This summer my sisters and I went camping. It was my first time camping in over a decade. Two things stand out to me about the experience. First, the bugs. On the one hand, my newfound love of gardening has given me an appreciation for bugs, their role in our ecosystem, and as allies in producing food. On the other hand, bugs are the worst. They were unbearable. In uncharacteristic fashion, I took relish in slathering my body with toxic bug spray. I don’t even want to know what is in that stuff. (Non-toxic bug repellent suggestions are welcome.) Second, the peacefulness. In my daily life, I, like most of us, am constantly bombarded with potential distractions, not the least of which is the perpetual need to fend off unproductive thoughts: Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Have I made the right choices? But out in the woods, I didn’t think about any of this. It is no surprise that research demonstrates the many cognitive and emotional benefits of being in nature. Walks in the park are good, but camping takes it to another level. There is something about having to get things done, like eat, sleep and repel bugs, without modern conveniences that makes it almost impossible not to live in the present moment.
What does camping have to do with this spicy cabbage, sausage and white bean soup? Not a damn thing. But I couldn’t bear to find myself writing once again about the school work, and the attempts to find work-life balance, that have been consuming my daily life. No, writing about camping is much more pleasant. And it gives me an opportunity to post some of the photographs I took on the trip.
I will admit that spicy soup is not really a summer dish. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to be slurping down hot soup in the middle of a sweltering day - and we have had quite a few of those in the past few weeks. I could wait for a chilly day in September to post this soup, but the truth is, this soup is one of the best things that I have ever made in the kitchen. I found myself impatiently waiting to bust out the leftovers each night, in spite of the weather, and I can’t wait to share the recipe with all of you.
This recipe has been in the works for a few months now. I started working on it, you know, in the winter, when normal people eat soups. But I continued making it several times over the spring and summer because it makes good use of leftover summertime ingredients: cabbage leftover from my favourite fish taco slaws and sausages leftover from M’s favourite summer barbeques. This time, I decided to add some jalapeños that needed using up, and the heat from these peppers is really what makes this soup into something extraordinary. You can skip it if you don’t like spicy, but you would be missing out.
When it comes to beans, I always use dry. They work out to be cheaper if you cook with beans often, they allow you to avoid potential toxin exposure from BPA in can linings, and I find they just taste better, especially in dishes where texture matters. The trick is, though, to remember to soak them the night before and cook them before you start supper. If you forget, or if you are otherwise pressed for time, using canned beans cuts down on the cooking time for this recipe significantly.
(Skip this step if using canned beans.) The night before, place beans in a medium sized bowl, cover with water, and leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain beans, place in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow beans to simmer until soft, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain beans and set aside. This step can be done in advance.
When ready to make the soup, heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add sausage and saute till golden brown on all sides. Remove sausages from the pot and set aside.
Add onion and jalapeño, stir to incorporate the sausage flavour from the bottom of the pan, saute until translucent, about 5 min. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a for another 2-3 minutes. Add the sliced cabbage and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken stock, sausage, basil, thyme, celery seeds and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a boil; reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, adding the beans in the last few minutes of cooking.
Serve the soup topped with the grated parmesan. I also served mine with Peter Reinhart’s amazing focaccia bread.
3/4 cup dried navy beans, (or, about 2 15 oz cans)
1 Tbs olive oil
3 sausages*, chopped into bite sized pieces
1/2 large red onion, diced
1-2 jalapeños**, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
10 cups low-sodium chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon celery seeds
handfull fresh basil, chopped
few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
parmesan cheese, grated
* Any type of sausage will do.
** I used two jalapeños, seeds and all. It was a very spicy soup, which we like around here, but if you aren’t so keen on heat, use only one and/or remove the seeds.