After reading a lot of online reviews for Suvir Saran’s cookbooks, I got intrigued and stuck them on my wish list. For Christmas, my in-laws got me American Masala, which is a fusion cookbook of American dishes with Indian flavors and a little bit of vice versa. The Smoky Bean Soup is the first dish I have made from the book. My mother in law is visiting right now and she, like all her family, really enjoys Asian food. So I always try to cook Asian food for them when they visit, at least one meal, and this seemed extra appropriate since they got me the book. (Stay tuned for the Thai meal I plan to make her later this week!).
This stew (which actually does not taste very Indian, I am not sure what it tastes like other than what it is, which is smoky, bacon-y, spicy—serious comfort food) was a huge success with one glaring error, but I think it is easily correctable and that is why I am both sharing the recipe with you and also planning to make the recipe again myself. It was way, way too salty. I don’t mind salt, nor does my mother in law, so we both enjoyed the dish, but John had trouble with it. However he also agreed that the stew had the potential to be really satisfying if less salty. So I have adjusted the recipe from 2 tablespoons of kosher salt (!) to 1 teaspoon plus more at the end to taste if needed. I have also reduced the oil from ¼ cup to 1 ½ tablespoons—as you will see this recipe is not light.
Smoky Bean Soup
Adapted from American Masala, Suvir Saran
6 cups of water
1 ½ T extra virgin olive oil
10 whole black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
4 dried bay leaves
4 dried red chile peppers (I used 1 because of the girls)
one 2-3 inch cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 large red onions, chopped (I used 2 ½ as I had some to use up)
1 t kosher salt
½ lbs thick cut bacon, finely chopped (choose a good, flavorful bacon as this is the flavor that really shines here)
2 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced into rounds
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dried white beans of choice (he calls for cannellini, I used cranberry), soaked in cool water overnight and then drained*
12 scallions, thinly sliced (white/light green parts kept separate from the dark green parts)
pinch of asafetida**
lemon wedges, for serving
Place I cup of water next to your stovetop. Heat the oil with the whole spices, including the bay leaves, over medium high heat, 2-3 minutes, until the cinnamon unfurls. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the bacon, parsnips and garlic, and cook until the onions are deeply brown, about 10-12 minutes. Stir often, splashing with water if the bacon or onions start to stick. You may not use all of the water (I did not—I also turned my heat up to high, but my stove is rather sad). Add the beans, white/light green scallion slices and asafetida and cook for 2 minutes.* Pour in 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until the beans are tender, 1 ½ to 2 hours. Stir every 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, especially more salt, and serve with lemon wedges. Garnish with the dark green scallion slices.
*You could also use canned beans, in which case drain and rinse them and reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes. OR you could also do what I did (because I forgot to soak my beans and was concerned about cooking time but I think this worked really well) and cook the beans separately in 6 cups of water and then add the beans and cooking water together with the scallions and asafetida.This allows you to start the beans in advance and make sure that they will cook by dinner time!If they get done way too early (mine actually did) just take them off of the heat and set them aside until your stew is ready for the beans/water step.Then proceed, simmering for 30-60 minutes, depending on how tender your beans are.
**Asafetida is available in Indian grocery stores. Its extremely pungent aroma can be off putting (I keep mine inside of a sealed bottle, inside of 2 layers of plastic ziplock bags) but it adds a pleasantly elusive taste to Indian dishes and I recommend you give it a try. Just don’t store it in a closed cupboard (unless yours is sealed better than mine anyway) because it will end up perfuming the whole cupboard. I keep mine on an open pantry shelf.