Pages

Photographs by Meadow Linn

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where's the Beef?


After gorging himself on the soup my roommates and I had made, he asked, "What's for dinner?" Glenna, Marisa, and I exchanged confused glances. Was this a joke? We were midway through our senior year of college, and both of my roommates had recently started dating new guys. As a way to introduce their new beaus to their friends, Glenna and Marisa invited them to dinner one Saturday night.

I offered to help prepare the meal, and the three of us spent all afternoon ignoring our studies while chatting and chopping in our small dormitory kitchen. By dinnertime, we had made a delicious vegetable soup and a beautiful salad. We were banking on this meal being warm and filling on such a cold and wintry New England evening, but we had underestimated the appetites of our guests. They had expected meat. For them, a meal without meat, was not a meal.

I can't remember now if they ended up going out for burgers after leaving our place or if Marisa ended up retreating to the kitchen to make something meaty  for "dinner" as apparently the soup had just been the appetizer. However, Glenna and her guy are now married, so who knows...maybe despite its lack of meat, the soup worked its magic anyway.

The following "beefed-up" version of my hearty bean and vegetable stew is filled with so many goodies that even your most meat-loving friends and family will find this to be a hearty meal when served with crusty Italian bread and grated cheese to sprinkle on top.


 



Hearty Bean and Vegetable Stew
serves 8-10

1 16-oz pkg. of dried mixed beans and barley
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
3 cups chopped and peeled sweet potato
3 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups frozen spinach
1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
1 32-oz boxes of chicken or vegetable broth (4 cups)
1 cup red wine
salt and pepper

The magic of soup is that you don't need to be precise when you're cooking. Use what you have in the refrigerator. If you don't have sweet potato, try using pumpkin or winter squash. No frozen spinach? Throw in some fresh spinach, chopped kale, or Swiss chard. Mix and match until you find a combination that works for you. And if you have guests who absolutely need meat, throw in some sliced Italian sausage.

This makes a big pot of stew, but I always figure if you're going to chop all those vegetables, you might as well make a lot. You can freeze what you don't eat or share it with friends and family.

Soak the beans overnight and rinse in cool water before using. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic with the olive oil and Italian seasoning. Add the other vegetables (I like to chop each vegetable while the others are sautéing to save time). Add the beans, tomatoes and juice, broth, wine, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for 2-3 hours or until the beans are tender. Keep an eye on the liquid level, you may need to add more broth or water if it gets too thick. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and if you'd like to add some spice to your life, add a dash of red chili flakes.