Late last night, I was in the Safeway nearest dpaxson's house, wondering what to make for tonight's meeting. I knew it would be soup (it's Soup Weather), but I was teetering between split pea and lentil...when I saw it, peeking out at me from the shelf.
Hurst's "Cajun" Fifteen Bean Soup Mix
I was drawn to it like a moth to a candle. But..in the years since I'd last made this, I'd grown wary of mysterious "flavoring packets". Skimming the ingredients on this one reminded me of all the reasons why: artificial colors, flavors, and gods know what is hiding there under "spices (including paprika)". AND it's mostly salt anyhow; if I want salt, I have salt.
"But," I asked myself aloud as the stockboys trundled pallets about, "if we accept that the ill-favored foil packet is right out, how do we recreate this--and, moreover, how can we make it Cajunistic*"
Then, as a film clip falling from Munin's tail....feathers, did I hear dr_beowulf, cooking gumbo for his wedding guests, retelling an old saw while standing over a pot of Cajun napalm into which he was about deposit the holy trinity.
He did it, of course, in proper patois. The man who translates Old Norse in his spare time and for fun would not shirk such a slight task. I cannot replicate it; I would butcher it to try, so I shall, sadly, only render it in the common tongue:
"The Cajun boy came up to his dad and said, 'Père, where do babies come from?' And his papa got a faraway look in his eye for a long moment before replying, 'Well, first you make a roux...'."
And that was it! There was flour in the stupid packet, why, I could start the bean soup with a roux! Yes! Probably completely wrong, and yet it had a chance of being completely delicious!
But what is this French I have dropped into your beans? Let me explain:
Roux, Gentle Reader, is a mix of flour and fat that one then cooks until the flour is toasted in the hot fat to the desired color. dr_beowulf did his properly, standing, stirring over the stove, daring the flour to singe one ångström further than he wanted, and of course it did not, because, friends, that there is Proper Use of an Acculturated Folksoul.
And while my father's kin hail from the same part of Arkansas in which dr_beowulf stood, making that roux, the Ozarks are not Cajun country--and you, Gentle Readers, do not likely come from there either. You or I, trying such a thing, may well create asphalt. Well, unless you are French. I am not. The mighty streams give to me by my ancestors, quite frankly, know rather a lot about potatoes, beer, cabbage, and pickling anything that can be shoved into a jar. But not roux.
Yet, there is hope! Because, wherever a native cuisine is opaque to the prying eye, one man, one geek, will make foam rubber props to show us the way. Having no Cajun Folksoul to taint by such a heretical practice, in the recipe that follows, I will pass on the knowledge of how to make a roux that is not asphalt, not by stirring it and playing chicken (which is certainly fun, but let's leave that for Caramel Night), but by chucking it in the oven and practically forgetting about it while the beans burble in a second pot.
This recipe will vary from cook to cook, as all good ones do. I have seen essentially the same business offered with 10, 14, 15, 3, 7, 9, and I don't know how many other kinds of beans. Always more than one, which has caused me to run through several names for my offering to the genre:
N-teen Bean Soup.
d20+1 Bean Soup.
1[0-9] (how do you even pronounce that!?) Bean Soup.
Any of these with the word "Cajunistic" shoved in.
There is one other heresy in this offering: at one AM yesterday morning at the Safeway, there were no green bell peppers that I felt comfortable buying. As this is rarely in the recipes for bean soup that I saw, I chose not to buy one--thus the soup has no real trinity, perhaps causing Cajun Fail.
But at least there's a roux.
And I don't care what you call it; it's Darned Tasty.
Lorrie's Bean Soup
Yield: approximately 6 quarts (6 liters)
Time to Prepare:
- 8 hours completely inactive (soaking beans)
- .5-1.0 hr active prep (chopping, fussing, sweating, stirring, etc)
- 2.0 hrs cooking
|The Beans, Part One: The Soak|
|1||lb||Hurst's Fifteen Bean Soup Mix, or similar (1 pkg) (454 g)|
|2||qt||cold tap water (8 c/2 L)|
|4||oz||all-purpose wheat flour (115 g)|
|4||oz||safflower or other high-temperature oil, e.g. peanut (115 g)|
|The Beans, Part Two: The Cook|
|1||batch||bean soaking water, plus enough water to come back to 2 qt/8 c/2 L|
|3||T||vegetable broth base paste (45 mL)|
|The Fallen Trinity|
|1||lg||red onion, diced to approximately 1/2"/1 cm cubes (1 1/2 c/375 mL)|
|2-3||ribs of celery, diced to approximately 1/2"/1 cm cubes (1 1/2 c/375 mL)|
|5||cloves garlic, minced or pressed|
|1||lg||can of diced or petite diced tomatoes in juice, drained (28 oz/800 g)|
|1||tsp||each of dried thyme and oregano|
|1||pinch||red (cayenne) pepper|
|2||pkgs||of andouille sausage (I liked Aidell's, less funny stuff), sliced into coins|
|1||lime's worth of lime juice, strained|
|1||bunch||cilantro or flat Italian parsley, minced|
|salt & freshly ground pepper to taste|
The Beans, Part One: The Soak
Open the bag. CONSIGN THE FLAVOR PACKET TO PERDITION FORTHWITH. Rinse and sort the beans, then place into a 1-gallon vessel and cover with two quarts (8 cups, 2 liters) of cold tap water. Allow to soak at least six hours, but not more than twenty-four.
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C, Gas Mark 4). Weigh out the flour and the oil and whisk to combine in your largest oven-safe Dutch oven, e.g. enameled cast iron. Bake this, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours, whisking two or three times during cooking. When cooked, the roux should be caramel-colored.
The Beans, Part Two: The Boil
Drain the beans, reserving the liquid†. Add water until you are back to two quarts, and pour into a large saucepan (or small Dutch oven, etc). Stir in vegetable base‡. Add beans and bay leaves, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boil is reached, immediately drop heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, and continue to allow the beans to simmer gently while working on the Fallen Trinity.
Remove the roux from the oven and set it on a burner over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and sweat until onions begin to become translucent, 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Your roux will darken, perhaps turning brick-colored. This is normal. You have not burned it. Black flecks are burnt. Asphalt is burnt. Bricks are fine. Once the vegetables are cooked...
Stir in the beans along with their simmering water. While maintaining a simmer, add the tomatoes and herbs. In the pan from which you recently vacated the beans, briefly brown the sausage before adding it. Once everything is cooked and all ingredients are incorporated, add lime juice and cilantro and cook five minutes longer. Serve immediately.
†--Whoever told you to discard the soak water? They were wrong. You will not explode from flatulence for keeping it. Why waste all that flavor and nutrients?</dd>
‡--This stuff, which is not nearly so freaky as the damnèd packet.</dd>
*--If a shamanic practice is shamanistic when you're not practising it within a shamanic culture, it's clear to me that the practice of Cajun cuisine absent its context should get similarly abused. </dd></dl>