Monday, January 24, 2011

The Soup Project: National Soup Month and Locro Argentino

The more I discover about soup, the more it intrigues me. Last week I learned that January is National Soup Month, and I got so excited about this factoid, I thought I'd just toss it out and impress everyone. Then I looked it up here and found out that January is not only National Soup month it's also National Meat Month, National Candy Month, and National Hot Tea Month. And who knew that today is National Coffee Break Day?

Give me a break. The truth is I suspect these kinds of holidays are concocted by food companies to help pitch their products and entice us to buy their brand. They offer coupons under the guise of a holiday. Big whoopie. National month or not, soup is a budget-stretching meal option that happens to be gaining popularity this year, in my kitchen anyway, and I hope in yours too.

This week's soup happens to be one of my new favorites from Argentina from this fabulous cookbook, I mentioned last week, The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac

The original recipe lists canned hominy in the ingredients, but I don't like the canned versions of most foods, and there isn't an organic option for hominy, so I always stare at the cans and end up passing on it in favor of frozen corn. When I found hominy at Rancho Gordo, I got a small bag of that, and later when I learned Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek in Gaston, Oregon grew and sold it, I bought some from him. Now I'm hooked.

Locro Guascho Argentino
This vegetarian soup is adapted from The South American Table. The original recipe also included a 1-pound beef brisket and 8 ounces of Polish sausage. Though the recipe specified that the sausage was optional, few spices or herbs were included making this a rather mild-tasting soup without the meat. That is, until you add a spoonful of sofrito, a fried spicy sauce stirred into the soup at the end of cooking. Also I discovered that Field Roast (a vegetarian wheat-based sausage) has the perfect meaty texture with a sausage-like flavor and isn't off-putting like some of the vegetarian faux soy-based meat substitutes of the past.

1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
6 cups stock or water
1 cup white beans, rinsed and soaked for at least 4 hours
1 medium-large carrot, diced
1 sweet potato, diced or 1 pound winter squash, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium potato, diced
2 cups cooked hominy
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
8 ounces Field Roast sausage, sliced (optional)
Pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup minced green onions (use some of the green as well as the white part)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

1. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and oil. Stir and cook until onion becomes translucent. Stir in garlic and cook for a few minutes.

2. Gradually pour in the stock or water. Add the beans, carrot, sweet potato, potato, hominy, and sundried tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until beans are tender, about an hour.

3. About 15 minutes before the beans are done, slice and cook the Field Roast sausage until browned.

4. While the Field Roast cooks, make the sofrito. Heat a skillet over medium heat, add oil and paprika and stir. Add red pepper flakes, oregano, cumin, salt, and cilantro. Stir and cook until cilantro softens. Stir the sofrito into the soup. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

5. Place pieces of sausage in each soup bowl, ladle in the soup and sprinkle each serving with fresh parsley leaves.

My Cooking Assistant says if this is a "poor man's dinner" he wants more. For me it could use a bit more heat so I drizzled a little hot salsa over the top but my Cooking Assistant rated this one Four Paws Up.

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