Recipe of the Week:

Monday, Apr 16, 2012

S.A.'s Hearty Bean Soups

First, if your family doesn’t feel that a hearty bowl of beans is a meal, you need to start down this path as soon as possible. In my childhood, even though coming from a comfortable, educated home, every single Saturday, while the house was being cleaned and weekly grocery shopping done, a big pot of pinto beans was on the stove simmering away. My parents, both raised during the Great Depression, descendants from Civil War families, had also lived through rationing during WWII. The pinto beans were served with cornbread slathered with butter. My father would crumble his cornbread into a tall glass and top it off with buttermilk. He had barely survived starvation as a teenager yet lived to be 88.

This is a survival recipe. It uses ham fat, which is critical, vital, and imperative for metabolism. Read James Michener’s novel Poland to see how hungry and deprived people feel about eating fat. If your diet is balanced, the fat in this recipe is just one more menu item that will not hurt you, but rather help keep your body well-functioning.

Onto the recipe: This works for any kind of bean, but my most favorite is black-eyed peas. You can use canned or dried. If dried, sort out the pebbles, rinse dirt off several times, soak overnight if you wish to hurry the cooking, cook until done. I always use a crock pot. Some people add a small amount of baking soda for gas. I don’t find it necessary.

·         1-3 cans of beans (use the beans, liquid, and rinse/swish with a little water to get everything from the can)
·         1 can Rotel Tomatoes and Chilis
·         Fat trimmed from a cooked ham

Buy a real ham, cook it, trim off the fat and save every fat scrap as you eat the ham. (Of course, leave on a little when you fry ham for breakfast as fat is tasty when caramelized.)
When you are ready for a pot of beans, dice the ham fat into a skillet. I use non-stick spray and a little olive oil to cut down on sticking to the pan. Brown the fat pieces and the ham bone and render the fat. When done, first allow it to cool and then gently pour the grease and fat pieces into the crock pot. Now put a can of Rotel into the skillet to de-glaze. Stir around until you get everything loosened.
Now pour the contents of the skillet (Rotel tomatoes, little brown bits scraped from the bottom of the skillet) and all the beans or peas or lentils or whatever with the liquid into a crock pot. No additional water is needed. Everything is well-cooked, but I let it go on low for a couple of hours to marry all the flavors. As the ham bone is in the crock pot, the last of the remaining meat and fat will loosen. Take out the bone and remove every last scrap bit and return to the pot. Some people think adding a tablespoon of vinegar releases some additional nutrients from the ham bone. I do this, but it doesn’t affect the flavor at all.

When done, serve with a dash of salt to taste, some chopped cilantro for green. Other optional toppings are fresh onion if you like, some sliced jalapeño or serrano pepper growing from your garden (right?) if you need more heat, or a trickle of Pepper Sauce, if desired. Commercial Pepper Sauce is simply small hot peppers bottled in vinegar, or you can make your own. As the vinegar gets used up, just continue to add more vinegar to refresh. A bottle lasts almost forever. You can choose to add nothing and this bowl of beans is still amazing and wonderful.    

Chef's Notes:

If you must have some starch, artisan bread, cornbread, tortillas, flatbread all go along nicely. Remember, while beans are a protein substitute, they are still carbohydrates. So you are covered there.   
Some cases of your favorite beans and Rotel tomatoes are a cheap, nutritious, and delicious way to increase your stores.
I eat this almost everyday for lunch and eagerly look forward to it. Fat has more calories than meat, so you will not get hungry in the afternoon. It’s rib-sticking, as they used to say. 

Useful Recipe and Cooking Links:

19th Century Recipes

Selected Recipes from Colonial Williamsburg

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