it was easy for me to do. I stir fried broccoli, mushrooms, onions, carrots, sugar snap peas. When the vegetables were crisp tender, I added some pineapple chunks to the wok. I made a quick sauce of soy sauce, juice from the pineapple and some chili paste.

For the fried rice I used the same vegetables but cut them up a little smaller. Stir fried those, added a couple of cups of cold cooked rice to the pan. Stir fried that a bit. Then created a well in the middle of the rice and added a beaten egg. When the egg had set up, I stirred it into the other ingredients. I seasoned all that with soy sauce and topped it with some cilantro and chopped peanuts. Husband added some chopped up, left over turkey to his fried rice.

Day Four – Three Bean Salad. Husband had a turkey burger for dinner and I had a veggie burger. We made some oven fried potatoes. And I put together a nice three bean salad using the cooked navy beans. I used a cup of navy beans and about a half cup each of canned green beans and canned kidney beans.  I added chopped red onion and celery. I made a dressing for the salad with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and a little bit of honey for sweetness. The beans and dressing marinated together for about an hour in the refrigerator. A very nice side dish.

Day Five – White Bean Spread with Pita Chips. This is a recipe that I got from a cookbook written by Heidi Swanson. It’s a great book with lots of recipes for beans and grains. The book is called Super Natural Every Day.

I put to tablespoons of good olive oil in a small saucepan. I added a garlic clove, cut in half and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Rosemary grows like a weed in South Texas. I have several plants growing in my front yard.  Heat the olive oil to infuse it with the garlic and rosemary. Remove the garlic clove and the rosemary stem.

In my food processor I combined a cup of drained navy beans, about 2/3 of the infused olive oil, a healthy squeeze of lemon, a small handful of slivered almonds.  Process that to a smooth consistency. You may need to add a little bit of water to get it just right.

Put the dip in a small serving dish. Top with remaining oil and some slivered almonds. Serve with pita chips. It was a great afternoon snack. I only wish that I had made it earlier in the week so that I could have been snacking on it all along.

Day Six – Cauliflower Biryani. Biryani is an South Asian rice dish. I am certain that I didn’t make a traditional biryani. But that’s what I am calling it. I sliced up some cauliflower, sprayed it with olive oil and put it in a hot oven to roast for about 12 minutes. Meanwhile I browned some onions in a skillet. Then added some chopped tomato and chopped cilantro to the skillet. When the tomatoes were softened I added a little bit of curry powder and let the spices bloom for a minute or so. I added some of my navy beans and some kidney beans as well.  I added the roasted cauliflower and a cup of rice. This was a very nice lunch dish. If I had had some chutney it would have been perfect!

My so-called biryani served in a tiffin dish

Post Mortem on the Navy Beans and Steel Cut Oats – I am going to start making those steel cut oats every week! It is a great breakfast. And as we learned from Mark Bittman, it can be dolled up in lots of different ways. The Senate Bean Soup was delicious. Next time I will make a bigger batch so that I can have leftovers. The navy beans were easy to cook.  They are mild tasting so they are extremely versatile. I also had a pot of rice. Because I limited my oatmeal to breakfast…that seemed to be a nice addition. This was a great bean and grain week.