Vicken and I are looking for a place to move this fall for what will probably be our last year in Davis (fingers crossed!). As this reality of only having one more year here sets in, I’m making an effort to really take advantage of and enjoy all the perks there are here. Among the perks, of course, are the many lovely people I’ve been lucky enough to get to know over the last 5 years.

Part of the luxury of living in a small college town is that there is a constant influx of new and interesting people. The downfall that unfortunately accompanies that is that as I’ve met more and more new people I’ve lost track of some old friends that live only a few miles away. With our departure in sight now, I’ve been trying to catch up with these people and it has been so rewarding.

We recently had dinner with some old friends that I originally met through Vicken and who used to organize a weekly Four Square game every summer–clearly all-around awesome people, right? Anyway, we had a great time laughing, catching up, and concocting tequila-based drinks (not necessarily in that order) and we ate this Mexican fava bean soup that Vicken made. We used another of Rick Bayless’s recipes for this and were really pleased. The earthy plainness of the fava beans are first enhanced by the addition of roasted garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and then punched up a bit by the cilantro and mint that you add at the end.

The soup itself is Mediterranean in origin, but what finally adds the Mexican flavor is the vinegary chile condiment and cheese that you add to individual bowls. The chiles add a complex, rustic flavor to the recipe and the cheese balances out the vinegar and other strong flavors in the soup.


It’s hard to know whether the soup itself was actually as good as I thought it was or if I just had such a fun time that I let those emotions bias my judgement. Just to be sure, I made a second batch a few days later and the verdict stands. I think I’ll even suggest my mom make it. Translation: I feel confident enough about the likability of this soup that I think my dad, to whom everything I make and eat sounds “weird”, would like it. There’s not much more to say than that.

Slow-simmered fava bean soup
from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

Makes about 10 cups. Serves 4-5 as a main course, or 8-10 small servings.

We have made this with the dried, hulled favas it calls for and with dried favas that we soaked for a few hours and then hulled. Both work fine, and the latter cooks more quickly due to the pre-soaking. You can probably add the chopped roasted vegetables as soon as 45 minutes into the cooking. The down-side to soaking and hulling the favas yourself is that it takes a long time. Plan to spend at least an hour on this step unless you have some nifty bean hulling technique up your sleeve.

1 pound (about 2 2/3 cups) hulled dry (yellow) fava beans, cleaned
8 cups good chicken broth or water
6 garlic cloves, skins on
1 large white onion, thickly sliced
1 1/2 pounds (3 medium-large round or 9-12 plum) ripe tomatoes
6 medium (about 2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for garnish
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Salt, about 2 1/2 teaspoons
1/2 cups loosely packed chopped cilantro
1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint, preferably spearmint
About 1/2 cup finely crumbled Mexican queso anejo, dry feta or parmesan (*I used queso anejo, and it worked really well)

1. The soup base.
Rinse the fava beans, place in a large (6-quart) pot, cover with 8 cups of broth or water, and simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, until very tender (they will begin falling apart), about 1 hour.
While the beans are simmering, roast the garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. Cool, then slip off the papery skins and finely chop. On a piece of foil in the same skillet, roast the onion slices in a single later, turning once, until richly browned and soft, 6 or 7 minutes per side. (Note: I stirred the onions every minute or so rather than “flipping” them.) Meanwhile, roast the tomatoes 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and roast the other side. Cool, then peel and chop, saving all the juices.
Add the garlic, onion and tomatoes to the tender fava beans and simmer about 30 minutes more, until the beans are the consistency of a coarse, rough-looking puree.

2. The chiles.
While the soup is simmering (or before you start), cut the chiles into 1/8-inch slivers using kitchen shears. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the chiles and stir for a minute. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water, oregano, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Let stand at least 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Finishing the soup.
Just before serving, add a little water (or broth), if necessary, to bring the soup to the consistency of medium-thick bean soup. Stir in the cilantro and mint, taste and season with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons. Ladle the soup into warm bowls, spoon about a tablespoon of chiles into the center, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the finely crumbled cheese.

Advance preparation: The recipe can be made several days ahead of time through step 2; refrigerate the soup and chile mixture separately.

Shortcuts: A simple version can be prepared without the chile “condiment”; serve bottled hot sauce on the side.


I’m finally telling you about the sweet potato, chard, and black bean recipe I hinted at a few weeks ago. I suppose I should actually say beet greens since that’s what I ended up using instead of chard. We got a week of constant rain at the end of March which sent the garden into a frenzy, meaning mostly that the weeds went crazy, but also that the beets took off. For some reason I just can’t bear to waste beet greens. They are a smaller, more tender version of chard and as a bonus, they come with a yummy root attached! Every time I pick beets I meticulously wash the beets and cut off all the good looking leaves to be cooked in anything I would usually use chard in. I’m not really sure why we even grew chard at all this year…

After making mole enchiladas last week, we found ourselves with about 3 cups of leftover mole sauce and a huge pile of beet greens to consume. Rick Bayless suggests using sweet potato and chard for a vegetarian mole enchilada option, and I decided to try that, with some black beans thrown in.

The enchiladas that resulted were (in my opinion) even better than the chicken mole enchiladas. They were flavorful and satisfying (not to mention colorful!) and made a great dish to take to friends’ house for dinner the other week.

You could also make this with just sweet potatoes and black beans. Similarly, you could use pumpkin or a winter squash instead of sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are just so much easier to prepare that I probably wouldn’t bother.

I have to say that it feels good to be amassing so many good vegetarian recipes. I think we’re at the point where we are only eating meat for dinner 2-3 nights a week and I often crave dishes with beans, eggs, or tempeh more than anything with meat. I’m not sure if I could ever make the full transition to being vegetarian, but, for now, eating mostly free range meat and less of it feels pretty good!

Sweet potato, chard & black bean mole enchiladas
mole sauce from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained (not rinsed)
1 to 2 bunches swiss chard or beet greens, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cups mole sauce (or store-bought mole sauce)
10 8-inch (or 15 6-inch) corn tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir chopped sweet potatoes with 2 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread onto an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes and stir at least once to result in more even browning. Sweet potatoes should be soft and browned on at least one side.

2. Heat oil in large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add greens and cook until wilted, stirring frequently.

3. Add the drained black beans and warm through. Then add the sweet potato and 1 cup of mole sauce. Stir to combine.

4. In Bayless’s cookbook, he has you warm tortillas and fill them with warm filling. Then after rolling them up, you top with more mole sauce and serve on individual plates. Since these had to sit for a while between when they were assembled and when we were eating, I assembled the enchiladas, placed them in a glass pan, spread on the remaining 1 1/2 cup of mole sauce, and then baked them, covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes at 350 to re-warm them. It worked like a charm.

You can’t have a quintessential southern meal without black-eyed peas. This is just one of those times where I’m going to state an opinion like it’s a fact because I refuse to believe there is any other way things could be. My dad taught me to do this, so it’s not my fault. Black-eyed peas were one of my favorite foods growing up and continue to be one of my favorite comfort foods.  If you’ve only had canned b-e peas, let me tell you they are nothing compared to the ones made from scratch (but I guess that’s always true, now isn’t it…?).  

Another great thing about making these peas is that all the work comes up front. Most of the time the peas are cooking they are just simmering and you can tend to cooking other dishes. Add to this the fact that the peas can sit for a while before they are served and you have the recipe for a perfect side dish. The recipe I used comes from a cookbook I found on sale at a used bookstore that has been surprisingly handy.  Recipes are organized into menus for entertaining during different seasons or holidays.  This recipe comes from the “Sunday Soul” menu, which also has recipes for fried chicken, skillet cornbread, and mississippi mud pie.

The original recipe in the cookbook is for black-eyed peas and braised cabbage, but I left the cabbage steps out (steps 2 and 3 below). I included the whole recipe below just in case folks would like to try it out.  If you are a meat-eater, the bacon in the recipe is essential. If you are vegetarian I feel sorry for you right now, but you could make this without bacon and just add some oil to the skillet before cooking the onions. I’ve never made this without bacon, but the onions, cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes add enough flavor that I bet it would still be delicious!

Black-Eyed Peas and Braised Cabbage
adapted slightly from California Bistro: Menus for Entertaining

Serves 4.

1/4 pound sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch julienne
1 small onion, peeled and minced
1 stalk celery, minced, with some leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 pinches hot red pepper flakes
1 cup (about 7 ounces) dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
2 tsp cider vinegar
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
Approximately 1 cup water
1 head green cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch shreds
1 tsp sugar

1. In a large saucepan, fry half the bacon over medium heat until it begins to brown; add onion and celery and continue to cook for a few more minutes, until wilted. Add half the garlic, then a pinch of hot red pepper, the black-eyed peas, and the vinegar. Saute for a moment longer, then add 2 cups of the chicken broth and the salt. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Add 1 cup water and simmer for another 40 minutes, or until peas are tender, adding more water as necessary, stirring occasionally. When done, season with salt to taste and set aside. There should be very little liquid in the pan, but the peas should not be dry.

2. Just before serving or after peas are cooked, prepare cabbage by rendering remaining bacon in a large pot. When brown and crispy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and remaining garlic. Cook for a moment, then add cabbage, sugar, and remaining cup chicken browth. Cover and steam the cabbage until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Add the peas to the cabbage and toss well. Arrange in a large bowl and serve hot.