Never cook beans at high altitudes. Never. Of course I told myself this 3 years ago when I tried making split pea soup for dinner one night while in the High Sierras of Mammoth. It was noon and I thought I'd just be extra cautious and start the soup. "I'm going to start cooking dinner," I announced. "That's ridiculous," Gray responded. "It won't take 7 hours to make split pea soup. And besides, do we have to eat that? It smells like gym socks!" I glared at him, imagining the Wiicontroller in his hand coming to life and smacking him upside the head. "It does not," I barked. "And even if it did, you're still eating it!"
I sauteed the onions, carrots and celery in a bit of olive oil, tossed in the peas with water to cover, and left it to "do its thing". Well, fast forward 8 hours and those peas had not done a darn thing! No breaking down, no softening, no nothing. Those freaking lazy peas! There they sat among the mirepoix, hard as a rock, with the water just looking back at me as if to say, "It's not my fault. It was the PEAS!!" It's also important to note that I am a 6:30 pm dinner diner. So by 8 pm I was about to eat my arm. "Let's just go out sweetie," Gray said, simultaneously trying to calm me while not getting eaten himself. "NO!!" I screamed. "I made soup and we are going to eat soup!" And we did. With our side salad and bread, we ate that crunchy pea soup bite by bite. Each terrible gulp felt as if my mouth walked into a cloud of chalk. By the end of the bowl I was willing myself to finish it. "Come on, Jamie. You can do it," I coached. "You show that measly little bowl of soup whose boss!" And I did. HA! Take that you crunchy, stubborn peas. With a tummy full of undigested pea parts, I collapsed onto the couch, uncomfortable yet undefeated. I have since never made a bean, split pea, lentil, you-name-the-legume soup while visiting Mammoth.
That is, until last weekend. OK, I cheated a little. I knew I wanted to make soup, you know, to complete our snow flurried visit. However, I was not about to relive my split pea horror. So I did what any resourceful girl would do. I cooked the beans a head of time. The trick worked beautifully. The soup came together in no time flat and the beans were perfectly creamy, with just the slightest bit of toothiness. Just as they were meant to be. Fantastico! So I cheated, so what! I give you all permission to cheat a bit on execution when necessary. However, if anyone has a trick on the best way to man-handle legumes in the mountains, I am all ears. Enjoy.
Scarlett Runner and Fennel Soup
I am notorious for throwing whatever I have into a pot and calling it soup. Sometimes it works, sometimes it REALLY doesn't. This time, thankfully, it did. Feel free to use celery for the fennel but I have to say, the fennel gives it a lovely touch of sweetness. Also if you cannot find scarlett runners, use any large creamy bean. Ayecote morado, cannellini, cranberry, or borlotti will all work beautifully.
1/2 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, cored, and diced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups scarlett runner beans, cooked
5-6 cups organic chicken stock or water
2 cups escarole, washed and shredded, feel free to substitute with kale or chard
sea salt and pepper to taste
In a medium stock pot, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the carrots and fennel and cook until they have softened. Add in coriander and nutmeg and heat through. Throw in the beans with another pinch of salt and cover with stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add the shredded escarole and cook until bright green and wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the soup and stir well. Feel free to add a bit more if you like it particularly rich :) Ladle into bowls and enjoy!