vegan white bean and kale soup

winter is determined to stick around and make us miserable.  while the northeast gets to dig out of snowfall after snowfall, we just get colder and colder.  it is true that it does get cold in nashville and in winter, it is not uncommon for the temps to drop to the 20 degree mark.  but consecutive days with single digit lows and highs in the teens, that is not normal.  luckily, having a pot of soup simmering on the stove is all it takes to bite back the chill.

i love a good white bean soup but i find that most recipes are heavy on the beans and almost always include a large portion of smoky bacon or ham products.  what i was craving this afternoon was a good old bowl of italian style white bean and escarole soup;  a hearty broth served with beans, a little vegetable and a lot of bitter greens.  since i didn’t have any “shcarole,” i had to settle for some kale and quite honestly, it was just as good.  to keep it vegan and heart healthy, i used vegetable broth as a base, diced mushrooms to give it a “meaty” texture (and an umami factor) and to add a little authenticity, a small amount of smoke flavor.  it was all i needed to chase away the chill.

vegan white bean and kale soup
makes about 1 1/2 quarts
(about 4-12 ounce servings)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
1 cup fresh button mushrooms-about 4 large ones, diced small
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can white beans; navy, great northern or cannellini (or you can cook 1 cup dried)
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups fresh kale, torn and loosely packed in the cup
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch or two of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1 teaspoon smoke flavor-to your taste
if you will be cooking your own beans, do that before starting the soup.  when the beans are ready, then begin cooking the vegetables.  if you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them before adding them to the soup.
in a 4 quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  add the onions, carrots and mushrooms and saute until the onions are translucent.  add the garlic and saute for a minute or two.  add the beans, broth, thyme and red pepper flakes, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the soup until the carrots are soft.  add the kale and smoke flavor and allow to simmer for a few minutes to wilt the kale.  season with salt and pepper and serve with freshly baked bread.

cooking the books: szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice

i am a cookbook hoarder.  i’m not ashamed, it’s a habit that i can live with and speak of out loud without fear of the consequences.  after all, i am a cookbook author, it’s only fair that i collect the books of other authors if i expect anyone to collect mine.  my husband might disagree, he suggests getting rid of the ones i do not use on a regular basis.  i have become adept at getting around this.  my current strategy is to cook from the books that have gathered a little dust.  he is enjoying the results and asks when i will make something again, also asks “what did you cook for dinner today?” with a level of enthusiasm i am not accustomed to.  so you see, my plan is working, for now at least because men can easily be manipulated with food, sometimes.
long, long ago, before children, i bought a copy of irene kuo’s book, the key to chinese cooking.  it was published in 1977 and i have had it since the 80’s when i purchased it most likely from a book club-remember those?  oh how i have dated myself with this post…  this book has been lugged around, cross country twice and recently, i decided i needed to use it or lose it.  
while i have always enjoyed chinese food, it is not something i crave.  but i must admit, i have always loved the stir fries served in restaurants.  the texture of meat and poultry is always so tender and moist.  the secret is the velveting technique and using the recipe in this book works.  to test the theory, i made my husband cook a chicken stir fry using the recipe-after all, he was the one who said you have to velvet the meat to make it tender.  he is fussy about meals so when i see him getting cranky about food-i make him cook it.  but to be fair, i try to make meals that he will enjoy.  and recently, i picked up this book and made him a batch of szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice.  the garden dumped a bowl of beans on me and it was the perfect recipe to use them in.

between our garden and the demonstration garden i work in, i had several types of beans to work with.  from the left; pole beans, royal purple beans, blue lake bush beans, haricot verts and asparagus long beans wrap around the bunch.  i cut them all to the size of the verts to make cooking them easier.

the first and most important step, deep frying them.  the purple beans lose the color and go green pretty quickly.  after frying them, the beans are set aside.  the remaining ingredients are quickly stir fried and the beans added to the mixture at the end.

i could eat these all day.  

the recipe calls for hot bean paste, something i did not have.  my solution was to add a small piece of finely diced cowhorn pepper.  it added more than enough heat!  the recipe also called for ground pork or beef and i opted to omit that completely-the dish was flavorful and filling without it.

to complete the meal, i used ms. kuo’s recipe for shrimp fried rice.  it calls for cooked rice which is a great way to use leftover rice but who keeps 3 1/2 cups of cooked rice in the fridge?  not me!  so i cheated and used a multi-grain rice from trader joe’s.  it is a frozen-cooked product but i know it will be better than anything i could have cooked on short notice.  i need to work on my rice cooking skills. for the purists, it takes about 1 up raw rice to make the needed 3 1/2 cups cooked rice.  and just to make it interesting, i added a few veggies for color; carrots and corn were what i a had available.

szechuan green beans and shrimp fried rice
both recipes are adapted from the key to chinese cooking by irene kuo

green beans
1 pound green beans, cleaned and cut in half
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced cowhorn or other spicy pepper(can be omitted or reduced)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon vinegar-cider or rice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
sesame seeds for sprinkling on top

the book uses a technique of preparing a working platter and it is very helpful so i will use it here as well.  place the beans on the platter.  as you prepare the ginger, scallion, garlic and hot pepper,  place them in separate piles on the platter.  in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, soy sauce and sherry and set it aside.  have a heat proof bowl with a strainer ready for the beans.  using a wok, heat the oil to 375.  add the beans slowly by scattering them across the surface of the oil a few at a time to keep the temp from dropping quickly.  stir them constantly to fry them until they look wrinkly, about 3 minutes.  dump the beans and oil into the strainer.  save the oil, you will need 2 tablespoons for the rest of the recipe, keep the remaining oil in the fridge and use it anytime you need oil for a savory dish.

over medium heat add the 2 tablespoons of saved oil to the wok and swirl it around to coat the surface.  add the ginger, garlic, scallion and pepper and stir a few times.  add the sauce, broth and the beans and quickly toss it to coat the beans.  finally, add the vinegar and sesame oil, stir a few times and dump out onto a serving dish and finish it with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

shrimp fried rice
4 ounces raw shrimp-weight is without the shells, only the meat
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
5 tablespoons oil (remember the oil you saved from the beans?)
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups cooked rice
2 large scallions, chopped finely
1/2 cup cooked vegetables-frozen and thawed veggies will work here, i used corn and carrots
soy sauce and sesame oil to taste

if the shrimp are large, chop them into 1/2 inch pieces.  toss them in the cornstarch/water mixture.  heat the wok over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil.  swirl it to coat the wok, turn the heat to medium and scatter in the shrimp.  stir them quickly to cook them and then dump them into a dish and set aside.

wipe out the wok, heat it again over medium-high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil.  again, swirl the oil to coat the wok and heat the oil.  add the eggs.  as they cook around the edges, push them to one side of the wok to allow the still liquid eggs to run into the oil and cook.  tilt the pan if needed and continue to do this until the eggs are no longer runny but are soft and fluffy-almost like an omelet.  scrape them out into a dish and set aside.

reheat the wok over medium heat, no more oil is needed at this point.  add the rice and stir it to heat it, about 1 minute.  add the scallions and cooked veggies and stir rapidly to heat them.  add the shrimp and the eggs and using your spatula (bamboo works well here-it will not melt!), fold the sides into the middle to mix it and to chop the eggs.  drizzle in a little soy and sesame and stir to combine, pour into a serving dish.  

secret ingredient pie, #52 of 52-the final pie of the challenge!

wow-the final pie.  how quickly the year went.  well, now what?  don’t know yet but i will be sure to do something crazy, something inappropriate, something stupid and who knows what else but in the mean time, i’ve got some splaining to do…

i decided to have some fun on thanksgiving and all at the expense of my family and guests.  they were kind enough to play along-some more than others (kids-what are you gonna do with them?)  and they were served a pie and told to guess what i made it from.  it kinda looked like it could be some sort of squash pie but alas, it wasn’t…only one of our guests was able to figure it out-and he nailed it!

the inspiration for this pie came from my job.  every day, or at least it seems like every day, i partially bake pie shells for use in my pie recipes.  to do this, i line each pie shell with a restaurant sized coffee filter and fill that with pinto beans.  the beans act as a weight and keep the crust from puffing up.  the running joke is that the bean pies must be popular since i bake so many…yes, those are crickets chirping-i don’t find the joke very funny either; after hearing it on a nearly daily basis for 7 years, can you blame me?  so anyway, what was funny though was the day one of my latino coworkers had the realization that if she bakes those bean pies every day, they must taste good-he then proceeded to taste some of the beans.  did i mention that i reuse the beans, a lot, until they stink so bad that i replace them?  we never did talk about those beans he tasted and trust me, he never tasted another.  but anyway, i came across a recipe for navy bean pie in an old farm journal cookbook and decided to give it a try but not tell anyone what was in the filling.

a few notes, first of all, anytime i am going to fill a pie shell with a custard filling, i partially bake it to be sure that the bottom crust is baked and not gummy when the pie filling is finished baking.  the recipe calls for evaporated milk which is something i never use and i have found that half and half is a perfect substitution.  to save time, i used canned beans that were drained and rinsed and then pureed in a food processor.

white bean pie
1 (9″) pie serving 8-10
adapted from farm journals navy bean pie recipe
1 (9″) pie crust must be an extra deep crust or a 10″ crust, partially baked
2 (15) ounce cans white beans-i used great northern beans
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
12 ounces half and half
preheat the oven to 350.  place the partially baked pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet to make placing it in the oven and removing it a little easier.  drain and rinse the beans and then place them into the bowl of a food processor.  add the brown sugar and pulse to combine and then run till smooth taking the time to scrape the bowl a few times to get every last bean pureed.  add the honey and spices and pulse to combine. add the eggs and run till smooth, scraping the machine at least once.  finally, add the half and half and combine.  pour it into the prepared pie shell and bake until it is set, 50-55 minutes.  allow it to cool and serve it as you would serve a pumpkin pie.
and there you have it, the last pie…on wards and all that to what ever comes next.   bake one and send me a photo, i will post it here.  may the power of pie see you safely through the next year…
oh, by the way, do you remember when i was baking pies with my daughters?  my younger daughter, devon and i baked an apple pie together.  well, she is currently living in northern california with her grandparents while she attends school.  they were having a little pre-thanksgiving thanksgiving dinner and she baked one with her grandmother.
and here it is!  they used the same recipe that she and i used, the one straight out of my book.  looks beautiful and they enjoyed the pie!  so get in that kitchen with a kid or a grandparent or somebody else that is truly important to you and bake some sweet memories!  you will have more than fun, you will have a memory that will last much longer than that pie no matter how it turns out!!!