I woke up recently with a craving for a summer barbecue-style bean salad: creamy beans, fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables, tangy vinaigrette with olive oil and lemon. I forgot to start the beans before I left for work but luckily Jen was working at home and could start the beans for me. I asked her to cover a cup of broken fava beans (they’re sold that way in the Lebanese section of my favorite Beninese grocery store) with a couple inches of water and cook them until al dente. Jen put the beans on and then forgot them completely. They cooked to the point of bursting, creating a thick, soupy liquid. No longer ideal for a salad, I changed my plan. Exploded beans make a great base for soup.
Originally I was going to sauté some greens with garlic, cumin and olive oil to serve with the salad. I love the flavor combo and so added the quartet in as a component of the soup. I had some tomatoes that were going to go in the bean salad so they went in, too. At the last minute I added some pasta because I wasn’t sure there’d be enough to eat without it. I seasoned the soup with some vinegar, salt and pepper. It tasted decent but lacked something… Looking at the pantry, the fish sauce called to me. A mainstay of southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce smells funky. On its own, it takes some getting used to. As a component of a dish it’s a pantry gem, adding layers of flavor and complexity to simple dishes. I added a dash. Then some more. A little goes a long way and the two tablespoons or so that I put in gave the other flavors more punch without dominating with its funkiness. Added at the last minute before eating, the paprika dusted croutons added a bit of crunch.
We let our soup cool until almost room temperature because eating soup in a sauna doesn’t appeal. Just thinking about eating hot soup makes me sweat. This soup, however, would be great on a cold winter night if you are a bit further from the equator than us.
Beans, Greens, Tomatoes and Pasta Soup with Croutons:
1 C dried broken fava or other beans^^
3 T olive oil^^
3 T garlic, finely chopped^
2 T cumin seeds^^
4 C loosely packed greens such as spinach, kale, collards, etc., cut into ribbons^
2 C chopped tomatoes^
¼ lb. Israeli couscous, alphabets, stars or other small pasta^^
2 T vinegar (I used cider vinegar) or to taste^
2 T fish sauce or to taste^^
s + p
- Cover beans with two inches of water, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add a dash of vinegar and a pinch of salt. Cook until the beans fall apart. If they start to dry out, add more water. You want a soupy final product.
- In a separate pot, sauté greens with garlic and cumin seeds in olive oil until wilted; add tomatoes and add a pinch of salt to help release liquid. Cook until tomatoes start to fall apart. Add beans and cooking liquid to greens and tomatoes, add water if too thick. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes to meld flavors. Better yet, take the pot off the heat, let it cool and put it in the fridge overnight allowing the flavors to fully blend.
- Add enough water so that the soup is thinner than the desired final product as pasta will suck up liquid. Return the soup to a boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is still very al dente, turn off the heat. The pasta will continue to cook so turning it off early prevents it from getting mushy. Season with vinegar, fish sauce, salt and pepper.
2 C leftover bread cut into cubes^
2 T olive oil^^
1 t paprika^^
s + p
- Cut day old bread into cubes. Toast in a dry pan. Drizzle with olive oil until lightly browned. Season with salt, pepper, paprika.
^ Ingredient purchased in our town and used by locals on a daily basis.
^^ Ingredient purchased at supermarkets in Porto Novo or Cotonou that cater to wealthier Beninese and foreigners.
^^^ Ingredient sent courtesy of friends and families in care packages.
^^^^ From our garden.