Martha Rose Shulman, the prolific author of some of my very favorite, whole foods-oriented, weeknight friendly, never boring recipes, has written a few times about her habit of using up the lingering odds and ends of her dry goods—beans, pulses, grains—before the end of the year. This makes for a clean slate in January, and prevents any of those items from going bad while hidden up in the corner of a top shelf for a few years. It’s always seemed like a good idea to me, but I’ve never really made a point of doing it. But this December, we’re on. I began with this perfect, post-Thanksgiving meal.
This recipe is really more of an idea. I thought about going the soup route with my lingering black beans and farro, but instead I landed on something like “dry soup,” or a “black bean and farro soup bowl,” or—bingo—”deconstructed soup.” The idea is to take the elements of the soup I might have made, strip it of its broth, and amp up the garnishes. Furthermore, when I combine beans and grains in a soup, one or the other often turns to waterlogged mush as the leftovers sit, and this method eliminates that.
Here’s what I did: I cooked my presoaked beans in liquid just to cover, adding a bit more water as needed so as to make the broth as concentrated with flavor as possible. Towards the end I added salt, which seasons the beans as well as the broth. I also presoaked the grains, which (some argue) improves their nutritional properties, but for me it made them cook faster; you can use whatever method you like best, but I’ve lately been liking the quasi-steaming method I describe in the recipe below. With a big handful of roughly chopped spinach, which wilts slightly when bathed in a few ladelfuls of the hot bean broth, the base is done.
Now for toppings. Again, you can take this in any direction, but I had spicy bean soup in mind. I added some minced raw shallot, chunks of avocado, and some crumbles of feta cheese. To finish, harissa and olive oil that’s been whisked together to form a drizzle, a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and that’s that.
Deconstructed Black Bean & Grain Soup
Rather than exact amounts for this particular recipe, I’m writing it in the improvisational spirit of how I originally made it. I hope encourages you to use it as a boilerplate.
Serving size: variable
Dried black beans (~ 1/2 cup dried beans per person)
Dried farro (or barley, brown rice, any chewy grain you like) (~ 1/4 cup dried grain per person)*
Baby spinach, or other tender greens, roughly chopped (~1 handful per person)
Minced shallot or red onion (~1 tablespoon per person)
Avocado, cut into chunks (1 quarter avocado per person)
Crumbled feta cheese (~1 heaping tablespoon per person)
Harissa drizzle (1 tablespoon harissa + 1 tablespoon olive oil, whisked until smooth, per person)**
Other suggestions: Cilantro leaves, yogurt/sour cream/crema, toasted pepitas, chopped tomatoes, minced hot peppers
To cook the beans: Rinse and pick through them, then place in a nonreactive bowl, cover generously with water, and let soak for at least 4 hours. Or, to quick soak them, cover the beans generously with water in a pot or saucepan, bring to a boil, cook for 10 minutes, then cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let stand for an hour. In both cases, drain off the soaking water, then place in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover by about 1/2-inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook until tender (cooking time will vary, the only option is to taste as you go along, starting after 20 minutes). Add additional hot tap water as needed to keep the beans submerged—there should be enough water that the beans move freely when you stir the pan, but no more than that. Towards the end of the cooking time, add salt, about 1 teaspoon per cup of dried beans. Once tender, remove from the heat and let stand, covered, until you’re ready to assemble. Before serving, taste the broth, and add a few pinches of salt if necessary.
To cook the grains: Rinse through a sieve, then place in a nonreactive bowl, cover generously with water, and let soak for 1 to 4 hours. (You can skip the soaking step, but it’ll add cooking time in the end.) Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to lowest possible heat setting, cover the pan, and cook until chewy and tender–again, taste to determine doneness, but start tasting after 15 minutes. Once cooked, drain off excess water, if any, and let stand covered, off the heat, until you’re ready to assemble.
To assemble: Add a big pile of the hot beans and grains to a bowl, followed by the greens. Ladle in about 1/2 cup of the bean broth, pouring it over the greens so that they wilt. Arrange the avocado, shallot, and feta over, then finish with the harissa drizzle, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Note: Store the leftover beans in the broth. If you have leftover harissa drizzle, add it to the beans to infuse them with some smoky-spicy flavor.