HEARTY HAM AND BEAN SOUP

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I found this giant hammered copper ladle at an estate sale.  It’s 17 inches long, and the bowl holds a whopping 24 ounces.  I can’t wait to buy a cauldron so I can use it.

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Have you heard the joke about the missing ladle?  A college student invites his mother over to eat dinner with him and his new roommate. When his mother arrives, she can’t help but notice how beautiful his new female roommate is.  The son assures her that they’re just roommates and their relationship is strictly platonic.  The mother enjoys a nice dinner, and later goes home.  Two weeks later, the girl tells her roommate that ever since his mother visited, she can’t find her silver gravy ladle.  So the son writes his mother a letter saying, “Mom, I’m not saying that you ‘did’ take the silver gravy ladle, and I’m not saying that you ‘did not’ take the silver gravy ladle, but the fact remains that it has been missing since you came over for dinner.”  The mother wrote back saying, “Son, I’m not saying that you ‘do’ sleep with your roommate, and I’m not saying that you ‘do not’ sleep with your roommate, but the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the ladle by now.”

According to information on Snopes, versions of this joke have been around since 1840.  Variations on who is sleeping together include a housekeeper and an employer/pastor/Bill Clinton.  You, of course, can substitute whoever you want when you tell the joke.  :)

The ladle, of course, inspires me to make soup.  Even though the temperatures are rising here, we still enjoy soup for an occasional meal.  If, by chance, you have a leftover ham bone, you have the beginnings of a great, hearty soup.  The soup is not particularly pretty, although you could put some lipstick on it with chopped herbs. Rather, its beauty lies beneath the surface in its smoky flavor and chewy bits of ham, and the fact that a hearty pot of bean soup is one of the highest and best uses of a ham bone.  The soup reminds me of the little camellia bush in my backyard.  It was diseased, and its curled yellowing leaves made it anything but pretty.  We were going to rip it out, but instead treated the infestation and left it to see what would happen.  Just when I was ready to give up on it, I noticed something peeking out from the leaves, and discovered one perfect white camellia flower.  Despite the fact that it was not, at this time, a beautiful glossy green bush, it nevertheless delighted me with what was hiding beneath the surface.

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For this batch, I used Jacob’s Cattle Beans, also known as Trout or Dalmatian beans, which is an heirloom bean originally from Germany.  According to Slow Food, “legend has it that it was a gift from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.”  These are fat, kidney-shaped, white and maroon splashed beans that are great in soup and slow-cooker dishes because they hold their shape, even when cooked for hours, resulting in a meaty, not mushy, bean.

HAM AND BEAN SOUP
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Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. dried beans
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large meaty ham bone
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 dried cayenne chilies
Instructions
  1. Rinse beans in a colander. Place beans in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. (Or, skip boiling water and soak beans overnight in a covered pan.) Drain and rinse beans.
  2. In the same pan combine beans, 5 cups fresh water, pork hocks or ham bone, onion, celery, bouillon granules, parsley, thyme, and pepper. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1-3/4 hours. Remove pork hocks or ham bone; set aside to cool. Mash beans slightly. Stir in parsnips or rutabaga and carrots. Return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Meanwhile, cut meat off bones and coarsely chop. Discard bones. Stir meat and spinach into saucepan. Cook until heated through. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

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THE MEXICAN FARMERS MARKET AND “NOT SO” SPICY SWEET POTATO SOUP

This week my friend Tracy and I headed over to Canino Produce, often referred to as “the Mexican farmers market,” located at 2520 Airline Drive.

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Canino’s has been around since 1958.  Unlike the local farmers markets around town offering local — often organic — produce and locally-produced products, Canino’s carries a wide variety of produce and other items not only from Texas, but “all over the United States and the world.”  In the fall, shoppers are greeted by mountains of fresh “new crop” pecans, most of which come from the Austin area, which their 15 nut-cracking machines will crack for you for 35 cents per pound.

Walking around the market, it is quite possible to briefly forget you’re in Houston.  And in August, that’s a good thing.  Because if you’re going to be walking around with rivers of sweat running down your face, you may as well pretend you’re somewhere more exotic.

Inside, Canino’s has neatly arranged tables displaying the fresh produce, as well as beans, rice, stone-ground flour and cornmeal, and dried fruit.

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You’ll probably want to grab a bottle of Mexican vanilla while you’re there:

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If you’re one of those folks who believes that size matters (thanks, Tracy), these baseball bat-sized cucuzza squashes might interest you:

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But the real fun of the Mexican farmers market is the open-air market located behind Canino’s.  There are several rows of stalls, where the rainbow of produce is buffed to a shine and decoratively arranged.  There’s always a thing or two I’ve never seen before.  To make shopping in this section easier, bring a wallet full of small bills, because most of the baskets of produce are $2.

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 Prettiest produce around

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 Can you say “salsa”?

In addition to produce, you can also find cooking utensils, spices, strings of dried chiles, and bins of herb blends.

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Look close — there’s an herb blend for pretty much anything that ails you.  Got cramps? Got asthma?  There’s a blend for that!

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A popular snack sold at the open air market is fruit — slices of papaya, mango, coconut, melon — sprinkled with a chile/lime mixture.  At the market, the spice mix is sometimes referred to as “chile for fruit,” but Fiesta sells a mix called “Pico de Gallo con Limon”:

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Fiesta brand Pico de Gallo con Limon

Several of the vendors had these clever peeled mangos, cut to look like flowers, and sprinkled with the chile mixture:

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We left, hot and happy, loaded down with several sacks of goodies each.

But wait — there’s more!

Just a few blocks down the street, at 2201 Airline, is the Houston Dairymaids’ warehouse, which is open to the public every day except Monday for cheese sampling and retail purchases.  Seeing as it wasn’t Monday, we popped in.

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The Houston Dairymaids was started by owner Lindsey Schechter in 2006.  Every article I’ve found describes Lindsey as a “seasoned cheese professional,” which makes her a pretty cheesy person, I guess.  I used to buy cheese from the Houston Dairymaids at the local farmers market, but their wholesale operation became so successful that they stopped selling there.  If you have ever had a cheese plate at a Houston restaurant, chances are good the cheese came from the Houston Dairymaids.

They carry approximately 150 handmade cheeses — unpasteurized when possible — from around the United States (with an occasional imported cheese), with seven currently coming from Texas.  Every day they offer a sampling of 5 or 6 selected cheeses, progressing from mild to more pungent.

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Owner Lindsey Schechter and a cheese sampling tray

In addition to cheese, the retail storefront also has a small but interesting selection of wines, breads from Slow Dough Bread Company, outrageously good cookies from Wackym’s Kitchen, olives, crackers, and other cheese accompaniments.   It was really hard (almost impossible, actually) to narrow down our cheese choices, but we finally settled on two each to bring home, along with some bread and cookies.

There’s also a Mexican bakery, El Bolillo, at 2517 Airline, and a spice market, Lone Star Culinary, at 2520 Airline, but we were too pooped from the heat to party any longer, so those will have to wait for a future visit.

Back home, I noticed on Canino’s website that there was a link to recipes.  The recipe for “Not So” Spicy Sweet Potato Soup intrigued me with its peanut butter and lime juice.  Coincidentally, I had just purchased two large sweet potatoes at Canino’s, so I just HAD to make the soup.  I adapted it slightly, using almond butter instead of peanut butter, and half the amount of ginger called for.   It only takes about 30 minutes to make, and is very good and quite satisfying.

"NOT SO" SPICY SWEET POTATO SOUP
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Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia, 1015), peeled and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup almond butter or peanut butter
  • Juice of 1 small lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream for optional garnish
  • Cilantro for optional garnish
Instructions
  1. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic, and saute until soft and onions are translucent. Add sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cumin, red pepper, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered until sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove soup from heat, and puree in 3 batches using a blender or food processor (being careful not to overfill blender with hot liquid so as to prevent top from blowing off). Return soup to stockpot over medium heat and whisk in almond butter and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If soup is too thick, thin with additional chicken stock to desired consistency). Serve hot, garnished with sour cream and cilantro, if using.

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Spicy enough for me!