Saturday, August 30, 2008

Artichoke to Za'atar - White Bean Soup with Merguez Sausage

I wouldn't normally make soup in August. Soup making is a cold weather sport, and the time commitment intimidating. Huddling over a soup pot hour after hour, tweaking quantities and conditioning the right balance of flavors -- August is too hot for that. But if its a Middle Eastern soup? Heck, August in Minnesota is like . . . , I guess like night to an equatorial country, and the ingredient list was intriguing.

The use of cinnamon caught my attention. Although I'd seen cinnamon used as a savory ingredient in an Ethiopian stew (see Niter Kebbeh and Mekellesha in Ethiopian night), it still creates cognitive dissonance -- isn't this the stuff you make cookies and sweet rolls out of? My source for this recipe, Melissa Lion on Culinate mentions the same reaction in her review of Artichoke to Za'atar, by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Cinnamon is a hot spice, evident in numerous candies and displays of machismo on Youtube.

Hazelnuts, both roasted and hazelnut oil, put vote number two in the "I'll make this" column. I hated to drop $10 to $15 on such a specialized ingredient as hazelnut oil, but I have a feeling that if I own a bottle of hazelnut oil, I will find uses for hazelnut oil. There might be a salad dressing on the horizon.

The third vote in favor came from the Merguez sausage. I had never had Merguez sausage, but ground lamb with garlic, roasted red pepper, pepper flakes, oregano and paprika -- how wrong can you go? I didn't bother looking for a shop that sells this, though St. Paul's East African community is large enough to support halal butchers. I bought the ingredients and made it myself sans casings. I found a recipe at Charcuterista.

I belong to the "recipes are guides, not gods" club. The recipe as provided in Melissa Lion's review was very good. But I would make some changes. There was scarcely a quart after an hour and a half on the stove. An incidental draw to this recipe was that I could use some homemade stock and homegrown tomatoes. Unfortunately, the 3 tomatoes called for were overkill; this wound up very acidic. I plan on making this again, but here is the recipe with my adjustments:

White Bean Soup with Merguez Sausage (modified from Artichoke to Za'atar)

1 cup white haricot (navy) beans, sorted, rinsed and soaked overnight in 2 1/2 cups of water*
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cinnamon stick
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 oz. of bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery
2 cloves garlic
2 medium ripe tomatoes, skinned de-seeded, and finely chopped
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp thyme leaves
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp hazelnut oil
Salt & pepper
1 cup shredded spinach leaves
12 oz merguez sausage, grilled and sliced
2/3 cup of roasted, peeled and crushed hazelnuts
  1. Drain the haricot (navy) beans and place them in a tall 4 quart pan with the chicken stock and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours until the beans are tender. If you use the "quick soak" method below, this may be shorter.
  2. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and saute the bacon, onion, garlic and celery for about 4 minutes until they are lightly colored and softened. Add the mix to the beans and stock with the tomatoes, honey, thyme, lemon zest and hazelnut oil.
  3. Season with salt, pepper. Bring the soup to a boil. Add the shredded spinach, garnish with slices of the merguez sausage and crushed hazelnuts.
*"Quick soak" method of preparing beans: Sort and rinse beans. Place beans with twice as much water in a pan with a tight fitting lid. Boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat and cover with the lid. Allow to sit for two to four hours.

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