Last week, NDP caught a bug of sorts. The front end of the site looked just fine, but when I tried to get behind the curtain and share my latest cooking projects with you all, I got a scary blank screen and an "access denied" message. Over the last several days, I've discovered that messages like "access denied" fall into a scary purgatory of blog management: neither the host's problem nor Wordpress's problem. I was on my own.
Over the past 5 years of blogging, I've stared down more than one scary white screen. In fact, having to learn (just) enough HTML, CSS, PHP, & SSH to fix my own blog issues has been among the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing Not Derby Pie. (And that's not to mention the actual cooking and blogging, which no doubt have been the ultimate reward.) The malfunctions have had me in fits, and yes, there have been tears; but by the time last week's scary moments had passed, I had a shiny new back-up, a working blog dashboard, and a fair amount of new knowledge about how the blog actually works. I'd say I got even more than I bargained for. I'm pretty sure I've nipped this thing in the bud, but in case we have a recurrence of scary white-screen - be patient. I'll try to have things back up and running asap.
And of course, those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that this weekend wasn't all spent in front of a computer screen. D, who pretty much laps the crowd for wife of the year, whisked me away on a semi-surprise trip to New York for my 29th birthday. The trip was delicious from start to finish; but I'll have to tell you about it another time. Because today, we're talking about soup.
Now then: shall we?
Fava bean soup with chile and mint: an original recipe from Rick Bayless, tweaked by the lovely Heidi in her own quiet, smart way. I've made Heidi's soup twice now, and it is superb. The first time I couldn't get hulled favas, and thus found myself peeling the waxy brown shells off 2 lbs. of cooked beans. No matter: the result was worth it. Creamy and smooth, piquant with chilies but not painful-spicy, and faintly rich from the sprinkling of feta. If there's a cross between earthiness and luxury, it is this soup.
Here's one of the many great things about it: you really, really don't need to use chicken stock. Vegetable broth and/or water are more delicate, and they let the flavors of the favas and chilies really come through. This soup has the heft and depth of good hummus, which, in many parts of the Middle East, is served with a generous helping of ful, or fava bean puree. But those chilies - they take the dish in a totally different direction, in the best way.
And yet, I had to fuss with the proportions just a bit; I can't help myself. After making it Heidi's way the first time, I swapped half her guajillos out of the pasilla chiles Bayless called for in his original recipe. Heidi left her chile drizzle pretty chunky, so her bowl has whole bits of chile and much thinner bits of sauce. I did that the first time, but I didn't love the texture of the guajillo pieces, so the second time, I added a bit of extra water and pureed the chile mixture. That worked better for me. I also needed a little extra salt to offset the vinegar; start with Heidi's 1/2 teaspoon in the chile mixture, and add more if you desire.
Enjoy, and thanks for bearing with me as I get NDP back up and running. Y'all are the best.
Fava Bean Soup with Chile and Mintadapted from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks
1 pound hulled dry fava beans, rinsed
8 cups good vegetable broth or water 6 garlic cloves, left unpeeled 1 large white or yellow onion, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
6 medium dried guajillo or pasilla chiles, stemmed & seeded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons cider vinegar 3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, pref. spearmint 1/2 cup crumbled feta (Heidi calls for Mexican queso anejo, but none of the Mexican grocers by me had it, and you know what? Feta is pretty delicious)
Rinse the favas a few times to ensure they're completely clean. Put favas in a large soup pot and cover with the broth or water. Simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, until very tender and starting to fall apart, about 75 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven's broiler.
While the beans are simmering, roast the unpeeled garlic in a cast iron skillet for about 10 minutes, until cloves have black spots in some places and are very soft. Remove from the pan. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins and finely chop.
By now, the broiler should be ready. Slice your tomatoes and onions, put them in a single layer on two lined baking sheets, and stick them under the broiler for about 12 minutes, flipping slices over halfway through. Depending on the size of your broiler, you may need to do this step in batches. When you're done, onions and tomatoes should be soft and deeply browned in spots. Once cool enough to handle, chop coarsely, then transfer along with the garlic straight into the pot with the favas, being sure to catch the tomato juices as well. Simmer until the beans are have mostly disintegrated, 15-30 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, cut the chiles into strips using scissors or a sharp knife. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chiles and stir for a minute, then remove from the heat. Add the vinegar, 5-6 tablespoons of water, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt (or more, to taste). Set aside and let stand for at least 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally. If desired, use a blender or immersion blender to smooth the chile mixture into a uniform sauce. Taste and adjust for salt and acidity accordingly.
If soup is very thick, add a few glugs of water to thin it. Let the soup come back up to a simmer, then remove from the heat and add the mint, cilantro, and another teaspoon of salt. Taste, and add more salt if needed, but keep in mind the cheese is salty as well. Serve bowls of soup with a dollop of the chile mixture and a bit of cheese.