End-of-Winter Lentil Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Cabbage

bowl lentil stew sweet potato soup one-pot meal cabbage

I know T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month, but in New York City, it’s March. The winter seems to be over, as daylight savings time kicks in and temperatures finally creep above freezing. You might even get a day or two … Continue reading

Food for a Frankenstorm

The streets are all abuzz today with people out shopping in preparation for the oncoming Frankenstorm. I was on the Upper West Side for brunch and snapped this picture of a line at least 30 people deep, waiting to get into Whole Foods. No cheese in the world is worth that wait!

Queuing for organic tapioca and parsnip chips.

What are people buying? According to my completely anecdotal research (aka doing my own shopping at the C-Town), the popular items are batteries, beer, junk food, wine, and plantains. (Though that last one might be just the usual for my neighborhood’s demographic.) One lady’s shopping card had eight cartons of Lactaid; another, five boxes of Entenmann’s donuts and some grapes. Priorities emerge when foul weather is afoot.

I tried to stay away from refrigerated items and stocked up on fruit, canned stuff, grains and booze. Although I’m not too worried about losing power since a) I refuse to believe it will be as bad as they say and b) I have a gas stove, I’m still cooking a large batch of soup today which will reheat easily if necessary.

One of my favorite legumes appears fresh around this time of year: cranberry beans. Apparently they’re popular in Italian cooking, but my neighborhood is primarily Dominican and I see these suckers everywhere. They’re exceptionally tasty with a sort of chestnut-flavored flesh dotted with red speckles. (Sadly, when you cook them, the beans turn brown and the speckles disappear.) You can buy them dried (Bob’s Red Mill sells them, as does Williams-Sonoma and other specialty food stores), but if you ever see them fresh, I recommend snapping them up. You’ll need to buy at least two pounds to make a good sized pot of soup, but it’s worth it.

In the pod.

I made up this soup recipe after I cooked the beans with only garlic the first time. You can certainly boil the beans for a cold salad or to have by themselves, but because of their fleshy texture I think they make an excellent main soup anchor. Of course, you can make this recipe vegetarian by eliminating the bacon and using vegetable stock, but if you don’t have diet concerns I highly recommend sticking with the bacon — it matters.

Cranberry Bean Soup with Bacon and Herbes de Provence

Shelled and speckled before cooking.

2-3 lbs cranberry beans in shell (about 4-5 cups of shelled beans)
2 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 carrots, grated
2 celery ribs + leaves, thinly sliced
8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf, 1-2 tsp. white pepper (to taste), 1 Tbs. herbes de Provence, salt to taste

1. In a thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon and set aside.

2. On low heat, saute onion in bacon grease until softened. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes or until fragrant.

3. Add stock, beans, and spices. Crumble bacon and add. Bring to  a boil and then simmer until beans are tender, 45-55 minutes.

4. When beans are almost done (with about 10 minutes left of cooking time), add carrot and celery. The soup is done when the beans, cooled outside their liquid, split their skins.

5. Adjust seasoning and serve with crusty bread.

Note: If buying fresh beans, look for long pods with distinct bumps. The color seems to be less important — the ripest pods are usually dull, slightly dried out, and not nearly as attractive as less-ripe-but-more-colorful ones.

If using dried beans, soak overnight beforehand. You may also need to adjust the cooking time.

Stinging Nettle Soup

I’m a big believer in trying to eat like the locals, so when I saw stinging nettles at the Edinburgh farmers’ market, I snatched them up. (Yes, I realize that I could just go harvest my own from any park or garden, but I took the easy route). Nettles actually do sting, thanks to a pesky chemical compound, so, lacking gardening gloves, I wore plastic bags when washing and chopping them. The best part of the nettle is the youngest bit — the tender top leaves. If the plant has already flowered, don’t eat it — just mow it down and let the young stems sprout anew!

Knowing that nettles are commonly used for tea or soup, I found this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and adjusted it based on what I had on hand and to my own personal taste. I did not precisely shift the quantities when converting to non-metric measurements; for more precise measurements, please refer to the original recipe.

Stinging Nettle Soup

3 Tbs butter
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
Six cups of chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups stinging nettle tops, roughly chopped (Wear gloves while handling raw nettles!)
4-5 scallions or spring onions, chopped
salt and pepper
yogurt or sour cream (optional)

1. In a heavy, large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the onion, garlic, and celery, salt and pepper. Sweat until softened.

2. Add the stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3. When potatoes are tender, stir in nettles and simmer about five minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in scallions. When cool enough, puree with an immersion blender or  food processor.

5. Reheat if necessary. Serve with yogurt or sour cream to garnish.

Oh nettle, where is thy sting?

For my first taste, though not first brush, of nettles, I was pleased. The soup was appropriate for spring as the taste of nettles can only be described as green. Lacking nettles, I could see myself making this with any young lettuce or other greens. I used chicken stock but if you want to make this 100% vegetarian then vegetable stock would work just as well. The yogurt added some necessary creaminess; without it, the soup had a sort of grainy mouthfeel — not altogether unpleasant, but a bit unsettling at first. I enjoyed the fact that I was eating a weed, quite literally. There’s something very satisfying about creating a delicious meal out of what would ordinarily be discarded as rubbish.