Ham and Bean Soup

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I haven’t written much about food lately. My love/hate relationship with this necessity of life has trended toward the latter in recent months. The root cause of this discomfort has been the intent to reverse the weight gain associated with my back surgery. At best, I’ve stalled that gain.

My husband started a diet around the same time with lots more success than I’ve had. When I mentioned this contrast to my family doctor recently, she told me, “Don’t despair about this. My husband could lose weight just by sleeping fifteen extra minutes a day.”

Right now my husband is resting. Sleep has been elusive for him this week because he had his second rotator cuff surgery in 18 months. I’ve heard that such a surgery used to be remarkably painful. Now there’s a 3-day nerve block that alleviates the worst part of recovery from the surgery.

Unlike me, my husband is practically a model patient, good-natured and oriented to reality. He is not grouchy or prone to confabulation. He wouldn’t complain loudly about the help then whisper that he’d given birth to alien twins that had been absconded moments after birth, which is exactly what I did once upon a time years before I met him.

I decided to make him some ham and bean soup today. Now that his appetite is returning, I thought I’d make him something to help him rebuild after the surgery. The soup was well-received, for he ate four bowls of it.

This soup has plenty of onion in it. Actually, both my husband and my daughter railed against the smell of the onions sweating in butter. My daughter hid from it, complaining that the smell would be bonded to her shower-wet hair. Then my husband asked me to open a couple windows to air out the house.

I suppose that they do not have the happy association I have with that smell. It is the scent that assailed me every time I arrived for a holiday meal with extended family while I was growing up. In my family, a good gathering began with the sight and smell of yellow onions sweating in hot butter or lard.

Ham and Bean Soup

Serves 6-8

  • One large yellow onion, finely diced
  • generous dash freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups sliced carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 lb ham, cubed into 1/4-1/2″ pieces
  • 3 16 oz. cans great northern beans, drained

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium. Add diced onion and pepper to pan and cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Stir in carrots and celery. Cover and cook for five minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cover and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 to 60 minutes until vegetables are tender. Serve with toast or garlic bread.

Simple Hummus

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Hummus is easy to make at home. When I whip up a batch in my blender, I skip the olive oil to cut down on fat. Oil does lend that divinely smooth mouth feel to traditional hummus, but I don’t miss its flavor in my homemade batches.

By the way, in my first little draft of this recipe, I accidentally typed “1 glove garlic.” What could be made with a glove of garlic, and it could it double as eternal insurance against vampires?

Simple Hummus

Yield: 1.5 cups, or 12 2 Tbsp servings

  • 1 16 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
  • 4 T tahini
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 5 T water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 salt
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients into blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Serve with cut vegetables and crackers.

Dill Pickle Hummus

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When I think of hummus, one of the few latin phrases I know comes to mind, ne plus ultra: there is nothing greater. To my palate, no other dip approaches the glory of hummus, which I’ve enjoyed for 25 years. The classic combination of garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic tastes so divine that I hesitate to justify a departure from it. I have read so many well-reviewed recipes for variations on hummus that it may be a blank canvas for all sorts of culinary adventures.

Today I tried combining hummus with another of my favorite flavors, refrigerator dill pickles. I’d recommend using a pickle you love. I’ve added pickles to enough recipes to know that it’s best to use a pickle you enjoy by itself. This pickle principle is parallel to the advice of cooking only with wines you like to drink. Otherwise, the finished dish could disappoint your taste buds. I’ve put hummus on sandwiches with pickles often enough that I guessed the combo could work in dip form. It has decent tartness that doesn’t mute the umami of the tahini.

Dill Pickle Hummus

Makes 2 1/2 cups

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained

2/3 cup dill pickles, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup tahini

2 T pickle brine

1 T lemon juice

1/2 cup fresh dill, torn into pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with cut vegetables and crackers.

Succotash Dinner

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This recipe is my take on Cooking Light’s Edamame Succotash. It’s one of those simple recipes that value whole foods, and it looks as if can be adapted liberally to suit a wide array of preferences. I prefer lima beans to edamame. While canned lima beans are infamous for adding a bitter note to mixed vegetables, the dry and frozen forms have a neutral flavor and smooth texture that yields well to seasoning.

I should mention why I decided to blog about what I’m cooking. I have a tendency to make a dish differently over time based on the contents of my fridge and pantry. My husband suggested that I start making notes of how I’d made a dish a particular time it turned out well. For someone as disorganized as I am, a blog is an ideal place to record recipes.

Writing about cooking also honors a task that it is vital yet so undervalued among tasks done day to day. When there is no record in writing or photos to show what I’ve done in the kitchen, it is all too tempting to strip meaning and purpose from all the time I devote to this kind of work. When I click through my recipes here, I am reminded that my time has value, and time spent on cooking is not wasted.

By the way, ham isn’t necessary to this finished dish. It could taste intriguing with a pound of shrimp or chicken instead. The beans provide a decent amount of protein, so the meat can be omitted entirely to create a vegetarian main as well.

Succotash Dinner

8 servings

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

8 oz white mushrooms, sliced

1 T salted butter

1 T olive oil

1/2 t black pepper

1/4 t salt

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 lb frozen lima beans, thawed

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

2 T white vinegar

1 t dried thyme (or 1 T fresh thyme)

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley

1 lb cubed ham

1 large fresh tomato, diced

Hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, shallots, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, until onions are transculent. Stir in corn and let sit for a minute or two over the heat so the corn browns just a little. Pour in stock, add bay leaf, and sprinkle in thyme. Add lima beans, turn down heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for ten minutes. Stir in ham and vinegar and heat five minutes more. Remove bay leaf, sprinkle parsley and tomatoes over all, and serve over rice.

Sausage, Greens and Beans Dinner

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If my mother-in-law Fannie were alive today, she’d be 101 years old. She learned to cook in the wilds of Magoffin County, Kentucky, with no electricity or running water. She was a master cook who could make hog’s head as tasty as fried chicken. Many of her recipes are lost, as she hadn’t relied on written recipes for years before her passing. I think of the following recipe as a fast way to bring a touch of Kentucky to our dinner table in Ohio, and I hope that Fannie would approve of its flavor if not its convenience.

As with most of my recipes, there is flexibility in this one for changes. I’ve tried this recipe with kale or spinach instead of collard greens, with good results. Different beans may be used as well. Feel free to lower the salt content through using reduced sodium broth, etc.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb bulk breakfast sausage, such as Bob Evans Original Roll Sausage
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 lb collard greens, chopped, or 2 14 oz cans collard greens, drained
  • 1 15.5 oz can pinto beans, drained
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 T white vinegar

Crumble and brown sausage in a dutch oven. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. If using fresh greens, gradually add greens to pot and stir gently until wilted. If relying on canned greens instead, just stir them into the pot. Next add the beans, garlic powder and oregano. Simmer covered until the greens are tender and add vinegar.

Serve with cornbread.