Amanda commented to say she borrowed the cookbook How to Eat Supper from the library and she didn't want to return it. That had a very familiar ring to it because not only did I get my copy at the library, I too am reluctant to give it back. It's so packed with useful tidbits of info that I find something new everytime I crack it open. I just might have to buy my own copy, and now I really, really regret skipping the chance to see the authors at a book-signing at Powell's in Portland when I was visiting there last spring. I can't remember why we didn't make it -- I think we had somewhere else we had to be right before or right after or right during. Besides, I'd already been to the signing of this book at Powell's a couple of days before. Maybe it seemed too nerdy to plan a vacation around more than one book signing.
But now that I think about it, that sounds like an excellent way to plan a week-long vacation.
After thumbing through the book over and over again, I decided it was time to try my hand at a recipe. It's hard for me to commit to a recipe from a cookbook because there's just SO many there to choose from and unlike the internet, you can't read reviews by people who've already tried it out and declared it either rubbish or brilliant or meh. It can be overwhelming, that deciding on a first recipe from a new cookbook.
Ultimately, it was the Cuban black bean stew on page 79 that drew my eye. You're supposed to use meaty smoked ham hocks but there were none for sale at my store so I got the smallest bone-in smoked ham I could find and it worked brilliantly. I used half for this stew and put the other half in the fridge for use in some other recipe. It was a terrifically fun recipe to tackle -- I'd dare to say it bordered on being heady and intoxicating, what with the chopping of the ham (dog and husband staring hungrily all the while) and tossing the bone into the pot with peppers and onions chopped lazily into large-ish chunks, and stirring it all together with a long-handled wooden spoon, all sizzly and mouth-watering.
The house smelled sensational, the dish was wonderfully tasty, and, as with most stews, the leftovers were even better.
Cuban Black Bean Stew
Serves four as main course, 8 as a first course
Adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
1.5 pounds bone-in smoked ham
Extra virgin olive oil
3 whole cloves
2 medium onions, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 handful dried tomatoes or a diced red bell pepper
2 14-oz. cans chicken broth
6 large garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves, broken
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 generous tablespoons tomato paste
3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 limes halved, or about 1/2 cup sherry, wine, cider or palm vinegar
Optional toppings: chopped mild onion, chopped fresh coriander, hot sauce
1. Trim the meat away from the ham bone, cutting it into small pieces. Don’t be too fussy; leaving some on the bone is fine. Film the bottom of a 10-quart stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium high. Stir in the meat, bone, cloves, onions, peppers, and salt. Sauté 8 minutes (stirring occasionally), or until the vegetables are sizzling and there’s a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan (vegetables need not brown, and take care not to let that glaze blacken).
2. Add a little of the broth along with the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and tomato paste. With a wooden spatula, scrape up the glaze as you simmer the mix on medium high for 3 minutes. Then add the beans and the remaining broth. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover the pot tightly, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the juice from 2-1/2 limes, or 1/3 cup of vinegar. Taste soup for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper, and add more lime or vinegar to your own taste.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls, topping each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chopped onion and a little fresh coriander. Have hot sauce on thetable.