It’s the tail end of autumn proper here in Wisconsin, not quite mid-December, in fact, but the reading on the mercury stick has us all feeling like we’re in the death grips of Old Man Winter mid-February. 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, I felt it my duty to brave the elements, knock a path of snow off the deck, and get to work. There are endless things to smoke, and 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 highlighted by a twist here and there of dense, dark green. I headed to the grocery store.
The grocery store is generally where my brain takes over and starts building on a recipe I’ve got in my head. Part of this is out of necessity: I live in a small town, and my grocery store simply doesn’t have a wide variety of “exotic” ingredients, like dried cannellini beans, and it’s not always convenient to drive the hour out and an hour back to the grocery store two counties over that does. Plus, I’m irked by the all-kale craze that everyone seems to be partaking in (not that I don’t like kale, it’s okay, but sheesh, does it have to be put into everything?) I also didn’t want to use canned beans, so here’s what I came up with.
The Bacon Maven’s Curry Spiced Bean and Pea Soup with Roasted Cauliflower and Smoked Chicken Thighs
Six boneless chicken thighs
16 ounces dried Navy beans
8 ounces dried yellow split peas
1 head cauliflower
1 10-ounce container organic spinach leaves
6 cups water (plus more to add as needed)
2 32-ounce boxes organic chicken stock or homemade
1 tablespoon ras el hanout* (see note at the end of this post)
1 tablespoon harissa * (see note at the end of this post)
1 tablespoon ground turmeric * (see note at the end of this post)
2 tablespoons hot curry powder * (see note at the end of this post)
2 tablespoons melted bacon fat
Salt and pepper
Prep your chicken thighs first, as they need to be smoked before you add them to the soup and take some time. I laid mine out on a cutting board, patting them dry with a paper towel. Next I mixed together the spices ras el hanout, harissa, turmeric, and curry. With my fingers, I took each boneless thigh and coated them with the dry rub, making sure to work the spices into the flaps and folds; reserve the leftover spice rub, you’re going to need it in a little bit. Once done, I set them on the rack in the smoker, set to 235 and loaded with mesquite, which I thought was a good choice for standing up to the dense spice rub. I gave the smoker a good dose of smoke right at the start, and another dose when about 90 minutes had elapsed.
Normally I smoke my thighs at 225 for three hours—never fails, perfectly done at this ratio—but with the thermometer at a whopping 5 degrees Fahrenheit, 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, the smoker is going to work like a freight train to maintain the temperature and 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 my chicken thighs, so playing around with a higher setting proved worthwhile, and my cluck was about done at the three-hour mark.
Don’t fret if your thighs aren’t quite done at when your 180 minutes are up. Since you’re going to cut the meat up to add to the soup, the soup will finish cooking the meat well past the possibility of anything endangering your health, and a little undercooked at this stage will be far better than over-cooked.
Once you get your chicken thighs in the smoker, start your soup. In your medium or large stockpot, dump in the Navy beans and add water to cover to a depth of about three inches, plus about a cup or so 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 you just handled, because you’re now going to bring all of this to a boil. Continue to boil your Navy beans for a good 20 minutes, then reduce the pot to simmer for an hour. Test the beans for tenderness with the backside of a spoon, add more liquid to bring the level in the pot back up and keep the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot, then put a lid on the works and turn your burner down to the lowest setting.
Up next is the cauliflower. I trimmed off the leaves, then sliced off the bottom of my cauli head 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—carefully, so that it didn’t fall apart or slice all the way through. I basted it with some hot bacon fat, cracked a little pepper over the top, and set it in a 350-degree oven. I basted with bacon at about 45 minutes, pulled the whole thing out at an hour.
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. I lowered in my immersion blender and pureed until the mix was buttery smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender—and you should, because they’re one of the least-expensive and most handy electric kitchen tools you can have—you can ladel the liquid into a blender, but remember to cock that center plastic thingy in the lid, otherwise the hot liquid will blow the top off, and you will not be happy.
The beans pureed, I took the cooled cauliflower and went at it with a paring knife, cutting off bite-size chunks and adding them to the soup. By this time the chicken thighs were also done. I let them cool just enough to handle, give 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 had a soul-warming, exotically spiced dish perfect for a single-digit evening in Wisconsin.
*Don’t be scared of the spices listed here—ras el hanout, harissa, turmeric, and curry—if you haven’t worked with them before. Yes, 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. 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, one of the reasons you often see yogurt-based sides go with many curry-spiced dishes (the 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 soups assembled and before that final hour of simmering, just as you would salt and pepper.
The Bacon Maven