When I take up a particular food to learn how to cook and perfect to my satisfaction, I will read about the origins and history of the dish. As I absorb information I make connections with other things, spotting commonalities and patterns. I thought I'd write a few blog posts about "comparative food", sort of like comparative religion but with a lot less deity and twice as much calories. Keep in mind that what I write is not authoritative, just my observations. When applicable, I will provide my favorite recipe for creating the food. Since these foods can be highly personalized to suit your taste, I suggest doing a search to find a recipe to your liking and experiment! If you know of any information that would help expand any of my comparative foods topics, please e-mail me or leave a comment.
My first exploration will be Beans with Meat Stews. These two ingredients are combined in similar ways, yet the type of seasonings and meat will make all the difference in how it tastes. Some common beans with meat stews include: Chili Con Carne, Calico Beans, Cowboy Beans, 15 Bean Soup, Pasta e Fagioli, and Harira or Moroccan Lentil Soup.
Chili Con Carne: Hot & Spicy
The basic ingredients are meat (usually ground beef), beans (usually kidney), and chili peppers. The origins of chili are geographically linked to Mexico and Texas. It was a meal easily prepared by the early settlers. Variations have become popularized to suit specific tastes or dietary needs, such as vegetarian or chicken. Non-traditional forms of chili, such as white chili and chili verde, are accepted as still being part of the larger chili family.
One defining characteristic of this beans with meat combination is the amount of heat, or piquancy, imparted by the form and types of chili peppers used. Most chili is mild, but some prefer a good tongue burning. I don't often make chili, but when I do, I take it easy on the cumin. I like a little heat, but like to keep it mild.
Calico Beans: Sweet & Tangy
The basic ingredients are meat (ground beef and bacon), beans (an assortment, but typically lima, kidney, and white), sugar, vinegar, and mustard powder. Calico beans can also be called "cowboy beans", but I've searched through enough recipes to discern that there is enough distinction for them to be two separate beans with meat stews. I'm not certain of the origins of calico beans, but I think it might be from the northern mid-western region, like Minnesota.
The distinction of calico beans is the sweetness imparted from the use of sugar, either white or brown, coupled with the tangy from the vinegar. Neither sweet nor tang is dominate, and blends well with the flavors from the meats. There is additional tang and sweetness from the ketchup that is used. The mustard powder interacts well with the bacon to provide a bit of a Germanic flavoring to the stew.
Cowboy Beans: Bold Barbecue
The basic ingredients are meat (ground beef, bacon, ham, or similar smoked pork meat), beans (an assortment like calico beans), sugar, and barbecue sauce. While some cowboy beans recipes will be exactly the same as for calico beans, there are enough variations using barbecue sauce or spices similar to chili, to recognize it as a distinct stew. In some cases, cowboy beans seems to be a hybrid of the sweeter calico beans and the spicy chili con carne. Some recipes call for brewed coffee as an ingredient, claiming that out on the prairies, cowboys would use leftover brewed coffee to cook their beans.
I have only made cowboy beans once using a coffee recipe, and it was not as successful as I would have liked. I wasn't adequately prepared with enough ingredients, and to add insult to injury, I overcooked it. I may try again using one of these interesting looking recipes: Spicy Red-Eye Cowboy Baked Beans or Cowboy Beans
15 Bean Soup: Smokey
The basic ingredients are meat (smoked pork or sausage), beans--actually, more than 15 different beans! I'm not sure how long the recipe for 15 Bean Soup has been around or where it originates. All I know is that it is good! The recipe I use is the one on the Hurst Bean package of 15 Bean Soup mix. Though the recipe calls for a smoked pork meat, I make mine using hot Italian sausage as I think it gives the soup a nice warm glow for a cold wintery day. I've made it with ham once and thought it tasted too similar to the standard Ham & Bean soup. This meal is one of our cold weather standards and makes plenty of leftovers.
Pasta e Fagioli: Tangy Savory
The basic ingredients are pasta, beans, and vegetables. The modern Americanized variations include ground beef. The dish originated as a peasant food in Italy. If you've ever eaten at the Olive Garden, you've encountered this soup.
The recipe that I use to make my pasta e fagioli is an Olive Garden copycat. I have made it with pasta a few times, but began omitting it since neither Pooky or I care much for pasta. What is nice about the recipe I use is that the soup takes only about 30-45 minutes from start to finish since canned beans work well. Though it does taste a bit better if allowed to simmer awhile before serving.
I recently discovered that swapping the V-8 juice for a quart of reduced sodium beef broth gives the soup a better flavor and tastes more like Olive Garden's.
Harira or Moroccan Lentil Soup: Savory
The basic ingredients are meat (lamb, beef or chicken), beans (lentils and chickpeas), and sometimes pasta. The soup is seasoned with Middle Eastern spices, such as saffron, cinnamon, ginger, tumeric, etc. The origins of this soup are the Middle East and it is a meal prepared and eaten during the holy month of Ramadan. However, in our country the soup is prepared and eaten according to desire.
My first attempt to make this soup didn't turn out very well, as I seem to have a problem with properly cooking lentils. Before I attempt to make it again, I'd like to find some available in a restaurant to get a sense of how the soup should taste.
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