Lazy Girl's Bean Soup & Gluten-Free Cornbread
I'm pretty famous my my bean soup. My picky old-school relatives like it, my foodie friends like it, kids like it. I'm not sure why I haven't yet shared it here. Perhaps I was afraid of sharing the super secret recipe? While that's part of it, mostly I think people would be shocked to see how elementary my bean soup recipe is. But some of the best foods in the world are like that, aren't they - straight-forward, honest, rib-sticking, good.
Each autumn since I was a kid, my father and I have taken a bet on when the first flakes will fly. Oh sure, it sounds like a game, but in my family, this tradition is part fun, and part bloodsport. The amusing part of this ritual is that I almost always win, with an eerie number of spot-on predictions, so much so that I've got a reputation for having magical ways. And I'm not afraid to puff up and gloat when I win to solidify my legend.
Every year, the snow bets remain the same. If I win, I request a new pair of windshield wipers for my car. If my dad wins, he gets treated to my bean soup and cornbread.
Snow Bet Bean Soup
Sort through 1 lb (2 c.) of dry bean (pinto or black beans) for debris, then rinse. Place the beans in a large non-reactive bowl, cover with warm water, add 3/4 Tbsp. salt, and let soak overnight.
In the morning, drain and rinse the beans. Place them into a large crock pot, along with a smoked ham hock (the bones are important to the flavor of the soup, so plain old ham meat without bone won't do), a serrano chile, an onion (or two smaller oniony things like shallots), and a bay leaf. Don't fuss over any of this. This recipe is meant to be thrown together at 6am, as you are rushing out the door for work; all this can be done in 3 minutes flat. No need to chop the chile or even peel the onion, just chuck them in whole.
Add water until the level sits 1" above the beans. Cover, and let cook in the slow cooker all day long on low heat, no less than six hours.
Half an hour before serving, remove the meat, chile, and onions. Let cool 15 mintues.
In the meantime, use a potato masher to smush up a few beans, just 4-5 good swipes. If you mash them all, you end up with spackle, but if you don't mash any, there isn't proper cohesion. You are looking for the broth to become a bit cloudy and thick, but to still have lots of whole beans.
Using your fingers, tear the meat and any yummy jellied connective tissue from the bones (knock it off! the squidgy bits are the best, and are so good for your joints and more!) and tear them into bite-sized pieces. At the same time, rip the chile and onion into pieces. Add everything except the bones, onion skin, and chile stem back into the soup.
This is the perfect time to check your pantry and fridge for add-ins (although none are necessary, the simple soup is proper goodness). Hominy is amazing in the soup, as are pieces of potato, or diced green chiles. I also really enjoy cubes of leftover roasted winter squash. Better yet, add them all. I call that version Three Sisters and Two Wicked Stepsisters Stew.
Add up to another cup of water to adjust consistency to your liking, and also test for salt. Let the soup continue to heat and mingle for another 15-30 minutes. Serve with cornbread.
Basic No-Fail Gluten-Free Cornbread
1/4 c. melted butter
1 c. room-temp milk
1 c. finely ground cornmeal
1/2 c. cornstarch*
1/3 c. sugar*
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum*
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
Add a big spoonful of bacon grease to a 10" cast iron skillet, and place the pan into the oven while it is preheating to 350 degrees (F).
Thoroughly mix all ingredients, let sit 3 minutes. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, add the cornbread batter, then place it back in the oven to bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let sit 5 minutes before serving with ridiculous amounts of butter.
*For years, I struggled to make this recipe "healthier" by substituting out the sugar, or using something other than cornstarch. The results were never as good. Thankfully I'm not so obsessive about food anymore. One slice of this cornbread with soup is fulfilling, and I couldn't want for more. I'll stop now before this turns into a full-blown rant about Puritanical food-righteousness.
So there, the cat's out of the bag.
And P.S. Pops, I totally let you win this year!
I'm sharing this post with Pennywise Platter Thursday, and Fight Back Friday.