Recipe: Spicy winter bean stew

We make lots of soups in the winter, and not just because they’re warm. They also rely nicely on the types of ingredients that are easy to preserve for winter, and maximize those ingredients’ qualities while minimizing their drawbacks. For example, frozen green beans will never taste as good on their own as fresh, but in a soup they’re great. This is, incidentally, one of the keys to eating seasonally: use items appropriately and don’t expect to eat the same things year-round. Enjoy them for what they are when they are.

This recipe is something I whipped up last night for an easy meal. If using dried beans you have to start ahead enough to cook them, but if you have a bunch pre-cooked (as we sometimes do) this takes no time at all. Many wonderful soups can be made with entirely locally grown ingredients; the variety of soups alone lays waste to the claim that local foods in winter have to be boring. Just to make the point, I’ll note the source of all the ingredients, most of which are ours but could easily have been purchased and preserved from local farmers (like us) in season.

A bit of olive oil (purchased)
Several cups chopped onion (ours, stored)
4-5 cloves garlic (ours, stored)
hot peppers, minced, to taste (ours)
2 tsp paprika (bulk purchase)
1/4 cup chopped basil (ours, frozen)
1 quart broth (our goose broth, frozen)
1-2 cups sweet potatoes, chopped (ours, stored)
1-2 cups tomatoes, chopped (our winter tomatoes, stored)
1-2 cups green beans, chopped (ours, frozen)
1 cup corn (ours, frozen)
3-4 cups cooked mixed beans (kidneys and pintos from Bellows Creek Farm, MO)
Salt and pepper to taste (bulk purchase)

Saute onions, garlic, hot peppers, and paprika in the olive oil for a few minutes until aromatic. We used several of our Thai Hot peppers to achieve a nice burn; it really adds to the stew on a cold night. Dump in everything else, and allow to simmer until proper thickness has been achieved (I made this very thick by cooking off much of the liquid). Add salt and pepper to taste. The longer you allow to simmer or even sit, the more blended the flavors will be. This is the type of stew that gets better the next day. Good served as is or over rice.

The last point to make about soups like this is that they’re infinitely variable. Don’t run out to buy green beans to follow this recipe if you don’t have them. Substitute something else you do have; okra, potatoes, spinach, peas, whatever. Soups and stews are something every cook should be able to throw together with whatever is on hand, with a bit of experimentation and experience guiding the way. This recipe is a guideline, not a blueprint. Enjoy!

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