Recipe: Earthy Bean Soup with Fresh Greens and Herbs

Sometimes things just work out.  A mood strikes you.  A craving develops.  You get an idea, start moving on it, and it all comes together.

Like this soup.

Bowl 3 - edited

My mood had me wanting something that I could cook lazily, with a relaxed vibe.  Slowly chopping vegetables, stirring in spices, and watching something simmer away.

My craving called out for something earthy and rich with simple, yet deep flavors developed from quality ingredients.

My idea was to sort through my pantry to see what beans or legumes may be lingering about, waiting for just the right meal.  Then, I headed to the farmer’s market and strolled through the booths, seeing what would catch my eye.  I became intrigued by a beautiful bunch of misome, a green I had never even heard of before.  The vendor explained it was an asian green and could be used similarly to spinach, kale, or chard.

misome 3 - edited

Perfect.  I took that bunch of misome home and this soup was born.

And it hit every right note.

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Earthy Bean Soup with Fresh Greens and Herbs

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry beans (I used a combination of great northern and orca beans), soaked overnight in pot - edited
  • ½ tblspn olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (+ water if needed)
  • ½ tblpsn smoked paprika
  • ½ tspn salt
  • ¼ tspn black pepper
  • 1 bunch of fresh misome or spinach, chopped
  • 1 tblspn fresh marjoram
  • 1 tblspn fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Warm olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until vegetables just begin to soften.
  2. Add bell pepper, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, coating the vegetables with the spices, for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add tomatoes, soaked and drained beans, and vegetable broth.  If your broth does not cover your beans, add a bit of water until it does.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until beans are cooked through.
  4. Add in chopped misome or spinach, along with the marjoram and oregano.  Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as desired.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, just enough time for the greens to cook down.  Remove from heat and serve.

Foodie Firsts: Mung Beans

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Another bean is on the agenda this week.  This time I’m talking about mung beans.  Mung beans, from my perspective, are rarely used in American households (they certainly were in mine) and it’s a shame.

A sad, sad shame.

Why?

dry in bowl - edited

Well, mung beans (also called moong beans) are fantastic.  I knew next to nothing about these tiny green/yellow legumes when I set out to cook with them, but I quickly learned that they are incredibly versatile.  Quite frankly, given how many things you can do with them, I’m surprised they are not more of a kitchen staple.  Maybe I need to start a ‘Eat Your Mung Beans’ campaign.

Mung means can be made sweet or savory, cooked whole or broken down, turned into dal or bread, sprouted, or broken down into a paste.  Clearly, they are flexible little things.  I obviously didn’t have time to try all of these manifestations for today’s post, but I did decide to commit to trying mung beans in two different preparations.  I went with a basic savory dish and also tried my hand with bread making in the form of dosas.

I should also mention that mung beans are incredibly healthful.  Like their other various bean cousins, they are a low-glycemic food, are great sources of protein and fiber, and have cancer fighting properties (protease inhibitors).  So, hooray for health!  (I see my campaign coming to life.)

Of the two mung bean dishes I tried, one was successful and one was  . . . not so successful.  Why don’t we start with the good news first?

I decided to combine some of my mung beans with lentils and prepare a dal, as this is one of the most traditional uses of this ingredient.  Also, dal is delicious and I’ll eat it pretty much whenever I can.  So, there’s that.

meal plated 2 - edited

I loved the mung beans this way and found them incredibly easy to work with.  They partnered well with the red lentils and created a tasty and satisfying dinner.  I’ve seen mixed notes on whether or not mung beans need to be soaked overnight (as you might with other dried beans).  I’m sure you could do so, but I will say that I skipped this and they cooked up wonderfully without any soaking whatsoever.

As for the dosas . . . well, I will try them again.  In all honesty, I think the problems I had with them were entirely my fault and not the fault of the recipe or the ingredients.  I had never eaten nor prepared any type of dosa before, so it was a new process.  They actually had good flavor, but the thickness, size, and texture was off.  Dosas are meant to be large, thin discs of bread, but my batter didn’t seem to spread very much and instead of forcing it to, I just went forward and made them thicker than they should have been.  The result was disappointing, as they didn’t fully cook through well and had an undercooked, too doughy consistency in the middle.  In the future, I think thinning the batter a bit with water will be necessary.

Yet another cooking lesson learned, I suppose.

Regardless of my less than stellar dosa making skills, I’m definitely pro-mung bean.  I’ll be adding them into my repertoire and will likely swap them for lentils from time to time to add a bit more variety in my kitchen.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I highly recommend going the traditional route and using mung beans to make a dal.  Use your favorite dal recipe dosa - edited(there are plenty out there) or try this one here, which I used as a basis for the one I made.

I also just saw this blog post pop up from Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks and think a mung bean hummus is a wonderful idea.

Get sprouting!  I haven’t sprouted my own beans yet (maybe this is a future endeavor for me), but I know enough to know that it can be done in any home kitchen.  Sprouts are delicious added to salads and wraps and I especially love the crunch they give to a good stir fry or bowl of noodle soup (like pho).

Lessons Learned:  The world of beans is an endless bounty of delicious and nutritious foods.  A different variety exists for even the smallest preferences in color, texture, size, and taste.  I love this.  When I think about how many times, since becoming a vegetarian and switching to a mostly whole foods/minimally processed foods diet, I have read or heard others ask the inevitable questions about my ways of eating (You know the ones:  Where do you get your protein?  What do you possibly eat as a main dish?  Do you just eat salads all day?), I have to laugh and think about things like this.  I understand the questions – really I do.  I would have asked them once, too.  But, it’s funny to me now.  All the foods I have discovered in the last year, the delicious dishes I have savored, and the ingredients I have become infatuated with have only broadened my culinary world – not limited it.

Foodie Firsts: Orca Beans (AKA Calypso Beans and Yin Yang Beans)

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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There I was strolling through the store, all set to pick up the final couple of items I needed for dinner that night, when I spotted something beautiful and unfamiliar to me.

I love it when this happens.

in bowl - edited

The item I had spotted was in the bulk food section.  Included among the rows and rows of bins filled with nuts, seeds, and pastas, were the bins of beans.  There were your usual suspects – kidney, black, pinto, cannellini, navy – but there was also a variety I had never seen or heard of before . . . . orca beans.  These beans are gorgeous.  Boldly patterns of black and white swirl across the surface of these beautiful legumes, just as they do on their namesake.  I took home several scoops and set about learning more about orcas (because last week, I learned the importance of research!).

It turns out that orca beans hail from Mexico.  They are also commonly called calypso or yin yang beans.  Through various Internet trolling, it is noted that they are a fairly rare variety and are often paired with corn or other traditional Mexican ingredients.

I decided to cook up these beans with corn, but instead of going with tried and true Mexican flavors, I was inspired by a recipe celebrating the flavors of Native America.  Granted these two cuisines have a lot in common, so many of the ingredients here can be found in both.   You can see the recipe that I used for inspiration here at Vegetarian Times.  I followed the sage pesto portion almost to a tee (except for subbing half the oil with vegetable broth – a little trick I learned to lighten things up a bit).  Then, I combined the pesto and orca beans with cooked brown rice, zucchini, corn, garlic, onion, and peppers.

in bowl close up - edited

I soaked my orca beans overnight and, in true food-nerd fashion, got excited peeking at them glistening in the water.  They really are appealing little things!   Cooking these beans was a cinch.  After their fairly long soak, they only needed about 45 minutes before they were tender, ready to be drained, and added to the rest of the dish.

Interestingly, the black on the beans lightens in the cooking process, turning to a shade of brown.  I found that these beans held their shape and form quite well, not breaking down as much as, say, a navy bean might do.  The taste was pleasant enough, but fairly unremarkable.  That’s not to say they weren’t tasty, they just didn’t necessarily stand out as exceptionally different from their bean cousins.  I read one description of orca beans that commented on their potato-like taste.  I suppose that I would say that they did have a somewhat starchy quality to them, which is reminiscent of a white potato, though I wouldn’t go as far to say that they tasted like potatoes (but, seriously, someone should get on that – a bean that tastes like potatoes would be amazing).  I could see them working in just about any recipe that called for kidney or cannellini beans quite well, adapting to whatever spices and herbs may be added to them.

cooking with beans added in - edited

Overall, these beans were quite fun to try.  They seem very versatile and I can imagine picking them up again in the future when I want a bean that will stay somewhat firm through an extended cooking process, without distracting from a specific desired flavor profile.  Plus, they are visually very interesting and can add a playful appearance to an otherwise standard dish.

I know there are loads of bean varieties out there that I’ve never tried before and this gave me an excellent starting point from which to keep experimenting.  I am certainly going to keep my eyes peeled to see what else pops up in those bulk bins!

Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  Use the recipe that I linked to above if you like.  The sage pesto was quite delicious and offered a nice change from a more traditional basil pesto.  Orca beans can also easily be substituted for black beans or kidney beans in soups, stews, or chili.  I also imagine they’d be excellent stuffed into peppers and baked with your grain of choice and chopped vegetables.

I’m curious as to how they would work in a bean burger.  My feeling about their texture and taste is that they could make a pretty fantastic vegetarian burger patty, maybe combined with oats, rice, corn, or quinoa, as well as a binder and plenty of seasoning.  I might try this in the future.

Lessons Learned:

Visual appeal is important in food.  I knew this already, of course, but the value of it really stood out when I came across these beans.  Like a child taken in by shiny objects, I was so drawn to the color and pattern of these beans that it made cooking them all that much more engaging.

Pay attention to cooking times with different beans!  I had expected these to take somewhere between 1-1 ½ hours to cook, but they were done in 45 minutes!  They were pretty small which may have had something to do with it.  Either way, I’m lucky that I checked on them when I did, because letting them go unchecked could have led to a mushy bean disaster of epic proportions!