Tag Archives: legumes

Vegetable Bean Soup

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I’m not sure how many years ago we started the tradition of taking a long weekend trip late in January, but it’s one of my favorites.  I think it all began when I figured out that the holiday presents other than clothing my husband received were rarely used, so I surprised him with a trip to Solvang one year.  The next year it was Monterey, and from that point on, we tried to find somewhere to go just to get away.  Sometimes the boy accompanied us, but most often, it was just the two of us.  One year we may have taken a plane, and the next we’d drive.  We’d talk occasionally about stretching ourselves to go somewhere we hadn’t been before — Monterey, CA is still our favorite — but the whole point of getting away is to relax, and when you’re the semi-unadventurous people we are familiarity facilitates that relaxation.

We don’t go as often as we used to since life isn’t as hectic, but this year my husband charged me with finding somewhere to go within a reasonable driving distance.  I’m thinking it’s because the patio is torn up and figuring what to do with it is a far less attractive option than heading off on a Friday afternoon for anything unrelated to a DIY project.  I don’t blame him.

I asked the boy what he thought, and without hesitation he mentioned Julian.  You may remember me waxing over this small town early last month, and since I’d toyed with the idea of gifting my husband with a get away there before moving on to something else, my research had already been done.

We’re back now, and as much as we might have enjoyed some sign of wintery weather, there wasn’t a trace.  Clear blue skies, dry air, and highs of 65 during the day welcomed us.  The cabin was nestled against a mountainside beneath huge cedars, young pines in the undergrowth, and massive coastal live oaks.  The persistent rush of water from a stream nearby was the only sound to be heard.  We hiked, cooked a little, played cards and Yahtzee, and enjoyed the quiet, our books, and one another’s company.   I took Tessa Kiros’ breathtaking book Falling Cloudberries:  A World of Family Recipes which I finally treated myself to after seeing it for the first time about a year ago, and  read through it over the two days.

When I open it to make one of the many wonderful recipes from now on, I’ll remember last weekend and smile.

Here’s a simple, delicious vegetable soup adapted from one of Kiros’ recipes.  It’s light and full of bright, fresh flavor that will warm you through and through.

Perfect.  Just like our weekend.

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Cassoulet


I think the first time I heard anyone mention cassoulet, it was Martha Stewart years ago in the first version of her television show.  Outside of remembering that the main ingredients were white beans and a huge amount of meat for what could be classified as a one pot meal, I know she described it as one of her traditional holiday party menu items.  I also remember wondering how a preparing a pot of beans could be so involved.  Really?

Now I know.

To say that cassoulet is simply a bean stew or “dried beans and meat” is humorous because I grew up eating what could be called bean stew.  Beans go in a pot with few additional ingredients and not much attention.  Time goes by and a tasty dinner is served.  Bear in mind in this scenario, the bean to meat ratio is in favor of the legumes.  Cassoulet is anything but that, but I’m thinking it shouldn’t have to be.  At the same time, if I set out to make one of the many recipes I glanced at for “easy” cassoulet I’d feel I’d cheated somehow.  Perhaps I’d have something with flavor similar to cassoulet, but I’d miss out on what I often enjoy so much about tackling an involved recipe for the first time:  all the thinking I do.  There’s something very gratifying about methodically working through a recipe that takes some thought and effort.

I’ll confess this all began with a small jar of duck fat I brought back from England recently.  I saw it and knew it would remind me of all the possibilities, so tucked it well into my suitcase until we arrived home, then stored it in the fridge to think about.  Many traditional versions of cassoulet are made with duck fat, but I needed a recipe that wasn’t swimming in it, which means I would need to choose a recipe lacking in, well, duck — or more specifically, duck confit.  My little jar’s quantity wasn’t nearly enough to make that.

Some may say a duckless cassoulet is sacrilege, but I know the recipe I chose, which uses tomatoes and a bread crumb topping, could also invite that complaint.  Cassoulet is a dish originally from the Languedoc region in Southern France, with the towns of  Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne all claiming credit for its creation and there are as many variations as there are village cooks in that region.  Originally, I’d considered floundering through a Toulouse Cassoulet until I came to my senses realizing I hadn’t the time I needed to construct it.

I made the cassoulet, but I confess that I did not break the “film” that develops over it while it cooks seven times, so evidently, I did not create anything perfect.  Rich, yes.  Perfect, no.  With respect to all that’s good about home cooking, and for someone like me who truly enjoys the process of constructing a dish like this, it’s a great reason to gather a group of special friends for a special meal just because.

Especially on a cold winter’s day.

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Green Beans and Chantrelles with Fried Onions

Home Fried Onion Rings
Green beans go way back in my family.  And when I think of them, it's usually not the crispy sauteed with garlic and a few shallots way I routinely fix them now, but something that's a meal in itself:  A big pot of fresh green beans with quartered, unpeeled potatoes, and lots of onions, sauteed in bacon fat, and then stewed slowly until the mixture is somewhere between a soup and a stew. We ate it for dinner, and I can imagine that it most likely was light on my mom's wallet.  It wasn't a favorite, but I wasn't allowed to mention that part because it was food.

I have found a happy medium for dinner now, occasionally.  Especially during the holidays when someone expects "Green Bean Casserole."  You know the casserole I'm talking about, right?  The one developed by the Campbell Soup company in the 1950's  and made with Durkee's fried onions?  Yes, that recipe.

Because my family never ate green beans in a casserole, and we'd never have had our version of beans at a special dinner, I'd never tried green bean casserole until I was well into my adult years.  And when it was my turn to make it for a holiday meal, I did what I normally do — alter the recipe. 

It had to be better if it was made with fresh green beans that still had a hint of crunch to them, didn't it?  And the creaminess had to be able to come from something other than a soup can.  Don't get me wrong.  If you've spent any amount of time reading here, then you know that I was raised eating very simple, wholesome food.  So, I played around with a fresh mushroom saute with caramelized onions, rehydrated mushrooms and used the broth, made a white sauce, added some garlic, but never quite got the flavors to blend well.  It always tasted like greenbeans with sauce on them.

A year ago, I saw a recipe in Saveur that I had to try.  The only problem with it was that I'd have to make crispy fried onions and couldn't imagine doing that on a busy holiday cooking day.  Who comes up with these ideas?  Clearly, someone who doesn't have responsibility for an entire meal.  The only problem is, even though I prepped everything the way the recipe read, I sort of forgot to think about the whole onion frying thing.  Oops.

Since then I've tried the recipe quite a few ways — fried onions and no fried onions, and have found the flavors so nice, that a few shallots works just fine when you're too busy to mess with deep frying.

This year, since we're seriously out of commission due to construction, I'm in charge of green beans for Thanksgiving dinner — and a bunch of other non-turkey items.  I'm going to fry the onions at home first, and store them in an airtight container to assemble the dish after the drive to my sister-in-law's house right before baking time.  I'll have to let you know how it goes since I am anything but the Queen of the Deep Fry.

Have green been casserole, will travel.  Green Bean "Casserole" with Chantrelles

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