Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crocktober: Vegan French Market Soup and a Holiday Shopping Hint

 I might have lied when I said that crock pot marinara was the easiest crock pot recipe I would be sharing with you this Crocktober. The only real effort involved with this soup is remembering to rinse and soak the beans ahead of time. (And no, this post doesn't end with a list of things I want for Christmas).

Traditional French Market Soup involves a ham hock, but I made it once with the hock, and didn't feel like it added all that much, so this time I skipped it. But, you can add a smoked hock if you want to, or even thick-cut bacon. The traditional method also tells you to soak your beans overnight in a dutch oven, which sounds like a very bad idea for those of us with cast-iron dutch ovens, but if you want to do it by the book you can find a recipe here.

...But you're here to read my version (right?) so here it is:

about 8 oz. canned tomatoes (I used diced, without any added herbs or garlic)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, and a hefty pinch ground black pepper
Fresh thyme, for garnish (optional)
1 cup mixed dried beans (1/2 of 1 lb "16 bean soup" package; mine also had a little barley in it)
1/2 clove garlic, minced (I know 1/2 seems weird, but 1 is too much)
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 dried chili pepper or fresh pepper, diced
1 quart water

1. Sort and thoroughly rinse the beans. Soak in plenty of water in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours, changing the water at least once in this time. When you're setting up your crock pot, rinse them one more time before they go in.
2. Place everything but the thyme in a crock pot, and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Turn to high to cook for another 3 hours or so, or as needed until beans are tender. (Mine cooked for 8 hours on low, plus about four hours on high. Basically forever. Plan accordingly). Garnish with thyme, and serve with butter and a crusty bread, if you want.

I am grateful for the timing of Crocktober. I just started an internship on Wednesdays at a museum in Center City, which involves kind of a weird commute and often draining days, but being in crocking mode has made it so easy to come up with yummy dinners that I can have basically ready by the time I get home.
Making your own bean mix is easy, inexpensive, and actually makes a super-cute gift. Just combine 1  lb. of each of the following (or your own variation):

dried navy beans
dried pinto beans
dried great northern beans
dried green split peas
dried yellow split peas
dried black-eyed peas
dried brown lentils
dried baby lima beans
dried large lima beans
dried black beans
dried red beans
dried soybeans
pearled barley

                    ... Yep, that will make you about 13 pounds of bean soup mix.

BUT! Packaged in ball mason jars with a recipe printed on a pretty card or tag, its quite visually pleasing. This mix will fill 14 2-cup jars, which around the holidays is nice to have on hand for coworkers, family friends, or teachers, and according to my math comes out under $1.10 worth of beans per jar. If you want to go all out - maybe for a housewarming gift, joint holiday present, or even a wedding gift for a special couple in your life - you could make a nice gift package with the jar of beans, printed recipe, bag of dried chilies and a crock pot. Perhaps with a gift card to a bakery? Voila!

Crock pots vary widely in size and in price, but from all of my internet sleuthing it seems that the only real difference between the cheap ones and the pricey ones is the option to pre-set cooking times rather than relying on a switch. This recipe fits perfectly in a 2-quart crock, which you can easily get for $20 or less. (I know because I got mine from the Home Depot website for $18.) And don't get all nervous if your intended recipient isn't much of a cook. This recipe is so stupidly-easy-yet-delicious-in-its-simplicity that it will appeal to cooks and non-cooks alike. Also my mantra for holiday shopping this year is "thoughtful but cheap," so this idea is definitely appealing!

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