Sweet Miss Margie sent me a message asking how the bean cookery went, and my two sentence reply quickly turned into a couple of paragraphs on the deliciousness of Vaquero Bean soup. Those little black-and-white speckled beauties were so tender, so mild and creamy, that I decided a blog post was most definitely in order. And, so, without further delay:
Vaquero Bean Soup
...good for City Slickers, too!
This is more of a method than a recipe, so I'm going with a narrative format.
1. Soak your beans. Rancho Gordo recommends picking through the beans for debris, rinsing with cool water and then covering with fresh water in a bowl for 4-6 hours.
I started with 16 oz. of adorable Vaquero beans (pictured above), by weight, but this recipe would also work with pintos and other mild-flavored beans. I followed the Rancho Gordo method for soaking.
2. Slice a couple of links of sausage (smoked, bratwurst, polish or other) into bite-sized chunks and brown thoroughly in olive oil in a soup pot.
And I mean brown, people. Not late-summer tan, but really freakin' brown. Don't skimp on this step, and don't worry if there's a lot of flotsam and jetsam left in the pot. That's what we're aiming for.
3. Remove the sausage chunks from the pot with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add to the pot one large yellow onion, two carrots and two ribs of celery, diced. Also add a few cloves of minced garlic, a generous sprinkling of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute until lightly browned.
Again, take your time, allowing the veggies to sweat out their liquids and become golden and delicious. The mirepoix will prevent your garlic from over browning.
4. As the veggies cook, add your spices to the pot.
For this recipe, I like a healthy dose of ancho or other mild chili powder - 1-2 tbsp. - and a pinch of red pepper flakes. They work together to generate warmth and heat. Also add 1 1/2 tsp. of oregano. (aside: I used the wonderful, fragrant Mexican Oregano from my sampler pack, which has a distinctive appearance that also brings to mind a certain other infamous herb(1)). Finally, I want you to add 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon. Don't fight me on this one, just go with the flow - a soupcon of cinnamon will add depth and character, filling in the nooks and crannies of your dish's flavor profile. I learned this trick from a famous chef(2), and I also use it when I make meat sauces and other slow-simmered delights.
5. When veggies are ready, add sausage and beans (drained of their soaking liquid) to the pot. Pour in stock to completely cover, and season once more with a little salt and pepper.
Match your stock to your sausage - mild sausage works well with chicken stock, but a more robust version may be a better match for beef stock.
6. Simmer 3 hours, adding more liquid (stock or water) if necessary. Check and adjust seasoning before service.
I ate this soup by itself, and it was stand-alone good. It would also be wonderful with corn bread (click here for a great recipe) or hot buttered rice. Before you begin considering side dishes, however, you'll need to zip over to Rancho Gordo's site and get yourself some of their amazing heirloom beans! Enjoy!
1. Which we won't talk about right now.
2. Actually, I learned this trick from Jimi Mistry in The Guru.