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I eat a great deal of soups although; since I like big chunks of veggies in my soup they’re more like stews.  Soups are perfect as they’re something I can make from scratch and have ready for dinner in about a half an hour, depending on prep time, of course.  All my soups start the same: onion and garlic left together in a pan for about five minutes, then the addition of vegetables, broth, beans, and a grain.  It’s one pot cooking at it’s best and, if I plan ahead by soaking and cooking my beans and grains, the entire meal is from scratch and no can or package goes into the recycle bin.  Eating veggie, grain, and bean soups never get boring as there are a great many combinations of grains and beans and I have to cook a great deal before I repeat myself.  To ensure my family doesn’t find my meals boring, I also experiment with spice blends.

I don’t care for pre-made spice blends.  They’re easy to use, certainly, but using a blend means someone else has decided on how much salt and/or spice I’m going to use and rarely does his or her taste correspond with mine.  I like playing in my spice cabinet and feel a little spurt of creativity when one of my spice blends proves to be wonderfully tasty.  To that end, I’m always interested when I come across something new and, recently, that something new was filè powder.

I read about filè powder in my 1,000 Vegan Recipes cookbook by Robin Robertson.  She suggested its use in a gumbo recipe but, as I’d never heard of it and had no idea where I might find it, I made her gumbo without it; making a mental resolution to acquire some and try it when the opportunity presented itself.  I did acquire some but haven’t had a chance to try it until last week.  I’d soaked kidney beans and wanted to taste what filè was like but needed to say away from spicy foods so gumbo was off the table.  What then?  I wanted to try filè so decided to come up with my own hot pepper-free soup/stew and opened my spice cabinet.

I create my spice blends based on what smells like it should go together.  Since the majority of taste is smell, I figure if it smells good it will taste good.  I may look a little crazy smelling the contents of jars but this process has served me well and kept me from adding a citrus smelling herb from a smoky blend I’m creating.  I hauled out several jars, lined them up on the counter, and started smelling; beginning with the filè powder as that was the star of the evening.  I ended up with smoked paprika, cumin, tumeric, basil, ground mustard, and the merest pinch of red pepper flakes: not enough to make my meal spicy but enough to add that special layer of flavor.  I was ready to cook.

Both the McDougall and Vegiterranean diets stress cutting back on oils, if not going completely oil free.  To that end, I don’t cook my onion and garlic in oil.  How do I keep it from sticking to my stainless steel pots?  Medium-low to low heat.  Try it.  Spread the onion and garlic in a single layer in the pot over medium-low to low heat and then DON’T TOUCH it for about five minutes.  I like to agitate my veggies so this was difficult for me.  Now, I have no problem leaving my onion to cook while I chop the rest of my veggies.  If the onion and garlic should stick a bit, toss some water or veggie broth into the pan after the onion has turned translucent and the pieces lift right off.

Once I’ve cooked the onion and garlic, I toss in the rest of my veggies with the spices and let them cook another couple of minutes.  I think adding the spices before the veggie broth brings out their flavor a bit more.  Then, I add the veggie broth, bring the whole thing to a boil, and clap a lid on it.  Once the veggies are finished, I add my pre-cooked beans and grains, heat the entire thing through, and dinner is served.

This particular experiment was a big hit.  My entire family enjoyed it the first night I made it and, since I have a tendency to cook for a horde, enjoyed it for a few more days.  This was one case where the leftovers are better: the spices have a change to meld with each other if left in the fridge over night.  Should you make this, it’s excellent the same night but I do recommend making it one to two days before.

Want to try it?

Kate’s Excuse to Use Filè Stew

Early Prep:

In separate pots; rinse and soak 1 cup hulled barley and 2 cups dried red kidney beans.

Step Two:

Discard soaking water from both barley and kidney beans.  Cover kidney beans with clean water and cook until soft, about 2 hours.  Add 2 cups water and 1 not-chicken bullion cube to the barley pot and cook until barley is soft but still chewy.  Do not discard excess liquid from barley.

Bringing it all together-you will need:

1 white onion, chopped

1 tsp garlic, minced

3 carrots, sliced I used rainbow carrots; one yellow, one orange, and one purple

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 sweet potato, cut into medium sized chunks

1 green pepper, cut into medium sized chunks

1 tsp each smoked paprika, cumin, turmeric, filè powder, basil, and ground mustard

1/2 tsp coarse salt

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

4 cups water

2 bay leaves

1 cup frozen broccoli florets

Prepared kidney beans and barley

cracked pepper, to taste

  1.  Add onion and garlic in a single layer to a large stainless steel stock pot.  Turn heat to low or medium-low (depending on the heat of the burner) and leave to cook until onion is translucent; about five minutes.
  2. Add remaining vegetables and all spices except the salt.  Stir together and let cook another two minutes.
  3. If necessary, add a bit of the water to the pot and scrape spices and any stuck vegetables from the bottom of the pot.  Add remaining water and bay leaves and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until vegetables are soft but not mushy; about 20 minutes.
  4. Taste, adding more spices if desired.  Add kidney beans, barley (along with any remaining liquid), broccoli, and salt.  Cook until heated through, about another 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and discard bay leaves.
  6. Serve with crusty bread.

As I said, the leftovers are very good on their own but can be spiced up with a can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes or topped with cubes of savory baked tofu.  Try to eat all leftovers within two days or the broccoli gets too soft.