SOTW: Slow Cooker Tomato Soup

What could be better on a chilly day than a hot bowl of tomato soup?  I have an answer to that – on a chilly day, the only thing better than a hot bowl of tomato soup is a hot bowl of tomato soup that is waiting for you, nearly complete, when you walk in the door with two pool-soaked “freezing cold” six year old swimmers.

I should confess that as a child I was never a tomato soup eater – the ever present Campbell’s soup can didn’t do a thing for me, but Mr. Little Sis was a huge fan.  I was always happy to simply eat the grilled cheese that usually accompanied a great bowl of tomato soup.  As my love affair with the tomato became a permanent state, however, I’ve given this simple dish another chance.  In the past I found that creamy versions usually were my preference, but in more recent days, I’ve avoided creamy soup.  What to do?

I was confident someone on the vast internet had conquered the creamy tomato soup with no cream conundrum, and lo and behold, I was correct.  I stumbled onto a recipe that uses beans to thicken, fortify, and give soup some body.  Being the me that I am, I took the recipe to heart and promptly began changing it to meet my increasingly particular standards. 😉  The result was a creamy and flavorful soup that was warming to the toes, each bite full of tomato goodness.  Smoked paprika evokes roasted goodness and smoky warmth.  So flavorful, and so perfectly simple. Continue reading

Riffing on a Theme in the Kitchen

When a musician “riffs on a theme,” she keeps some core element of a bit of music and adds new bits, changes it in some way, re-interprets that bit in a new way.  She may do all of those things.  Some central and fundamental bit remains, the theme, but the riffing is what makes it new, fresh, and individualized.  Riffing on a theme is a great way for someone to get into cooking and to provide a wide variety of dishes based on a few core theme dishes.  The spinach namul dish that I wrote about a couple of days ago is like this – you can riff on the namul all over the place and have a wide variety of nutritious and delicious veggie bits.  The white bean dip that Big Sis wrote about on Sunday is a riff on a theme as well – the infamous bean dip with other delish bits.  Today we’re going to explore veggie spreads a little more with the queen mother of all bean-based spreads… hummus.

I’m imagining that hummus is no longer new to folks, that you have at least had it on a chip at some group event, but I want to encourage you for a moment to REALLY give hummus a good go.  It is incredibly versatile – dip, sandwich filling, cracker spread, spoon in mouth (okay that’s me and I REALLY like hummus).  Hummus is a great way to add some vegetable protein, fiber, and flavor to your diet in places that might otherwise require mayonnaise and deli meat (we can talk about that more later, too, wow I better start a list).  So in my never-ending quest to provide some measure of acceptable variety at lunchtime, I’ve broached hummus a few times.  Until a few days ago, however, I never had hummus like this.

Baja Hummus – Inspired by Dreena Burton’s Black Bean & Orange Hummus in Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan

  • 2.5 c cooked black beans
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 3 T tahini (or nut butter of whatever kind you have)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 T red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/4 t chili powder (whatever kind you like)
  • 1/3 c fresh parsley
  • 1 t orange zest (zest before squeezing juice)

Throw all of your ingredients into a food processor and go to town.  Stop a couple of times to scrape down bowl with spatula.  Process until you get the consistency you like.  We loved this slathered onto a whole wheat tortilla and covered with a whole mess of spinach and a few slices of avocado.  Delish.

One of the great things about hummus is that it is the perfect dish to practice riffing on a theme – using a basic recipe and applying different flavor profiles to it.  If you look closely at the recipe above, you can see the main components of a hummus: beans, a nut or seed butter (or sometimes just nuts) an acid (citrus is common, but sometimes it’s just vinegar), a little oil, and flavorings.  The proportions are important only to the extent that your food processor will spin on its own and create a texture that you like.  While my darling spouse and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED the Baja Hummus, our children were not inclined to give it a go.  I think the color did them in.  And, silly me, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that they actually DO like chickpeas – a wiser bean choice for the every 4 months or so “let’s see if you like hummus now” test.

So after we demolished the Baja Hummus, I decided to make a milder version to attempt a second pass at the hummus accord.  I used the above recipe as a guide because I liked the texture of the first hummus and simply changed some of the ingredients to mellow things out a bit.

GARBANZORANGE HUMMUS

  • 2.5 c cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1/3 c orange juice
  • 3 T tahini
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/4 c parsley
  • 1 tsp orange zest

Bits in processor bowl.  Go to it.  Scrape down sides a couple of times.  Run it until it’s the consistency you like.  Suggest to your little ones that maybe they’d like some chickpea (okay, so I called them tushies, cause you know the chickpea has a little bum on it and it cracks my kids up) hummus.  Totally different reception.  Still didn’t win over my picky one, but she at least took a bite.  The boy declared it delicious and began campaigning to get his sister to eat some.  We will get there.  And so will you, just keep trying different versions and you’ll find the one that makes your family go garbanzos (har, har)!  Maybe a more Mediterranean version would work (yeah, I know, I’m like a compass, I have to go there).  Replace the orange juice with lemon juice or a mix of lemon juice and wine vinegar and add sun dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, and pine nuts.  How about a little Frenchy hummus action?  That would surely include some thyme and perhaps a little basil.  Maybe white wine vinegar in place of the red wine and lemon in place of orange juice.  The really great thing here friends is that beans are CHEAP.  Buy them dried and boil them at night while you’re doing other things.  Store in jar in fridge until you’re ready to use them (don’t wait too long, they will spoil) and then you’ve got a really cost effective sandwich filling to spread your culinary wings with.  Riff on that theme.  Polish those chops.  Pretty soon you’ll be improvising with the best of them.  And it will be Delish.

A Note on Cooking with Beans:  While canned beans are convenient, they can be loaded with salt and they are, while still cheap as proteins go, far more expensive than dried beans.  The problem with dried beans?  Well, they’re dried.  So whipping something up at the drop of a hat doesn’t seem possible.  My solution to this is to either 1) soak beans overnight prior to cooking and using them the next day OR occasionally at night or on the weekend I will do a quick soak (bring beans to a boil, boil for 2 minutes and then soak in hot water for an hour) so that all that’s left is cooking time.  If time allows, I will also go ahead and cook them further and store them in the fridge completely ready to go.  More info on cooking with dried beans can be found here.