01 June 2012
Carrot-pinto soup with herbed couscous
On Yarntaculon VII, planet of fiber arts, an individual's supply of yarn (or other raw materials) is called their "stash." Why? Well, knitters and crocheters don't necessarily buy yarn because they want to use it immediately. Sometimes they buy yarn because it's soft, pretty, on sale, rare, their favorite color, or available at some large event they're attending. Then they take the yarn home and stash it away for use at some indefinite point in the future. It may be months or years before they actually make something with stash yarn. In the meantime, the stash provides a ready supply of raw materials for them to pick from when they want to make a sweater, scarf, or hat.
I knit, so I have a yarn stash. Of course, I also cook all the time, so I also have an ingredient stash. Granted, the turnover is much higher with food than with yarn, considering spoilage, shelf stability, and the need to eat three meals a day. Still, the concept remains the same. I choose appropriate materials from my stash and use them to make delicious food.
So last night I took advantage of my glorious kitchen stash to make an excellent and easy dinner.
In the cabinets, I found onion, olive oil, and dry vermouth. In the fridge, I found carrots, celery, and parsley. In the freezer, I found pinto beans in broth, my stockpile of broth veg, and a container of couscous. About 45 minutes later, I had a finished pot of carrot and pinto bean soup, and a bowl of herbed couscous. Not bad!
Carrot soup is definitely one of my favorites, as you may have noticed. I make carrot soup with beans, greens, potatoes, grains, or just carrots, and flavor it with fresh dill, cumin, ginger, cilantro, hot chili paste, or--hey, I haven't done a carrot-miso! I need to get on that one. Carrot-miso with seared tofu cubes and maybe some sesame cabbage or soba noodles--yes please.
This particular carrot soup was filling, smoky, and a touch spicy: a good all-round version.
pinto beans (or other beans of your choice)
paprika, smoked paprika, marjoram, oregano, cumin
couscous & sambal oelek for garnish
If you need to make vegetable broth, start there. Just simmer several handfuls of vegetable scraps of your choice in water for about 15 minutes. Simple.
In a large soup pot, soften a chopped onion and a minced jalapeño pepper in a slug of olive oil. You can leave out the jalapeño or remove its seeds if you aren't into spice.
Wash and dice a couple ribs of celery and add them to the pot. Scrub and similarly dice a handful of carrots and add them as well. I used six carrots, but the amount you need will depend on size. Season to taste with paprika, smoked paprika, marjoram, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Then stir everything together and sweat over medium heat for about five minutes. Deglaze the pot as needed with a slug of dry vermouth or a couple spoonfuls of broth.
When your vegetables are tender, it's time to add beans and broth. I was using a block of pinto beans frozen in their cooking liquid--maybe a cup of beans and another cup of broth--so I just stuck the entire thing into the soup pot. If you're using canned beans, drain their liquid before you add them. Pour in a few cups of vegetable broth--mine was freshly boiled, so I poured it over my frozen bean block to melt it a little faster--and bring the entire business to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about ten minutes, or until everything is cooked to your liking.
Next, take the pot off the heat, let it cool for a minute, and puree it with an immersion blender. Or don't puree it if that's how you roll. It's all good.
If your soup is too thin, put it back on the heat and simmer it down until it reaches your desired texture. If it's too thick, add more broth and heat to warm. When you reach a good texture, taste your soup and correct any seasonings; cook for 2-3 minutes more to eliminate any raw spice issues.
When everything meets your satisfaction, you are done. Hooray! Serve it up.
This soup is good by itself, but I think it's much more interesting with the addition of couscous.
Ordinary couscous is kind of a surprise to see around here, considering how frequently I've bypassed it in favor of the Israeli variety. I actually love both kinds of couscous. I used to bring dry instant couscous and chopped or shredded raw veggies to work for summer lunch. I'd make the couscous with boiling water from the instant tap in our cooler, add salt, pepper, and butter, let it all steam for five minutes, and eat it with the veg. It was one of the best lunches ever: filling, cheap, easy, tasty, and--most importantly--freshly made.
boiling water or veg broth
fresh parsley & chives
The proportion of liquid to couscous varies by recipe. I use about a 3:2 ratio: 3 parts liquid to 2 parts dry couscous. Of course, since I don't measure--I can always add more couscous or liquid, right?--I usually just add liquid to come about 1/4 inch above the couscous. This time, I made about a cup of dry couscous, which meant I used roughly 1.5 cups of broth.
First, put your cooking liquid on to boil. I used vegetable broth because I had some left over from making the soup. While your liquid is coming up to a boil, prepare your other ingredients. Measure out your couscous and chop up a handful of parsley and chives. Also, if you're going to use a pyrex bowl to make your couscous, warm it with tap water. You don't want boiling liquid hitting cold glass, ok?
When your liquid has boiled, take it off the heat and let it cool slightly. Put your couscous, a couple teaspoons of olive oil or a pat of butter, and some salt and pepper in a large bowl. Pour your liquid--which should be hot, but not actively boiling anymore--over the couscous.
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and let it sit and steam for about ten minutes. Then take off the towel, add your chopped herbs, and mix, fluffing the finished couscous with a fork.
Add a generous spoonful of couscous to each bowl of soup. If you like spice, add some sambal oelek or other hot pepper business of your choice. If not, you may want to add some more parsley or chives. A spoonful of plain yogurt is good too.
Hooray! 100% kitchen-sourced dinner!