||[Dec. 26th, 2011|11:41 am]
Bean soup. Over the course of several holidays we've eaten a bone-in ham down to the bone. Ham-bone = bean soup in my brain's personal collection of "learned from my mother" recipes. I have a bean jar (old pickle jar) in the pantry, that I fill with a mix of bean types (because I like a mixed-bean soup) when it's empty: one bag each of (at least) kidney beans, a white bean, black beans, spotted beans (which can include black-eyed peas, or pinto beans, or the pretty red-and-black spotted kind, or--if we've grown any--scarlet runner beans, which are a beautiful white splotched with purple.) Last year we didn't grow any beans, due to the water restrictions.
This time the bean varieties included black-eyed pea, kidney beans, black beans, baby lima beans, and a second spotted bean (red & black spotted.) Because I had three ham bones in the freezer to deal with (but only two would fit in the pot) I used the 12 quart pot, which is now full of 2 ham bones, 2 quarts dry beans partly swollen up from soaking, and an onion. Needs another onion, some garlic, and some herbs. My Aunt Rena (a Dutch aunt, but no less my aunt for that!) used to say that beans could not have too much pork (ham bone or salt pork), too much salt, or too long cooking...I know others disagree, but her beans were incredible when you thought you were coming down with a cold, or had a sore throat, or life had gone dull and flavorless and not worth bothering with. I have gone out to their trailer when feeling next door to rotten, had a mess of her beans and cornbread, and come home feeling I could lick tigers singlehanded.
This will make way more bean soup than we want to eat all at once (it would take days) but having pulled the ham bones out of the freezer, there will be room for some containers of bean soup.
One ham bone from a 9-11 pound ham with some shreds of ham on it will season 4 cups of dry beans. With salt pork or bacon, you'll have to figure your own amount (I used to use salt pork, because we rarely had a ham; it does the job but is best if you cut it up in small cubes.) The hams you usually get aren't that salty, so you'll also need to salt it to taste. One medium onion, diced, per ham bone/4 cups of dry beans. At least 6 cloves of garlic per ham bone/4 cups of dry beans/onion. Soak the beans at least a couple of hours in cold water, drain, rinse, and put into a big pot with the ham bone, diced onion, garlic. Cover with water, bring to boil, turn down to simmer. I add peppercorns, a bay leaf, whatever other herbs smell good with that batch of beans and ham (depends in part on what I used on the ham when cooking it.) Later on, I may add mustard.
The foodie "al dente' thing is not to be considered. If a bean doesn't melt in your mouth, it's not cooked enough: boo hiss on breaking a tooth or even a floury "dry" interior. You should feel the beans as individuals, but no more than that--silken skins, lush interiors. Black beans are the slow-pokes in most bean mixes...and though they eventually melt into a wonderful meaty flavor, the floury stage is not to my taste at all. Long, slow cooking....checking the black beans preferentially, since they're slow to finish. The liquid should be thick, opaque, delicious on its own without a bean in it. Pot likker, it was called in my childhood.
Cooking a mess of beans with ham reminds me why it's so wrong to put beans in chili. Beans and pork are a natural pairing...beans and beef get along fine, if the beans have been cooked with pork. Beans served beside chili--great. Beans who've never been embraced by pork withhold some of their goodness from (to a bean) mere beef.
Cornbread is good with bean soup, of course. Pork, beans, and cornbread...ahhhhhh. But any bread stout enough to dip in the pot likker is good with bean soup. If in serious danger of a cold attack, put a slug of pico de gallo or other hot sauce in the bowl--scour those virus particles right off your mucus membranes. If you have enough bean soup, and an immersion blender, take some of it, with little of the liquid, put it in a tall container, and make it into a sort of mush. Best bean dip you ever put a tortilla chip into. I made a bean soup with black-eyed peas and some leftover lentils once, and tried out my new immersion blender on it...wow. We sat there eating bean-soup-dip on anything we could scoop it out with: chips, dry bread, and finally off spoons.