I don’t even know how to put into words how stressed out I was last week.
Easter rush plus building stresses had me living in that weird combination of not sleeping because I had too much to do to sleep and not sleeping because I had too many worries to actually turn my mind off. Bad combination. Then my sweetheart came home from tour (always a harbinger of sanity for me), Easter orders calmed down, and building renovations and money-pit woes seemed to turn a corner and were slowly replaced by excitement about the new shop. What a difference a week makes!
In the middle of the week was that VegNews photo scandal thing, which I, like most vegans I know, was disturbed by. I can’t imagine why a vegan would think publishing a vegan magazine full of stock images of meat would be an ethically acceptable choice. As so many people have pointed out, this choice is bizarre bordering on insane when you think about how the internet is bursting with vegan bloggers churning out amazing content accompanied with gorgeous photos. It’s never been easier to take professional-quality photos at home (or in a magazine office, or commercial kitchen), so their decision made me realize that they just must not be testing their recipes whatsoever, since they can’t even be bothered to take photos of the actual dish. I can’t imagine selling my handmade chocolates with stock photography of random bonbons, so….
Ok, I’m not going to get worked up about it again. They apologized and we’re all moving on.
The point I’m trying to make here is that last week I made some soup and it turned out gorgeously without me even trying because food is so dang beautiful and we need to honor it by taking photos of it! Real photos, not generic gross stock photos!
The soup: it was just some Wednesday-afternoon, nothing-special soup with some leftover bits of this and that that were hanging around work. The earliest bit of spring can be a maddening time to cook—you’re craving fresh produce so intensely, and nature can be stingy with sun and warmth, like it is this year, and everything is slow to arrive. I want fiddleheads and morels and favas and ramps and asparagus, but the garden only has sorrel and wild weedy chives to offer and the farmer’s market only turns up hothouse mesclun and pea shoots….and…wait, what’s that in the corner booth, that little flash of green at Jay’s table, surrounded by overwintered carrots and beets? Green garlic? Yes! Green garlic!
So it’s spring after all. Garlic is coming back. It’s happening!! I got chills when I saw it, and then I got out my wallet. Green garlic is just the best, isn’t it? All the awesomeness of mature garlic, but fresher, younger, with no peeling necessary and absolutely no bite. Amazing.
I already had a pot of simmered white beans bursting with two heads of roasted garlic hanging out in the fridge, and I thought about how to introduce the roasted garlicky beans—from a stash of glorious local organic hardneck I’ve been working my way through since last fall—to this year’s green garlic. Usually local garlic is so expensive ($1 per head or more, wholesale) that heads of roasted garlic are a luxury I save for the organic Chinese garlic I sometimes break down and buy in deep winter when I’ve run out of good local fresh stuff. This year, however, shutting down the meal delivery left me with a glut of terrific, albeit rapidly aging, local heads, so I’ve been roasting with abandon.
I do this thing with beans a lot: cook them with some aromatics (rosemary/bay/thyme/roasted garlic/sea vegetables/hot chilies/dill/onion/leeks/whatever) and then toss them with lots of olive oil, good salt, and pepper, and maybe some vinegar or hot sauce or harissa or whatever. With whatever veggies are on hand, dinner is done.
Depending on what the bean seems to want, I sometimes cook up a nice carbohydrate too. Black beans seem to want a spicy tomatoey Spanish rice, white beans always ask for a good toothsome pasta like orecchiette (I haven’t made my own since last summer—sigh.), pinto beans like a nice plain brown rice. Of course, something nice makes the meal even nicer. In my world, “something nice” usually means something either pickled or fried or perfectly fresh—something bright that pops in your mouth. Fried sage is great on top of a white bean thing, perfectly fresh summery tomatoes and creamy-ripe avocado are good with black beans, and little quick-pickled radishes are nice on the side of a simmered pinto bean dish.
I don’t know, that’s just where my mind always goes, anyway.
I wonder what always leads me to always always always pair black beans with tomatoes? One part historical and cultural and geographical accuracy, maybe, and one part remembrance of things past, probably. Sloppy Tex-Mex meals from when I was a kid, learning to make authentic and amazingly mind-blowing refried beans with garden salsa at Bloodroot.
Sigh. I really love beans.
And, as I was saying before 1,000 other words interrupted: making soup.
So after I make my simmered whole-bean thingie, I usually turn it into soup the next day or so. I never make stocks for my soups, unless I’m doing so much cooking that carrot peels and celery tops and onion skins are overflowing in the compost bin. Usually i concentrate on flavoring the soup, not the stock, and I always add a stick of kombu (I get this amazing kombu). Kombu helps you digest the beans, adds rich umami flavor, and can apparently help prevent radiation sickness—so bring it on.
Like most dishes, making a good soup is about balance. Richness + acid + salt + good vegetables/beans/etc = a good soup, in my world. Airy broths have their place, I suppose, but when I’m cooking for myself I want something with depth. And by depth, I mean: fat. And in order for a nice fatty soup not to taste too fatty, it needs to be balanced with acid, which usually means vinegar.
I took my roasted garlic white beans and added them to a soup pot (my mentor Selma always says “soup kettle.” I love her.) with some kombu, a glug of oil, and salt and water just barely to cover. I cooked them until they were super extra tender while I slowly sautéed the minced green garlic bottoms in more olive oil with some red pepper flakes (actually it was aleppo pepper–so flowery/spicy/bright/great.). When the garlic was aromatic and cooked I blended the beans and garlic mixtures together. I added some homemade garlic vinegar to taste, seriously thought about adding some black garlic just to make it a four-garlic soup!!! but I’m secretly saving the black garlic to make a garlic truffle (shhhh), so I just added more salt and some shoyu too. Beans always need so much salt, you know? Salt and shoyu contribute slightly different things, so I sometimes use them together. Salt = a nice clean salty flavor, but shoyu = salt + depth. Does that make sense?
So far my soup consisted of last year’s garlic + this year’s garlic + 2009’s garlic vinegar + beans + salt + shoyu + aleppo pepper + kombu (actually I took out the kombu once the beans were done cooking). What kind of soup is that? Certainly not one I’d be OK serving my clients back when I was selling soup for a living. Too simple, too plain. But I was working 18 hours that day and plain was just fine, as long as it tasted good.
I foraged around in the fridge for something green, and found pea shoots from the farmer’s market, along with the forgotten top half of the green garlic. I minced the green garlic and quickly fried it in yet more olive oil and added yet more salt. Seriously–when I’m working really hard and tasting chocolate all day, I need hearty food to balance out my diet or I will float away on a cloud of chocolate-caffeine, and so I really don’t hold back with the old e.v.o.
I put the soup in a big bowl, added the fried green garlic and pea shoots, and drizzled it with….more olive oil.
So simple, but look what a showstopper this little soup became in the bowl!
Hot damn I love food.