Updated: May 6
Alternate titles for this post include:
How COVID Turned Me into a Depression Era Home Cook
Ode to Bean Water: A Love Letter to Bon Appetite’s Carla Lali Music
Don’t Throw the Baby out With the Bean Water!
Bean Broth: The Wonderful Fruit Just Got a Whole Lot More Wonderful!
While I was able to squeeze in a good vegetable shop before the Bangkok government started enforcing the COVID19 shelter in place order, I probably only made it out with food for about 2 weeks. I intend to rely on grocery delivery going forward, but I haven’t yet found an app that has available delivery slots at any future date! So now more than ever, I’m interested in creative solutions to reducing food waste and making that 2 weeks worth of fruit and veg stretch as far as I can.
So that is to say, I’m actively on the hunt for depression era level money saving tips and tricks for the kitchen. But I didn’t have to look back 90 years to find ways to stretch my buck. Bon Appetit Magazine has been telling me for years to stop throwing out the cooking liquid from my pot of beans and until today, I’ve kind of been ignoring them. Use it as a base for soups and stews, sub it for any broth called for in a recipe, is the advice they give on repeat. I never listened, I think because they never published a proper bean water soup recipe and until culinary school, I’ve lacked experience and confidence in preparing homemade soup. Still, these excuses are a bit silly, because I cook chickpeas about twice week. Lately, I’ve been cooking medium sized batches every 2-4 days and every time, I pour the water down the drain and carry on with my life. But today I thought I would give this “save your bean water thing” a try and oh was I pleasantly surprised!
The chickpea cooking liquid produces a broth so delicious; I may never make a chicken stock again. Of course I’m biased because I lean heavily in the vegetarian direction and if there’s a good vegetarian option, it will be my preference. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been that impressed with the vegetable stocks at the market. I have chef friends who say “don’t ever use a store bought stock, it’s a waste of money, they are ALL bad- just use water.” And, I feel like it’s kind of popular opinion that a vegetable stock is inferior to a chicken stock. I know when I order vegetarian pho I’m always disappointed. So a vegan broth option that is essentially free and incredibly delicious is the answer to my homemade stock prayers! I still intend to try Andy Barighani’s Vegan Umami Broth, but for now, I’m VERY pleased about this FREE chickpea option.
So, like I said, Bon Appetite has basically been badgering me to save my bean water for two plus years. In a recent BA Podcast (Foodcast episode #263) Carla and Adam (hosts of the podcast) made the case that in our current time of sheltering in place, now is as good a time as any to, say it with me: “save that bean water!” This was just the reminder I needed.
Building a soup the Thai way
I’ve only really started making soups from scratch recently. The first few weeks of my Thai Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu focused on clear broths and Thai spicy soups. One of the most foundational lessons from Term 1 was to learn the flavor base for all Thai broths, adorably referred to as: the three close friends. The three friends is the Thai version of mirepoix or onion, carrot and celery. To make a Thai stock you need water, 3 friends + a protein. The three friends are coriander root, garlic and white peppercorns. Typically you include them as aromatics in your stock, and you might also include them once again in the preparation of your soup.
Because I’m not the biggest fan of white or black pepper, I thought I’d try to sub out red chili flakes and see where that got me. I’m happy to report it worked out quite well and as I sautéed the three friends in oil, all the delicious Thai smells I was familiar with from my school’s the practical kitchen filled my apartment. I knew I was on the right track!
I prepared this soup the way I’ve been taught to build a soup or liquidy curry in culinary school. I did it as I would expect a Thai recipe to dictate. In addition to the traditional flavor base, I used Thai seasonings in a Thai method to develop depth of flavor. Often in Thai cuisine, we will use palm sugar and fish sauce in a recipe as our sweet and salty seasonings. These are much more complex ingredients than white sugar and sea salt, so to take full advantage of the aroma these ingredients offer, we often add them at two different stages in the preparation of a dish. We will add them at an early stage so that they can caramelize and infuse aroma into a curry past, protein or foundational ingredient, and we will add them again just before serving, when we adjust the seasoning. So in this soup, I opted to add palm sugar and fish sauce at the mushroom cooking stage, so that the mushrooms would absorb those flavors and benefit from the caramelization that happens when the palm sugar hits the pan.
The next Thai cooking tip I used was the timing for adjusting seasonings. This is pretty basic, easy to forget. When adjusting seasoning before serving, be mindful of the cooking times of your various elements. If you need to add more fish sauce or palm sugar, you will need to cook the liquid longer so that the palm sugar melts and the fish sauce mellows out it’s fishy fragrance. So for this soup, I adjust the seasoning before adding in fresh herbs and greens, so as not to overcook them. If you taste your dish at a point where it can’t take any more cooking and the seasoning needs adjusting, this is the time to add sea salt or white sugar, because these ingredients don’t require further cooking.
Lastly, adding herbs. In my cooking life, I’m always concerned with retaining the integrity of fresh ingredients. For this reason, I usually opt to add fresh herbs off heat, thinking that a gentler residual heat will maintain freshness. I’ve learned through Thai cuisine that this is just plain wrong. It’s particularly wrong with basil, which is a finicky herb with a strong tendency to turn brown. Thai cooks will add fresh basil to a boiling soup or curry and cook it for one minute to retain it’s green color and marry it’s aroma into the dish. Thai Chefs warn: if you don’t “fully cook” your basil, it will turn brown.
These are the Thai cooking principals I used to create my lovely bean water Thai inspired vegetable soup. The exciting thing about this recipe is that it uses very Thai ingredients and methods to develop the flavor profile, but most ingredients are pretty easy to find or at least sub out. There aren’t any difficult to find herbs required, but you still get a nice Thai flavor. This soup is similar to the kaeng-cheud soups, or clear broth soups, which are very well loved in Thailand but a bit harder to find in the States.
The first recipe explains how I cook chickpeas from a dry bean. You will reserve the chickpea cooking liquid for the second recipe, Surprisingly Delicious Thai Inspired Bean Broth Soup.
Best Ever Chickpeas and Chickpea Broth Recipe
Makes 6 cups of chickpeas and 2qts of chickpea broth
Cooking time: 45 min - 2 hours, depending on method
1lb Chickpeas (dry)
2 qts water
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3T olive oil
In a container with enough room for them to double in size, add 1lb of chickpeas, 2 big pinches of salt and fill with water to about double the height of the chickpeas. Give it a little stir to disperse the salt. Let them soak overnight. The next day, drain out the soaking liquid. The water is salty; so don’t give it to a plant unless you want to kill it.
If you have a slow cooker, add your soaked chickpeas, 2 qts of water, and three big pinches of salt to the slow cooker basin and set it to cook for one hour. When your cooker reads that it has 15 minutes left, open it up safely and check the chickpeas for doneness. My chickpeas take 45 minutes to cook, but my slow cooker won’t allow me to set a time less than 2 hours, so this is my method.
If you’re cooking them on the stove, add your chickpeas, 2 qts of water, and two big pinches of salt to a large pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce to a simmer (medium low heat) and leave them to cook for about 2 hours. You will need to replenish the water from time to time, as it evaporates. Stir them occasionally.
In a large bowl OR the container you’ll use to store these guys in the fridge, add your smashed garlic, olive oil, and a big pinch of salt. This bowl can hang out until the chickpeas are cooked.
Once the chickpeas are cooked to your desired doneness, use a slotted spoon to fish them out of their cooking liquid and put them directly in the bowl of garlic and oil. It’s very important that they go in the bowl HOT because the heat from the chickpeas will warm the garlic and oil and infuse the garlic flavor into the oil and chickpeas. Once all your chickpeas are in the bowl, gently stir to coat with the garlicy oil. Leave them covered with a kitchen towel or Tupperware lid to steam a bit in their own heat. In about 30 minutes, taste them and add salt if needed. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
Reserve your chickpea cooking liquid for soup! Once it cools, store it in quart containers.
To serve, spoon into: a green salad, a grain salad, pasta salad, soup or stew. Eat them with soft-boiled eggs and really good toasted bread. Add them to shakshuka. (I really like them with eggs). Add them to sautéed or braised greens. Make a “protein bowl” with cucumbers, crunchy veg, hard-boiled eggs over a swoosh of yogurt. Use as a base for a chickpea faux tuna salad sandwich. Or just eat them by the spoonful from time to time when you get hungry, which is what I do every day.
Thai Bean Broth Vegetable Soup Recipe
Servings: One portion
Cooking time: 20 minutes
1 cilantro root or about 10 stems from a bunch of cilantro, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ teaspoon white pepper or red chili flakes
¼ shallot, minced (optional)
1 cup mixed mushrooms (any kind you like, I used king trumpet and beech)
½ teaspoon palm sugar (sub: maple syrup)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (salt is probably the best sub, light soy sauce would change the flavor a lot but would probably also be tasty)
1/3 cup Best ever chickpeas
½ quart chickpea stock
1 cup hearty leafy green veg (Chinese broccoli, kale, collard greens)
Fresh basil, about 10 leaves (Thai or Italian basil)
1 wedge of lime
Cilantro leaves, garnish to taste
Spring onion, garnish to taste
Mince the 2-3 cloves garlic and 1 coriander root (or 8-10 coriander stems) and ¼ shallot.
Chiffonade 1cup of Chinese broccoli by stacking the leaves on top of one another and rolling them into cigar shape, then slice across the width to create 1 cm ribbons of the leaves.
Chop or tear your mushrooms.
Take the leaves off the basil stems, don’t tear them yet.
Get your garnish ready, chop a bit of cilantro and spring onion in your preferred fashion.
In a smallish pot (about 2-4 quarts) add about 1T of neutral oil and your garlic, chili flakes, cilantro stems/roots and shallot. Start in a cold pan, turn the head to medium and sauté until fragrant. (This is another Thai lesson, starting in cold oil ensures you get good flavor infusion into the oil before burning the herbs)
When your kitchen starts to smell really nice, add your mushrooms and continue to stir fry. If you feel like things are getting a bit too hot, add 1-2 T of your chickpea stock to cool the pan a bit, and reduce your heat slightly.
After a minute or two of cooking the mushrooms, drop in the palm sugar and watch it dissolve. When it dissolves, add the fish sauce and mix everything up. Continue to stir fry until you’re happy with how things are looking.
Add in your 1/3 cup of chickpeas and give them a nice stir to warm them up.
When you start to see a lot of browning on the bottom of the pan, that’s a good time to pour in your ½ qt of chickpea liquid. You don’t want that browning (called fond) to burn; it will impart very nice flavor to your broth, as long as you catch it before it gets too dark. Stir well to deglaze the pan, and get all those brown bits into the broth. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
Now is the time to taste your broth and adjust the seasoning. You likely don’t need more sugar; I only added it to boost the mushroom browning and caramelization. You might want more salt or fish sauce at this point. If you add fish sauce, bring the soup back to a boil, and boil it for about 30 seconds.
When you’re happy with your salt level, at the boil, add your basil. Cook this for about 1 minute, and then add your leafy greens. Once the greens are a super bright color, turn off the heat. Squeeze some lime juice to taste and check salt level one last time.
To serve, garnish with fresh basil, cilantro and spring onion.