Cooking, unfortunately, has taken quite the backseat to other ventures lately. There is my work schedule which, as a waitress, is nothing if not hectic, unpredictable, and not at all conducive to regular meals. Some nights I work until 5, some 8, some 11:30, and many of these shifts are followed by a 45-50 minute commute home. Not only do I typically fail to eat for 8 hours at a time, but I frequently come home and gorge, gorge, gorge on whatever I can whip together quickly, pick up already made, or retrieve from the refrigerator. It goes without saying that I don’t have a whole host of pleasurable home eating experiences to accompany my only minutely shrinking middle, or to compensate for the hours of hunger. Then there are all the fun things there have been to do instead of spending two hours prepping, cooking, and eating. Yesterday, my housemate Lucas and I did the tourist thing in Niagara Falls, making ourselves into walking human twinkies as we suited up in the plastic water cover that inevitably failed to keep us dry on the Maid of the Mist. There’s bars like Nietzsche’s and Club Diablo that have kept us entertained with music and drinks late into the night…all nights of the week. And it may or may not be true that we have gotten so bored with life that we have played cribbage on the living room couch or wandered around the ritzy neighborhoods slugging out of 40’s at 1 o’clock at night. When there is such fun to be had, who cooks?
The last barrier to cooking is, without fail, the summer months. In spite of the never ending heat and humidity, and the accompanying feeling of sluggishness common to the summer months, I have managed to cook a few decent meals that have certainly satisfied our tastes. Besides learning to make crispy Chinese noodles homemade and whipping up a delicious fish fry from scratch (which will surely be documented in future posts), I have had a few requests for soup recipes. Luckily, it was chilly enough at night to make this soup an okay eat. Plus, with our good friend all sniffly with a change-of-the-seasons illness, this soup came to the rescue. The first night, there had not been enough broth to thin out the hearty bean and tomato base, and the rice soaked up a lot of liquid as well. However, once more broth was added night two, the soup was perfect! I can’t say with any measure of certainty how much soup this makes, or what quantities of some ingredients should be added – soup is not meant to be exact in my opinion, and when you’re making something out of what you have lying around, exact is not always an option. My recommendation with the soup is to make it how you like it – be sure to add enough liquid to keep it a soup, but make the consistency as thick or thin as you like. Make it as chunky as you like. Give it a spicy kick, or keep it mellow. This recipe, more than any of the others, is really just a guideline for your creation.
The best way to describe this soup is hearty but not rich. The beans, tomato, and rice give the soup a good amount of depth – and if you use homemade stock like I do, the soup will be even more complex in flavor. The “fifth taste” – umami – is really the star of the show because of the deep meat and starch flavor and texture. However, the summer veggies add a little mellow tang and contrast the background flavors with a light, fresh taste. Since it is not cream-based, this soup is definitely fit for a summer night; I wouldn’t recommend serving it cold, so make sure you’re either in the shade or under the stars for this one.
I’ve named this soup specifically to purposely draw attention to its two main ingredients: rice and beans. Those of you who are like me and love rice and beans will take delight in turning your favorite rice and beans recipe into a soup. I plan to do just that the next time my stomach is hankering for something steamy and satisfying. One thought I just had while typing was that this recipe would be excellent if re-created but with the addition of asparagus, my new vegetable love and a perfect companion to squash and zucchini.
Whitney’s Rice and Bean Soup
1 small can tomato paste
1 average bag of dehydrated pinto beans (or whatever is your favorite)
1 and 1/2 cup rice
1 small yellow squash
1/2 average zucchini
1-2 cups homemade meat stock w/ meat
2 bouillon cubes
min. 7 cups water
salt and pepper
Italian seasoning and garlic powder to taste
red pepper (optional)
-Rehydrate your beans. My beans had already been boiled for twenty minutes a few days prior to my recipe, so I recommend gently boiling anywhere between 45-60 minutes on medium heat. Make sure that as the beans begin to cook down, you add more water to the saucepan so they can get really mushy. Tip: Use a nonstick saucepan; I didn’t, and we probably have to throw out the pot because the beans stuck to the bottom and burned!
-Once you’re satisfied that the beans are sufficiently mushy, mash them with a potato masher as thoroughly as possible and return to low heat, adding tomato paste, salt and pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flakes if desired, and Italian seasoning. Let cook for 1-2 minutes, just to meld the flavors together.
-Add homemade stock and veggies to the pot, cover and let simmer for at least 10 minutes. The goal is to get the veggies cooked enough so that they aren’t crunchy (unless that is your preference, in which case, cook for about 3-5 minutes instead). Tip: Make sure to cut your veggies “spoon sized”: small enough so that you can have a piece or two on your spoon with some broth. I had to suggest to my housemate that he cut them “girl spoon sized” because I take considerably smaller bites 🙂
-While the veggies cook, bring 1 and 1/2 cups rice to boil in 3 cups water and then return to simmer for 20 minutes. Tip: Unlike regular rice cooking, where you simply wait for the rice to absorb the existing liquid, you want to cook them like the beans and continue to add liquid to them. That way, they are already fat when they enter the soup and they won’t absorb quite as much of your broth. This prevents your soup from turning into a stew or something that resembles a risotto dish (like mine did).
-Dissolve two bouillon cubes in two large cups of water and add to the soup along with the rice. Let simmer for 10 minutes and add more liquid as needed and/or desired. Also season as desired. Tip: Soup, like many dishes, tastes better after it has sat overnight. If you can’t make the night before, though, it’s no big deal: it will still be delicious!
-Remove from heat and serve! I suggest bread and butter as usual, but crackers, crostini, or whatever you have around works too.
It’s no New England clam chowder, which is my favorite kind of soup, but this dish was certainly gratifying, particularly as an end to my only day off last week. Speaking of soup, I had a delectable tom yum goong at the Saigon Cafe on Elmwood Avenue recently. It was the kind of spicy that goes right to the back of the throat but doesn’t leave you scrambling for water like you are dying of thirst (probably from the chili oil, primarily). It was nice on a temperate evening, and the red curry I followed it with was also good. While I like my curry a bit more spicy than this one was, it had a great balance of sweet flavors from the coconut and the savory of the spices. Plus, it came in a cool bowl 🙂 Live on, crazy summer soup eaters!