TND – No parade for me

September 30, 2011

There are any number of food related bandwagons which I have not just jumped on to, but have walked in the parade, cheered on the sidelines and made large posters with sparkly puffy paint to promote (well, figuratively anyway).

I’m on board with the local food movement. I was a proponent of the slow food movement before it had a name. I’m kind of an adherent of the organic food movement – by which I mean, I’ll do it when it’s easy, convenient and not wildly more expensive than the alternative. I spend quite enough of my budget on food as it is, I don’t need to look for ways to spend more.

I’m so down with the no processed foods movement that when I ran across an internet challenge to sign up and commit to not eating any processed foods in October I was hard pressed to come up with much of anything in our kitchen that was processed. Eventually I remembered the jar of peanut butter, the leftover Fluff from last week’s dessert, and the carton of ice cream in the freezer. I’ll admit there was more than a passing feeling of smugness that accompanied that realization.

The downside to all that clean living is that when you really want a cracker, like my roommate did the other night, only thing that we could find were some ancient unopened saltines and some equally ancient unopened Carr’s Water Crackers. The saltines, incidentally, even unopened did not prove to be something you can keep indefinitely. They revert to their processed origins and pick up (according to my roommate, I didn’t opt to see for myself) a strange unpleasant chemical taste. The water crackers were apparently better – good enough to satisfy the craving, but not good enough to return to the pantry.

That being said, there are some things where I will almost always opt for the canned, pre-made version. I’ve talked about my aversion to making pie dough before, and anything that calls for puff pastry or fillo dough you can also assume I bought and retrieved from my freezer at the appropriate juncture. Tomatoes in the winter, and pumpkin puree unless I happen to have some leftover from some other use, and beans are also all things for which I will buy the canned version and tend to have at least one can of lying around for the eventualities of if and when.

The pitch for cooking your own beans is that it’s cheaper (true), tastes better (probably also true – I made a white bean dish last winter from dry beans that was a revelation), is easy (mostly true) and you can freeze anything you don’t use for a future day (this assumes your freezer space isn’t at a premium).

Between the beans and the pumpkin puree I threw away nine cans this week which was enough to give me pause and make me think about whether I wanted to hitch a ride on another food band wagon. I have cooked my own beans from scratch, and it’s not difficult. It’s a little time consuming, but not hard. And, I will admit they do taste better. They have a lovely creamy texture while still retaining a little bit of bite, while canned beans are frequently just a little mushy. However . . . however, while that is true, unless it’s a special occasion – i.e. the undoctored beans are the heart of the dish, like say baked beans, or the braised cannellini beans I made last winter – I think I’m going to stick with my canned beans.

Why? I like that I can keep several cans of beans in the pantry for emergencies – a can of chickpeas can stretch a meal for vegetarians, or be turned into an excellent quick dinner in about 20 minutes (see here and here for examples). I like that I don’t have to find space in my freezer to store home cooked beans, or then remember if I have them to hand when I need them, and then remember to take them out to defrost in time to use them (I am sans microwave). Home cooked beans do taste better, but canned beans when rinsed, drained and cooked with some spices are not so wildly different that I’m willing to spend several hours soaking and cooking beans from dry unless it is, as mentioned before, a very special occasion.

Dinner this week, if you’re curious, did not qualify as a very special occasion.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup w/ Candied Pumpkin Seeds
Yogurt Biscuits w/ two kinds of cheese
Salad w/ fennel, oranges & dried blueberries

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
(serves 6-8 – I doubled the recipe and had enough to serve +/- 14)

I had a whole plan for Dinner that took advantage of the end of season corn but really the best protein to serve with the corn dish I had planned was some form of chicken and I just couldn’t. No chicken recipe I read sounded appealing. In fact the very thought of eating more chicken inspired a vague sense of dread in me. So I nixed that menu plan. This menu plan is a little more autumnal than the weather really merited on Tuesday, but it was cold when I was planning Dinner and I discovered this recipe at the very tail end of last Spring year and I’ve basically been waiting all Summer to make it again.

3 (15 oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup tomatoes, chopped (if using canned, be sure to drain them)
2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp butter (unsalted by preference – if you use salted decrease the amount of salt you add)
4 cups beef broth
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin (or 1 ½ cups fresh pureed pumpkin)
½ cup dry Sherry*
Zest of an orange (optional – i.e. only if you have an orange lying around)
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ lb cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice
3 to 4 Tbsp Sherry vinegar (or red wine or white wine vinegar – some mild vinegar)

In a food processor coarsely puree beans and tomatoes.

Melt ½ Tbsp of butter in a heavy pan and sauté the cooked ham until lightly caramelized. Remove from pan and reserve. Melt remaining butter and sauté onions, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper until onion is softened and starting to brown.

Stir in the bean puree, broth, pureed pumpkin, sherry, orange zest (if using) and cinnamon. Whisk to combine and then simmer, uncovered for 20-30 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Just before serving add the ham back to the pot and stir in the vinegar. Simmer for a few minutes, or until ham is heated through.

Serve garnished with a swirl of sour cream (or plain yogurt, or heavy cream – whatever you have on hand**) and candied pumpkin seeds.

* If you don’t have any dry sherry on hand, or don’t want to use that much sherry in soup you can substitute a dry white wine + 2-3 Tbsp of a medium sherry. If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, you can substitute cider.

** I mixed equal parts plain yogurt and sour cream + 4-5 Tbsp of the juice from the oranges I put in the salad (enough juice to make the mixture about the thickness of heavy cream, and thin enough to pour nicely so that I could create pretty swirls in the bowls).

Post Game Commentary:

I made exactly half this recipe sometime in the late Spring and followed the recipe to a T and it was spectacular. I doubled the recipe this week (following the recipe) and had to perform emergency surgery on it Tuesday night to achieve the soup I remembered.

This is what I did to rescue the soup:

– I removed about ¼ of the soup (4 cups) and stashed it in the freezer with a note to myself for how to modify it at some later date.
– To the remaining soup (about 12 cups) I added 1/3 cup medium dry sherry, another can of pumpkin puree, and 2-3 Tbsp of tomato paste. I also added another (generous) ½ tsp of cumin and ¼ tsp of cinnamon to balance out the additional pumpkin + salt and pepper to taste.
– I then proceeded with the recipe as above, adding the ham and vinegar just before serving.

Next time I double the soup (and it freezes well, so it’s worth making it with leftovers in mind for a later instant dinner) I will:
– Only use 5 cans of beans (instead of six) – the main problem with the soup before I rescued it was that it was far too bean-y.
– Add an extra can of pumpkin puree – if you wanted more of a bean soup you could start with half a can, I like the flavor of the pumpkin to shine through the bean flavor so I think more rather than less, but that’s a personal preference.
– Use canned whole tomatoes instead of fresh – I think you get more concentrated tomato flavor from them (maybe because they’re softer and so you get more in a cup than you do with fresh?) and that concentrated flavor gives the soup more depth.
– Use dry white wine in place of the dry sherry but add 3-4 Tbsp of medium sherry (which I usually have on hand). The wine works as a base note, but the pumpkin and the beans are such bold flavors that you need the richer note of the sherry to stand up to them. I suspect that the cider will work as a substitute without any doctoring because cider has enough body to stand up to the soup – although you might need to add a little more vinegar at the end to balance out the added sweetness the cider will bring.

Of course, I have at this point never made the full recipe of the soup, but I can tell you it makes great soup when halved, and can be doctored to great soup if doubled.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds
(makes enough to garnish 8-10 bowls of soup)

3 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp salt
½ cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Swirl water and sugar together in a pan and cook until it caramelizes. Add the spices and pumpkin seeds and toss to coat. Spread out on a lightly greased plate or sheet of tin foil. Allow to cool and then break up into pieces (you could, I suppose, separate each pumpkin seed, but I lack that much patience).

Yogurt Biscuits
(makes 12 biscuits)

Don’t let the presence of whole wheat flour and yogurt in this recipe dupe you into believing that it is therefore healthy. With a full stick of butter for 12 biscuits this is not a healthy recipe. It is a very tasty recipe that yields an interestingly nutty biscuit that pairs exceptionally well with cheese, but it’s not good for you.

The recipe is courtesy of Heidi Swanson, and in the cookbook the biscuits bake up into piles of layers. Mine didn’t bake up quite as tall and flakey as hers seem to, but they were delicious nonetheless.

I served them with a sharp cheddar cheese, and with a honey-lemon fromage blanc (I get mine from a local dairy, but it could be replicated with some farmer’s cheese topped with lemon zest and a drizzle of honey). I liked the biscuits better with cheese than with just butter, but I bet they’d be good toasted with jam in the morning too.

1 ¼ cups (5 oz) whole wheat flour
1 ¼ cups (5.5 oz) all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ cup butter, cut into cubes
1 1/3 cups greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 450. Place an ungreased baking sheet in the oven to preheat for 5-10 minutes.

Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add yogurt and stir until just combined, you want to avoid over mixing.

Gather the dough into a ball and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 5 times and press into an 1” thick square. Cut in half and stack pieces on top of each other. Repeat 2 more times. Press dough into a ¾” thick rectangle. Cut into 12 equal biscuits.

Transfer to a preheated baking sheet, and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Salad (w/ thinly sliced fennel, orange segments & dried blueberries)
I wanted my salad to have a little more oomph than just mixed lettuce, and I like the play of the oranges against the pumpkin in the soup.



  1. […] this year and patiently waited to come in for me at the library.  It’s where the recipe for the Yogurt Biscuits came from, and is the source of my new favorite ginger cookies (two kinds of ginger + dried […]

  2. […] soups that are essentially one pot meals – beef, leek & barley, sweet potato and sausage, black bean & pumpkin with ham, gingery split […]

  3. […] Candied Pumpkin Seeds recipe previously given: No Parade for Me […]

  4. […] Recipe previously given: No Parade for Me […]

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