Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

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Yesterday I was debating with Aaron about whether it was really that cold outside. My argument hinged on the fact that my eyes didn’t burn when I walked outside. I may be wearing fur-lined boots, mittens over gloves, and layers of wool, but if I can feel my face then it has to be at least -10 outside. As you may expect, Aaron won.

January is brutal. It’s sharp and cruel. It’s ironic, or perhaps appropriate, that January is the month so many of us are trying to do things better. Survival can be dicey- or at least it feels a bit uncomfortable. But I think that the sharpness of January helps spur us to make changes. For all of January’s hard angles, there’s a sparse brightness that’s beaconing. January is clean and spare. The days are getting longer, minute by minute. The sun is out once again. If we can do well in January, why can’t we do well in any month?

I wrote a bit about New Year’s resolutions in my last post. One of my resolutions is to keep creatively engaged with the work I do. I want to try out new ideas, new techniques, new point of view. To that end I’m going to try and cook from a different book every month. For January, in honor of this spare wildness, I’m using Amy Chaplin’s revered and weighty At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen. Amy writes passionately about grains, vegetables, beans, and a wide variety of superfoods and condiments that I’ve yet to use. It’s a beautiful book, but most excitingly it’s a fundamentally useful book. And although we play with a lot of the same tools, Amy uses them in a completely different way.

This soup, for instance. If I were to make a hearty winter miso soup, I’d probably caramelize onions in butter, add some squash, kale, and a can of beans, add water, and stir in a tablespoon or two of miso once everything’s cooked all together. I imagine it would be tasty, but it likely wouldn’t end up here.

But Amy’s soup is a beast, hearty and perfect for January. She has you soak then cook adzuki beans from scratch with kombu and shiitake mushrooms, then cooks onions, carrots, and squash in sesame oil. You add in kale, wakame, and 2 types of miso, then stir in a hit of fresh ginger juice. It tastes savory and earthy and sweet and bright. It’s warming and hearty. It’s a soup that’s a match for January, meeting intention for intention and sharpness with warmth.

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Adzuki Bean, Squash, and Miso Soup

adapted from At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin

This soup calls for a small amount of ginger juice, which is very easy to make at home. Finely grate ginger, then squeeze using either your hands or cheesecloth to extract the juice. For the 4 teaspoons specified, I needed about 2 inches of fresh ginger. As for ingredients, I’ve found kombu, dried shiitakes, and wakame all at both natural food stores and Asian markets.

Serves 4

1/2 cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 two-inch piece of kombu
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot (or 3 small carrots), halved and thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 cups winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup thinly sliced kale
2 tablespoons dried wakame
3 tablespoons dark miso
3 tablespoons light miso
4 teaspoons ginger juice
thinly sliced scallions, to serve

Drain and rinse the adzuki beans. In a medium pot combine the beans with the shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook the beans until they’re tender all the way through, 30-50 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the kombu and discard. Remove the shiitakes and thinly slice, then return to the pot.

In a large pot warm the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and squash and cook for another minute. Add the beans and their liquid and bring everything to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. The vegetables should be soft by this point. Add the kale and wakame and cook for another minute. Place both miso into a medium strainer and lower the strainer into the soup. Stir well, so that the miso dissolves into the soup. By the end there will only be husks left of the miso. If you don’t mind a less than perfectly smooth broth, you could add the miso husks to the soup. Stir in the ginger juice and remove from heat. Serve topped with scallions.

 

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White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

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As someone who celebrates Christmas this is the home stretch. There’s cookies to bake, an apartment to clean, and a dinner to plan. There’s also family to host and a tree to buy and presents to wrap… uff da. And so in the spirit of the holiday and of business, here’s soup. Soup is an excellent meal for many reasons- it’s easy, it’s nutrient dense, it’s warming. Soup is the ultimate comfort food, and it’s what I want to eat right now.

A few weeks ago our friend Anne and Brian made white bean soup for Aaron and I when we all got together for dinner. I’ve been thinking about that soup ever since- it was hearty and satisfying and exactly right for a wintery dinner party. This is my wintery lunch variation. Onions and cabbage are slowly cooked in butter with a good dose of chopped rosemary and chopped thyme. Stock and canned beans are added and simmered together, then it’s half-pureed, a compromise for the chunky (Aaron) and smooth (me) soup eaters.

I hope you enjoy this. And I’d love your help- if you’re celebrating a holiday in the next week, what are you making? (And what are you celebrating?) My brain stuck, and inspiration would be very welcomed.

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White Bean and Cabbage Soup with Rosemary

If you’d like a creamier, thicker soup then I would start with 2 cups of broth, and add water from there as necessary.

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 fifteen ounce cans cannellini beans
4 cups light vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
flaked almonds, to serve
shredded parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the onion and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and has started to take on a golden color. This should take between 10 and 20 minutes. If the onions are cooking too quickly or taking on more color than you’d like, turn down the heat.

Add the rosemary, thyme, cabbage, and spices. Stir well and cook for another few minutes, until the cabbage is starting to soften. Add the beans and the vegetable broth, and bring to a simmer.

Skim any foam that comes to the top of the pot. Simmer the soup for 20 minutes, until it’s reduced a bit and the flavors have concentrated.

Using an immersion blender, blend in quick bursts. You want for the soup to be smoothed out a bit, but still have some texture- about half-pureed. Alternatively, you could use an upright blender, blend half the soup, and then return it to the pot.

Stir in the lemon juice, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and lemon juice as necessary. Serve hot with flaked almonds and a dusting of parmesan.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

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It’s that time of year now 6pm is as dark as midnight, and there are less people about at night. Last night I was heading home from Mass, a fifteen minute walk. As I started walking I fired off a text to Aaron. And then I saw out the corner of my eye an older man cross the street and fall into step behind me.

I could see his reflection in the dark store windows. When I slowed my steps to feint admiration for bridal gowns, his steps slowed. When I sped up he did the same. When I started to avoid leaves and quieted my footsteps his became near silent. And when I turned away from the park that would lead me home and towards a bustling strip of restaurants he turned as well.

I abandoned subtlety and started looking back, making sure he knew I saw him. There were more people about here, and it was brighter lit, and I could still see him bobbing through the crowds. An alternate route home would take twice as long to walk, and wouldn’t be much safer. Feeling frustrated and slightly foolish, I called Aaron.

“I think there’s someone following me. Can you pick me up?”

I looped back to the church, where I waited in the lobby. Aaron was over in a matter of minutes. The whole time, I could not shake the feeling that I had overreacted. Was I just being ridiculous? That did not stop me from scrolling through local new sources on twitter before bed, hoping not to hear of some other woman alone being attacked.

I’m tired of this. I’ve long since observed the cardinal rules about caution- don’t walk anywhere poorly lit, don’t take shortcuts, memorize the faces of people you see, always have an escape route. I’m tired of having to take these precautions. I’m tired of being catcalled. I’m tired of reflexively listening to footsteps. And I’m tired of the truth that if I had been attacked, there would have been people who insist that it was my fault, that by somehow walking home alone (at 7:30, from church) I was inviting an attack on my person.

It’s a microcosm of how I’ve been feeling this election. I joke with friends that I’ll exhale once the election is over. But it’s not a joke. Weeks ago when the Access Hollywood tape was released I met it with resignation. When there was an uproar in Republican ranks that made me angry. This is a man who has threatened so many. Why is this is the line in the sand that you decided?

There has been such ugliness and such hatred in the recent months. Tomorrow cannot come soon enough. It won’t make everything better, but it may be a turning point, and that’s all I can hope for right now.

I have no good answers for this. There’s no recipe that can create civil public discourse, no cookie that makes women feel safe to move through public spaces unharmed. Soup won’t end wars. But food has always been a touchstone for me.

Today, a day after being followed and a day before the election, I’ve turned to cooking. It’s serving as a  comfort and as a way to keep busy. If I’m occupying myself with food, I can’t endlessly refresh fivethirtyeight. And I can’t single handedly fix our electorate but I can feed people. The optimist in me believes that enough shared meals with enough people can help us change the way we view the other.

This is not a one pot dinner or a thirty minute meal. This has multiple components and loads of dirty dishes. If that’s what you’re not looking for, that’s more than fair. I understand. But if you’re looking for something that will occupy and sooth you, you could do worse thank this. Roasted acorn squash, sautéed kale, sage, and a clever sauce of blended beans all get tossed together with pasta. The pasta gets turned out into a pan and topped with walnuts, more sage, and ricotta cheese. The result is melty and comforting, creamy and full of flavor.

Stay sane, stay safe. And may there be many comforting meals heading your way.

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Baked Pasta with Acorn Squash, Butter Beans, and Kale

If you would like a very creamy pasta bake I would use two cans of butter beans rather than the suggested one.

very roughly adapted from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

Serves 6

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 pound short pasta of choice
1 bunch of kale, stems removed and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15 ounce can butter beans with their liquid
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons sage, minced
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup ricotta

Preheat the oven to 425.

In a bowl toss together the acorn squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender. Set aside. Turn the oven down to 350.

Set a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously, then add the pasta. Cook at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, for two minutes less than the pasta package calls for. Drain while there’s still some bite in the center of the pasta. Set aside.

In a medium pot warm 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale and stir, cooking until the kale is glossy, dark, and has collapsed a bit. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The garlic should be fragrant. Set aside.

In a blender combine the butter beans and liquid, 3 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth and taste. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the squash, pasta, kale, bean sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sage. Mix well. Turn out into a 9 x 13 pan. Top the pasta with dots of ricotta, walnuts, and the remaining tablespoon of sage.

Bake 45-55 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the ricotta is golden. Eat hot.

 

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White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato from “A Modern Way to Cook”

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A week ago I was having a relaxing morning before work. You know the routine. Make yourself breakfast. Eat breakfast while sipping caffeine of choice. Do both while checking on blogs. Accidentally spill caffeine of choice on your computer.

Oops.

That was painful. I hadn’t planned for a new computer, and there were a lot of files on that old computer that weren’t saved anywhere else. And without wanting to inflate my own importance, I would argue that it’s painful for you. Because I had a recipe for you that I only get to share just now. And it’s filled with all sorts of good stuff. Specifically, beans, fennel, lemon, and tomato.

These beans come from Anna Jones‘ new book A Modern Way to Cook. I’m slightly obsessed with Anna Jones’ work. Her first book, A Modern Way to Eat is one of my most used cookbooks, and for good reason. She writes smart recipes that are clever without being precious. It’s hard to flip through the pages of her books without being inspired. She brings a cook’s eye to presentation and plays with form and texture. But she doesn’t forget that food should be delicious and nourishing and it needs to be approachable. That’s a message I appreciate in any cookbook, but especially in a vegetarian cookbook that promotes healthy eating.

Her new book is divided not by meals or seasons, but by time commitment. I found these beans labeled as a 25 minute dinner, and immediately had to make them. I love the sweetness that comes from the fennel and honey, the tang from the lemons and vinegar, and the savory notes from the garlic and spices. It truly comes together in 25 minutes (maybe even faster), which means it’s great for spur of the moment dinner decisions (aka, the only kind I have). And I love that you get something hearty and earthy and rich without any esoteric ingredients, or convoluted technique.

It’s a fantastic dinner. And I can’t wait to cook obsessively through this book.

White Beans with Fennel, Lemon, and Tomato

adapted from A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones

Serves 4

Anna calls for canned lima beans in her original recipe. I have never seen canned lima beans, and so I made mine with Great Northern beans, which were delicious. Anna suggests accompanying this with a green salad or some flatbread, but Aaron and I devoured it with some runny cheese and crusty sourdough.

1 large fennel bulb
2 tablespoons of olive oil
bunch of green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lemon, quartered and seeds removed
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 fourteen ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
fennel fronds, for serving
olive oil, for serving

Cut off the fronds of the fennel and set aside. Cut the bulb in half and trim it. Peel off any tough or bruised outer layers, then slice the fennel into half inch slices.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil it hot, add the fennel, making sure to spread it out so all the fennel makes contact with the oil. Sautée until it’s browning on one side (between 2-4 minutes) then flip, either with tongs or a spatula to the other side. Sautée again until browning, then add the green onions and garlic. Let cook until fragrant, a couple more minutes.

Add the tomatoes and lemon, then add the honey, vinegar, oregano, fennel seed, chilis, and salt. Stir well and let it all heat together for a minute, then add the beans and 1/2 cup of water. Stir again, and then let the whole thing simmer away until the beans are warmed through, about five minutes.

Serve warm, topped with the leafy bits of the fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint

Fennel-Tomato Salad

There are meals that I create explicitly for this space. I write the recipes ahead of time and carefully shop for the ingredients. While I’m making them, I taste along as I go and measure my pinches of salt. I set aside blocks of time to make these meals. There’s specific time for the planning, the cooking, and the photographing. While Aaron and I are eating, I spend the whole meal analyzing our food. Did I add too much lemon juice? Does it need more salt? I ask Aaron probing questions and get annoyed when he only offers reassurance. I don’t want to hear that it’s good. I want specifics. There’s a good portion of things that I make whose recipes live on my computer with extensive notes on how to make them better next time. Maybe they’ll make an appearance here, but not until all the wrinkles are ironed out. I don’t want to trouble you with a recipe that’s anything less than its tastiest version.

And then there are the recipes that I just throw together. Sometimes it’s because the bunch of spinach in the vegetable drawer is going to go bad unless I sauté it with the stray few slices of bacon and some cold rice. Or I don’t have a lot of time and our pantry’s mostly bare so I boil pasta and toss it with canned beans and top the whole thing with a fried egg. Some days I just want to make dinner without setting a timer to see how long it actually takes to boil farro. Generally these meals are tasty and efficient, which I’ll take. Perfect is the enemy of good. I’ve heard that preached in all of my creative endeavors.

But once in a while I’ll throw together something excellent. I usually know that I’ve struck gold when Aaron looks up from his bowl and tells me to blog about it. I usually have reasons not to do so- I didn’t write the recipe down so I don’t remember exactly what I did, or it’s too similar to something I just posted, or even though I’m not explicitly writing a vegetarian blog I’ve yet to post a dish with meat and I’m not sure if I want to. Sometimes those recipes get forgotten. Sometimes they get filed away with extensive notes. Rarely do they make it here.

But a few days ago I made threw together this fennel and tomato salad for dinner. Everything seemed to align just right- Aaron and I had just finished taking a long walk together. We had summer water (rosé) chilling in the fridge. The air was hot and muggy, and rain was imminent. Our knives had just been professionally sharpened yesterday, and they sailed through the vegetables. I prepared the salad and let it sit for an hour, because restaurant work means that eating dinner any time before 8 seems ridiculous. Before it was time to eat, Aaron stole a bite and locked eye contact with me. “You’re going to blog about this, right?”

Perfect is the enemy of good. I moved our couch out of the way to claim the last of the fading light from our only North-facing window. And today I’m putting this here just as I made it. I’m not converting the vegetables to cups and the cheese to grams-that’s too fussy for a late summer dinner. Because this is for you, for those nights when you want something light but substantial, cooling and rewarding. It’s for the nights when the most work you want to do is chopping. It’s for the the dinners when an hour of Netflix is a reasonable reward for five minutes of work. But it’s also for me, so I remember the recipe next time Aaron suggests we have fennel-tomato salad for dinner. And for a reminder that I don’t always need things to be perfect. Because sometimes the reward for forsaking perfection is finding the very, very good.

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Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint

This would be tasty after it’s just made. But it’s best if it sits for a bit. All the flavors will meld and mingle, and it becomes something better than the sum of all its parts.

Serves 2 for a meal or 4 as a side.

1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, firm but ripe, chopped
about 1 1/2 cup chickpeas
1 handful crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 big handful of mint, finely chopped
juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine the fennel, tomatoes, chickpeas, feta, garlic, and mint. Pour over the lemon juice and add a healthy amount of olive oil. I did a two second pour. Add a large pinch of salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Stir well. Let sit of at least half an hour, preferably an hour. The salt will draw out the juices of the fennel and tomatoes, which will in turn flavor everything else. Serve at room temperature. Adding some bread to sop up the juices that will be left behind wouldn’t be a bad idea.

 

 

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