Category Archives: beans

How We Almost Made It to the Land of Shrimp & Bean Soup with Surprise

There is only one kind of shrimp that I can eat in mass without risking my face turning into a fire bucket – it’s a tiny wild-caught Nordic shrimp. There is something special about it as I am allergic to any other shrimp. In the US they are often referred to as Maine shrimp and here, in Quebec, we call them crevettes de Matane.  Matane is a city (and national park) in Gaspésie peninsula on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River (Canadian East coast) at the mouth of Matane River, a heavenly environment for Nordic shrimp to thrive because of the delta and the abundant beaver population.  

Back in August we were planning a trip to Gaspésie to get lost in the Atlantic scenery (with its monumentally unmatched wilderness), hike till we drop and, of course, unwind with local food. I could hardly think of a better end of the earth to go to, as even Mik’maq Natives (who occupied this land before the first Europeans arrived) called it Gespeg which means ‘the place where the land ends’. The place is also a Nordic heaven of edible wild plants, mushrooms, flowers, wild fruits, seeds and berries; a real Mecca for an avid forager.
We made reservations at Forillon National park and at some interesting spots along Route 132, which goes parallel to the shore all the way (amazing!).  Matane was supposed to be one of our stops.  Our lovely lab doggy was sure part of a plan: she just loves chasing birds along the ocean… Unfortunately, she also loves chasing anything else that flies, so she gulped a few nasty wasps just on the morning of our travel and we had to bring her to the vet.   Consequently, we had to cancel our Atlantic getaway (till better times) in favor of caregiving for the doggy’s growing goitre (French for goiter). We will never know if she really screwed up our trip or saved us from something: the sweet silence is one of her major virtues. The bottom line is – she is one of the best pets we ever had and was forgiven instantly just on these grounds.  
As for me, I went straight to the fish market and bought a huge bag of Crevettes de Matane to help the distress. I made zuppa di Fagioli (white bean soup), cooled it down to the room temperature, garnished with basil and Nordic shrimp (with tons of extra shrimp and Romesco sauce on a side) and had it watching the apocalyptic Rogen’s movie ‘’This Is the End’’. I perked up – the pain was gone…
I used the recipe from the book’Full of Flavour: Create… How to Think Like a Chef’’  written by London-based (Cyprus-born) chef Maria Elia, who is quite famous for her audacious yet successful dish experiments. The book was published (in English) in 2011 and quickly became a winner of UK Gourmand Book Award for best UK female chef which, I guess, speaks for itself.  I bought it last spring (French version) and tried many of her innovative twists. She encourages experimentation and creativity in cooking when following taste or season. This soup is one of the great examples of her approach. Based on a classic Italian bean soup, she added a bold touch of grilled shrimp and some fresh Greek basil to garnish it with and decided to serve it as a cold soup in summer.  Although it is equally delicious when warm, the taste of the cold version is totally different and with accentuated flavors -excellent for a hot summer day.  The beauty of this dish is also that you can make the bean soup ahead, even freeze it for a few days up until you are ready with your herb-shrimp garnish.  Packed with protein, fiber, carbohydrates, iron, selenium, folate, Vitamin B6, etc. – it is really a health supporting dish if ever there was one. And, by the way, if you don’t like basil, swap it with parsley, dill, cilantro, tarragon, sage, chives (they are all good matches for this combo). Finally, if you can’t get a hold of Nordic shrimp, try with any other shrimp (as the original recipe suggests or just skip it and have a pure vegetarian white bean soup with the herb of your choice. I’ve had it once with a dash of smoked paprika (smoke goes lovely with beans) and baby arugula or spinach and it was delicious. 
Last week I was really excited to see the Nordic shrimp back on the shelves in abundance and at a very low price.  That means that the shrimping is on, the quota has been raised and the tiny shrimp is still, fortunately, sustainable. Apparently, the population of the little inch-long Pandalus Borealis(scientific name),  which has been supporting commercial fisheries worldwide for decades, fluctuates from year to year dramatically and highly depends on the water temperature during the time of reproduction.  Wild Nordic shrimp is the cleanest and healthiest of all shrimps feeding on plankton. It plays a major role in the oceanic food chain and may serve as early indicator of changing climate due to their sensitivity to temperature.   
In 2012 the research indicated that the Northern shrimp population has once again declined and was below sustainable levels. The Nordic shrimp almost disappeared from the stores. I was happy to learn about this year’s better statistics. But we can never be sure for how long, which is why I feel really blessed every time I can taste the sweet treat in a successful dish combination.
Scandinavian people like their Nordic shrimp in Smorgastarta cakes and sandwiches; North Americans like it in rolls, tacos and pastas.  Here, in Quebec, they are sold already freshly cooked, peeled and deveined (on the boat, right upon shrimping), so the most popular way is to use them in salads and wraps. One of my favorite appetizers with it is (a riff from the 80s when avocados were a rare catch) the Nordic shrimp cocktail served in a grilled avocado half. It is fast and easy: the grilled avocado brings vivid to the sweetness of the Nordic shrimp and makes a great party stunner. But my true favs are actually soups, including the one I described above and a hearty version for a colder season: Salmon & Nordic Shrimp Soup. Stay tuned for the recipe –it’s really awesome!
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WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH SHRIMP AND GREEK BASIL GARNISH
Yields: 4 portions
Ingredients:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic clove, minced
3 shallots, minced
400g (398ml) white beans, cooked (or canned)
1 ¾ cup (450 ml) chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pinch of chili flakes
1 lemon, juiced
GARNISH:
2 tbsp olive oil
16 tiger shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch of chili flakes
1 lemon cut in quarters
1 tbsp fresh Greek basil, minced
Instructions:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil; add shallots and garlic and sauté on a low heat for about 10 minutes. Add cooked beans (drained), chicken stock and bring to boil. Simmer on the low heat for 10 minutes. Let cool and then pulse in the blender into a liquid puree consistency.  Add salt, pepper, chili flakes and lemon juice. If the soup is too thick, add a bit of boiled water.  Let cool to the room temperature and place into the fridge (for the cold version) or just add the shrimp garnish and serve. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat the oil with chili flakes in a frying pan on a high and sauté shrimp* for 2 minutes up until they are pink but still slightly translucent (for the crunch). Transfer them to a bowl with lemon juice and minced basil (or other herb).  Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with shrimp and herb mix and lace with olive oil. Serve immediately.
*Note: If using already cooked Nordic shrimp, just heat them up on a very high heat for not more than a minute enough to get slightly smoked with chili infused oil.
Adapted from: ‘’Jeux de saveurs’’ by Maria Elia, Parfum d’encre, 2013

Easy Cassoulet à Ma Façon

Yesterday I was emptying my freezer in celebration of the Lent (which has already begun, but never mind) and here is what I found among many strange things you sometimes can find in your freezer: 1 duck leg, 1 chicken leg and a small batch of chorizo sausages. Does it ring a bell? For me it was a direct order to go and pre-soak the beans for a hearty cassoulet, which would be hard to beat in this cold, grey and wet Quebec weather.

Three cities in France are in parental competition for the birth of Cassoulet: Carcassonne, Toulouse and Castelnaudary.
Roughly, Castelnaudary claims to be the world capital of the version with duck or goose confit, while Toulouse and Carcassonne have their variations of lamb and pork ingredients.

The one I will never forget I tried in the port of Canal du Midi: was the duck confit variety, hence the Castelnaudary version appeals to me most and the duck leg became quintessential part of this dish to me. If you have any duck confit already prepared in your fridge, feel free to use it. Chicken legs would be an OK replacement for the student budget. Here is a classic recipe from the place of origin (sorry, its in French):

via Wikimedia Commons
And now, here is my twist on the recipe. First, French it up by boiling the beans with the onion pierced with cloves. While the beans are cooking, brown the duck and chicken legs along with sausages (mild chorizo or Polish kielbasa are the best choices for this dish) with a head of a garlic halfed. Deglazing with wine adds a layer of taste. Mix the beans, meats and veggies and cover with broth and tomato sauce.
The herbs from Provence successfully complete the symphony and your dish is ready to go to the oven. Special note about the crumbs: in the classic recipe topping dish with the crumbs is a must and you have to press it dish down 7 times during cooking. In my version I skip it for caloric reasons, but you are still welcome to use it if you want. Once ready, serve hot with a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape or Cahors.
Since it is called an easy recipe (which I also tend to like leaner), I also skipped the lard, pork and pork rind ingredients. By the way, you can easily turn this recipe into completely vegetarian by omitting all kinds of meat in it, however, it will not be a cassoulet anymore, as the major flavor of this dish is coming from the combination of the meat ingredients and beans mingled during slow cooking. No matter how hard you will try to cut on fat or calories, Cassoulet is so rich that usually you will have some leftovers. One of the ways to re-use them next day is to turn them into some healthy burritos.
Get your favorite tortillas and few slices of cheese; give a quick stir to sliced green pepper, onion and garlic; make a wrap with all the ingredients and bake it in the oven for a few minutes. Add a little cucumber, radish, avocado salad and a choice of yogurt and salsa and, voila, a healthy, nutritious and balanced meal is ready!
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EASY CASSOULET
Ingredients:
1 lb white beans
1 onion pierced with 2-3 cloves
1 duck leg
1 chicken leg
1/2 lb chorizo sausage or kielbasa cut into 1/2” slices
1 garlic head cut in half
1/3 cup of white wine to deglaze
1 carrot coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk coarsely chopped
2 cups tomato sauce or coulis or 1 can (15 oz) of diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dry thyme
1 teaspoon of dry sage
2 bay leaves
pinch of chilli peppers
1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional)
Instructions:
Soak beans overnight or 6-8 hours before cooking. Drain, rinse, cover with water, add a small onion pierced with a few cloves and salt and simmer for about 1 hour or until al dente. Discard the onion.
Preheat the oven to 300F
Season the duck leg, the chicken leg with salt and pepper and brown in olive oil for about 5 minutes each side, then add sausages and 1 garlic head cut in half and continue browning for another 10-12 minutes to almost ”done” state. Add a good splash of wine to deglaze, then remove from pan and put aside. Add carrots and celery to the dry pan and brown them slightly. In the meantime, cut the browned meat in coarse pieces.
Mix all the ingredients: beans, meat and veggies in the Dutch oven, add the tomato sauce, the chicken broth and the herbs. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 1hour. Remove the cover, sprinkle with bread crumbs (if using) and put back in the oven for about 1/2 hour or until the beans began to split and the broth has thickened. When ready, mix carefully discarding bay leaves and garlic head, and serve immediately.