Cool morning air means hot soup’s on

Published 1:20pm Thursday, September 13, 2012

I know I am counting my chickens before they hatch and am also probably jinxing this beautiful weather, but here it goes anyway. There has been just the tiniest bit of cool in the air the last few mornings when I’ve left for work, and Saturday night in the Grove one of the girls asked for a jacket to cover her shoulders.

So I know I am getting really close to what I love the most — cooking for cold weather! It will be time for pots of soup, red beans and rice and gumbo and nothing makes me happier, because they are my favorite things to cook.

In these two recipes there are two common threads that you need to note. The first one is they both have a legume in them which is the main protein, not meat. And one thing you always need to do with beans of any kind before you cook them is rinse them in colander and look through them carefully for small pebbles and other debris.

Second, balsamic vinegar is in each recipe. Balsamic vinegar adds a little note of flavor in many dishes on which people cannot put their finger. They just know something tastes delicious. I also add a little balsamic vinegar to my spaghetti sauce close to the end of cooking.

Please note in the first recipe you take out a little of the soup and blend it and add it back to the soup, this is done to add body to the soup. Be careful when you do this, because the contents in you blender or processor are hot and when you process it, the steam can make the top come off of your blender.

You can get burned, and you will definitely have a mess. If using a blender, take the little middle part out of you top to let the steam escape and blend slowly. If using a food processor leave the tube open on the top for the same reason.

 

Lentil soup

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1 large white onion, chopped fine

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 cup lentils, rinsed

1 teaspoon salt

Ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

 

Fry the bacon in a large stockpot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered out and the bacon is crisp. Add the onion and carrots, cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. This takes about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just about a minute, do not let this brown. Add in the tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme, stirring occasionally and cook for about a minute. Stir in the lentils, salt and pepper to taste, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until vegetables are softened, this takes about 8 to 10 minutes, stir only occasionally.

Uncover, increase heat to high, add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape. About 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Remove 2 cups of soup from the pot and place in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, return to pot stir in the vinegar and heat the soup over low heat until hot. Serve hot.

 

White bean and ham soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large white onion, chopped

2 celery stalks chopped

2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 cups chicken stock

4 cups water

1 pound Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over to remove any debris

1 smoked ham hock (needs to be about 1/2 pound)

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1/2 pound ham, cut into 1/4 inch cubes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté for 4 minutes, just until tender. Add the thyme, bay leaves and pepper, stir to coat the vegetables. Add the water, chicken stock, beans, ham hock and potatoes, bring to a boil, reduce heat and partially cover. Simmer for 2 hours until the beans are tender and the potatoes are broken down.

Remove the ham hock and bay leaves. Stir in the cubed ham, balsamic vinegar, garlic and salt. Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to heat through. Serve hot.

 

Christina Hall writes a weekly food column for The Democrat. She can be reached at christina.hall@natchezdemocrat.com.