Thursday, February 19, 2009

Penny Pinchers Navy Bean Soup

The U.S. recession is putting a severe economic pressure on every household. As in the past, when hard times, a cheap meal looks very appealing and nothing is better for a budget than a comforting bowl of homemade soup!

To make a frugal soup from leftovers, start with making a flavorful stock as the base. Smoked pork neck bones are often used to add a robust flavor to beans, and they are very cheap, too. Unlike ham hocks, another popular choice, this meat doesn't have a great deal of waste, and there's much less fat, and no useless rind of pigskin. Smoked pork neck bones have loads more meat, and plenty of bone and connective tissue, the key elements to making a rich tasting soup.

Inexpensive ingredients like onions, garlic, peppers and cilantro add taste and aroma, and the scent of rosemary and thyme fills the air. Dried beans will go a long way to stretch your food budget, and the yield is incredible so I'm only using 1 cup for my cheap soup.

I've added only enough water to cover most of the ingredients without totally drowning everything. In this case I used a little more the 2 quarts which gave me about 18 cups of soup.

My smoked neck bones cooked for 35 minutes plus the natural release which will finished the cooking and give me meat that is just about falling off the bone. I'll set them aside to cool a bit so I can pick all the meat off.

Now I'm going to add the Navy beans. These are one of the most popular of dried beans because they are so creamy tasting. I've picked through these beans and they soaked for four hours. Into the pressure cooker they go, and they should be covered by at least 2 inches of that meaty broth for a good soup. Add more liquid if needed. Back under pressure for 12 minutes they go, and I'm using the natural release so the skins don't split.

While the beans are cooking, the meat is cool enough to handle. Its easy to pull off most of the meat with a fork. Use your fingers to get every delectable morsel for the soup. The penny pincher trick I learned from my grandma was to chop most of the meat into very small bits and shreds, but also leave a few large pieces so it fools the eye into seeing just the bigger chunks. I ended up with slightly less than 2 cups of meat.

When the beans are done, they are so tender that you should be able to mash one in your fingers. Now I'm going to use a hand blender to partially puree the broth and some of the beans. The starch from inside the beans will thicken the soup and give in a creamier, richer texture. You can also do this in a food processor or blender, but take care not to over do it. I'm careful to leave a fair amount bigger veggie pieces, and some whole beans to add more substance to my frugal soup. Finally, add the chopped meat back into the soup and heat through.
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