Archive | 9:09 am

The Soup That Ate Our Weekend

10 Oct

What started off with the very best of intentions turned into a three day epic of foraging, bean soaking, stock making and soup steeping that made Ben-Hur look like a movie about a puppy.

One evening last week, my attention was caught by the weather report for the weekend. It was going to be cooler, autumnal, soup weather. So I said to the boy, “You should make one of your soups this weekend!” The boy, if I have not mentioned it before, is a genius soup maker (soupier?).

A few years ago for Christmas his mother gave him an immersion blender and her master recipe for puréed vegetable soups. Since then, it’s been one soupy masterpiece after another. So you can imagine my surprise when he said, “Yeah, I’d love to make something with greens, and maybe beans.” To which I replied, “Oh, like a spinach purée or something?” “No, more like a chunky soup.”

Now, please join us for a play, a tragi-comedy, if you will, in three acts.

Act 1: The Foraging.

Scene: The living room, Saturday morning. Sun streaming in through two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip tea.

The Boy: So, can you think of any place that might have really good dried beans?

Me: Dried beans? You want to use dried beans?

The Boy: Yeah, we’ve got time to soak them, why not?

End.

I had talked him into making a stock out of, as I put it, “pig parts,” so it seemed only fair that he got his wish of having really high quality dried beans. So after a brunch of excellent Mexican foodwhere we basically sat next to the Hobbit and his girlfriend, we headed up to Kalustyan’s.

Now, it’s a darn good thing this was my first ever trip to this Mecca of all things spices, herbs and condiments, because, well, I have a condiment addiction, and if I had been making regular trips to this head-spinningly amazing store over the 8 years or so that I’ve lived in New York, well, I’d probably have died in some sort of condiment avalanche à la the legendary Collyer brothersby now. If you live in NYC and you read this blog and you haven’t made it to Kalustyan’s yet, please, go this weekend. It’s essential. And it’s not just Indian sub-continental goods, we got some Ajvar and the world’s most sinfully delicious truffle salt (more on that in a day or two).

But I digress. We settled on two kinds of beans; Borlotti and European Solider Beans (and a few other things), paid, and headed for the Greenmarket where I chose a Buffalo knuckle and some ham hocks for the base of our soup and the boy went leafy greens crazy.

Act 2: The Soaking & The Stocking.

Scene: The living room, Saturday afternoon. A rosy light glows at the edges of two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip tea.

The Boy: So, you know, we don’t have to go to Queens tonight.

Me: No? Are you sure?

The Boy: Yeah, we should go eat there when it can be an all day thing.

Me: Okay, then I’ll start the stock!

End.

The plan had been to provision, come home, soak the beans, have a cuppa, and then head back out, to Queens, for dinner at the Kabab Café. Have I even mentioned that the boy has a massive addiction to North African, Arabian, Levantine and Middle Eastern cuisines? Well, he does. It’s beyond an addiction, in fact, I might call it a mania. But it’s a good one. Aside from my unnatural aversion to felafel, it’s one I whole heartedly endorse.

But I digress. The beans were happily soaking on top of the fridge, right next to Sprout, and the newly acquired Mrs. Ticking Hen, as I popped my soup joints into a stock pot and covered them with cold water. I wanted a pure, meaty flavor to my stock, so I used no vegetables. No herbs. No nothing. Just meat. I’m sure some French chef will come and kill me in my sleep for this sin against mirepoix, but I really don’t care, because I was right and they were wrong.

This stock was not just a soup base. It was an elixir. I super chilled it and stashed it in the fridge. The next evening, there it was, under a layer of pure fat, perfectly jellied pure essence of meat. There’s nothing more amazing.

Act 3, Scene 1: The Steeping.

Scene: The living room, Sunday evening. A luminescent full moon can be seen through east-facing windows. Our heroes sip a 2002 Cotes-du-Rhone Villages.

The Boy: I’m worried about the beans. They just don’t seem to want to cook.

Me: Just jack up the heat and clap the lid on.

End.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

The boy started the chopping and browning sometime before 5pm. We estimate the stock and beans hit the pot at just about 5pm. By 8.30pm the beans were still crunchy. Like, bite them and they split into two halves like a peanut crunchy. This was bad.

So, what do two somewhat sane people do when their beans just won’t cook and it’s getting late and tummies are rumbling? Well, they eat turkey sandwiches with their fancy French wine.

It wasn’t so bad. The sandwiches were better than acceptable, and there was Masterpiece Theater‘s deliciously bawdy version of Cassanova (complete with cheeky Ali G reference) to keep me very happy while we allowed the soup to continue bubbling merrily away.

By 10.30pm we’d learned that the love of Cassanova’s life was still alive and that the beans were still crunchy. It was time to give up for the night and go to bed.

Act 3, Scene 2: The Steeping.

Scene: The living room, Monday evening. A pearly, slightly-less-full moon can be seen through the humid haze hovering outside two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip a 2004 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais.

Me (on the phone to my mother):Oh! Mom! I just got the thumbs up! Our persnickity pulses have finally given up the ghost! I’ve got to go!

End.

Yes, I did say that. Persnickity pulses. Sometimes I think my love for alliteration goes just a wee bit too far. But we’re not here to talk about grammar, we’re here to celebrate the fact that the soup was finally done. The borlotti beans were definitely done, in fact, most of them had almost completely disappeared into the stock. The greens were sublime, as were the bits of ham hock, that the boy described as tasting, “kind of like the pork they serve at Momofuku,” (possibly the highest praise possible for a “pig part”).

But, some of those damn European Solider Beans were still a bit mealy, almost like the flesh of an oven-baked potato. We decided that was okay however since many sources described them as having a “potato-like flavor and texture.”

In the end, after much trial and effort, the soup was amazing.

So, what to take away from this epic?

Buffalo knuckles + ham hocks = crazy delicious stock.

Kalustyan’s makes my head hurt, in the good way.

The boy is still the Nobel laureate of soups in my eyes, but solider beans are stupid.

I will never try to cook two types of beans at the same time ever again. No bean integration. Keep the beans segregated! Yes, this experience has turned me into a beanist.

But at least the soup was delicious!