I was going to reheat leftovers last night; I had some nice chili left from earlier in the week and some rice with green pigeon peas and andouille sausage from even earlier, and I was going to thaw them out and put them together, along with some gourmet-type mushrooms that needed eating. Thursday night is "trash night" and we usually have takeout, delivery or simple leftovers.
But in the freezer, I found not two but four unlabelled freezer bags of somewhat doubtful provenance, all plausibly chili or the rice mix. I wasn't sure what was recent and what was, perhaps, lingering from much earlier. I try to clear the freezer weekly, but at least two of the four were a mystery, and I didn't know which two. I had not bothered to label or date any of them. Oops.
After a moment of panic -- I didn't have any meat thawed and it was getting late to wrangle a pizza (Bazebeaux gets busy fast, what with Bebop and WB Pizza having closed) -- I improvised.
Any more, I always keep at least one big ham steak in the freezer. They're a prime ingredient for Hoppin' John, which I will happily eat weekly (Tam's good for about every other week) and they keep well. Being somewhere between a half and three-quarters of an inch thick and vacuum-sealed in plastic, they thaw enough in a few minutes under warm water to cut into cubes. Rather than make something we have often, and needing to use up those mushrooms -- oyster and maitake -- I went digging through the pantry and happened on a can of Westbrae Natural Organic Chili Beans, No Salt.* Despite the name, it's just a can of good-quality assorted beans, no seasoning -- and they're serious about the "no salt" part. That's important if you're starting with a big slab of ham: it's got plenty of salt for the dish.
I opened, rinsed and diced the mostly thawed ham, and peppered it in the pan. While it cooked, I chopped up and added a few baby carrots, most of a yellow onion and three stalks of celery (I saved back some raw onion and celery to add at the table; this is one of my favorite parts of home-made bean soup). Once the vegetables were well along, I washed, cut up and added the mushrooms and cooked them a bit. (They cook quickly). Then I added the can of beans, liquid and all, with parsley and a dash of garlic, covered and simmered for ten minutes. A little water cooks out of the rinsed ham, fresh vegetables and mushrooms, and between that and the beans, that's all you need. It makes a fine stock.
The mushrooms (and there were rather a lot) added a wonderful depth and complexity to the flavor. They beans did not overwhelm the other ingredients but complimented them. Tam added some hot sauce to hers and I sprinkled raw onion and celery on mine, which adds flavor and crunch. With or without the extras, the dish was flavorful and quick to make. More "ham, mushrooms and beans" than "bean soup," it hit the right notes for a slightly chilly evening.
* The link is an example; it would take a much larger household than mine to rate buying them by the case! OTOH, canned beans are often highly salted, so a salt-free version is good to find.
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