It’s the tail end of Autumn proper here in Wisconsin, not quite mid-December, in fact. However, the reading on the mercury stick has us all feeling like we’re in the death grips of Old Man Winter.
Normally, my smoker is buttoned up and hibernating somewhere in the laundry room or garage, waiting for warmer days to shine again. But when the marketing guru at Bradley asked me to have a go at blogging on the company’s website, no doubts left.
It was my duty to brave the elements, knock a path of snow off the deck, and get to work.
Braving the Elements For a Good Reason
There are endless things to smoke. Besides, with two cookbooks in the works and two blogs to write for, I aim to get to them all in time.
I drew my inspiration for this recipe from a concoction Martha Stewart posted on Facebook the other day.
Her recipe was for a soup of cannellini beans and kale. The picture showed several clean white bowls, filled with this gorgeous yellow brew. Here and there the yellow was highlighted by a twist of dense, dark green. It got me heading to the grocery store.
When you Cannot Find Exotic Ingredients
The grocery store is generally where my brain takes over and starts building on a recipe. Part of this is out of necessity.
Living in a small town, my grocery store simply doesn’t have a wide variety of “exotic” ingredients. An example is dried cannellini beans. Moreover, it’s not always convenient to drive the hour out and an hour back to the grocery store, two counties over.
Plus, I don’t understand the all-kale craze that everyone seems to be partaking in. It’s not that I don’t like kale, but sheesh, does it have to be put into everything?
As I didn’t want to use canned beans as well, here’s what I came up with.
The Bacon Maven’s Curry Spiced Bean and Pea Soup with Roasted Cauliflower and Smoked Chicken Thighs
To make this dish you’ll need some simple ingredients and others that are not so common. The simple ones are:
Six boneless chicken thighs, 16 ounces dried Navy beans, 8 ounces dried yellow split peas and one head cauliflower.
Then a 10-ounce container organic spinach leaves, 6 cups of water and two 32-ounce boxes organic chicken stock. You can make your own, if you prefer to.
Now here you have some exotic spices:
One tablespoon ras el hanout* , one tablespoon harissa *, one tablespoon ground turmeric *, two tablespoons hot curry powder *
* (see note at the end of this post)
Finally, two tablespoons melted bacon fat, salt and pepper.
Prep chicken thighs first, because you’ll need to smoke them before adding them to the soup. It takes some time.
On a cutting board, pat them dry with a paper towel. Then mix together the spices: ras el hanout, harissa, turmeric, and curry.
Coat each with the dry rub, making sure to work the spices into the flaps and folds. Reserve the leftover spice rub as you’re going to need it in a little bit.
Once done, set them on the rack in the smoker, load it with mesquite at 235 F. Mesquite is a good choice to stand up to the dense spice rub.
Give the smoker a good dose of smoke right at the start, and another dose after 90 minutes.
It Takes About 3 Hours to Smoke Thighs
Normally I smoke thighs at 225 for three hours and they are perfectly done at this ratio. However, with the thermometer at a whopping 5 F, I set it at 235, figuring the smoker was going to work to maintain the temperature.
As good as Bradley Smokers are, when the temperature is significantly below freezing outside, you may have a problem. The smoker is going to work like a freight train to maintain the temperature. So it’s likely you won’t get it to reach your peak setting.
Indeed, mine actually maintained the 225 degrees at which I normally smoke chicken thighs. Therefore, playing around with a higher setting proved worthwhile, and my cluck was about done at the three-hour mark.
But Not Done Yet!
Don’t fret if the thighs aren’t quite done at when the 180 minutes are up. Since you’re going to cut the meat up to add to the soup, it will finish cooking it past the possibility of endangering your health.
Furthermore, a little under cooked at this stage will be far better than over-cooked.
Once you get the chicken thighs in the smoker, start the soup.
Time to Add the Beans
In a medium or large stockpot, dump in the Navy beans and add water to cover to a depth of about three inches. Then add about a cup of chicken stock.
Also dump in the leftover spice rub. You don’t have to worry about it having come into contact with the raw chicken. After all, now you’re going to bring all of this to a boil.
Continue to boil Navy beans for a good 20 minutes, then reduce the pot to simmer for an hour. Test the beans for tenderness. Then add more liquid to bring the level in the pot back up, and keep the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Put a lid on the works and turn the burner down to the lowest setting.
Up Next is the Cauliflower
I trimmed off the leaves, then sliced off the bottom to give it a nice flat base to set on and keep upright during roasting. Next, I made a tic-tac-toe of crosshatches across it—two vertical, two horizontal. Be careful, so that it doesn’t fall apart or slice all the way through.
Basting it with some hot bacon fat, I cracked a little pepper over the top, and set it in a 350-degree oven. I basted with bacon again at about 45 minutes and pulled the whole thing out at an hour.
An Immersion Blender is Always Useful!
I next added some more stock to the pot of beans, so that there were two to three inches of liquid above the beans, which had stewed down nicely by now.
Using my immersion blender, I pureed until the mix was buttery smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can ladle the liquid into a blender. But remember, immersion blenders are one of the least-expensive and most handy electric kitchen tools you can have.
The beans pureed, I took the cooled cauliflower and went at it with a paring knife. I cut off bite-size chunks and added them to the soup.
By this time the chicken thighs were also done. I let them cool just enough to handle, gave them a rough chop, and added them to the soup, along with a couple cups of chicken stock.
I let the pot simmer an hour or so, then added in the spinach and the yellow split peas. Another hour at simmer, steamed up a batch fragrant basmati rice to put under the thick soup. And here you have it: a soul-warming, exotically spiced dish, perfect for a single-digit evening in Wisconsin.
Don’t Be Afraid of the New Spices Listed Here
Ras el hanout, harissa, turmeric, curry – if you haven’t worked with them before, you may have to mail-order some of them.
William-Sonoma (www.williams-sonoma.com) and Penzey’s Spices (www.penzeys.com) are excellent resources for both mainstream and off the beaten road spices.
Penzey’s, in particular, is a cornucopia of spices from the mundane to I’ve-never-heard-of-that. Anyway, once you’ve acquired what you need for this recipe, and if you’re unfamiliar with using spices like these, start slowly.
For instance, you may not want to dump the leftover spices from the smoking rub into your soup pot.
Be Extra Careful with Curry
Curry, in particular (the spice, for a curried dish is something entirely different), comes in several different iterations and a range of heat to sweet. It can set your tongue dancing, if you’re not careful.
This is one of the reasons why you often see yogurt-based sides go with many curry-spiced dishes. Milk-products can ease the heat better than water.
Go slowly and test. If you want more heat or depth of spice, you can always add more. Once the soup is assembled and before that final hour of simmering, do just as you would with salt and pepper.
The Bacon Maven