Wednesday, September 27, 2006

From Mozambique: A Simple Soup

Several people have described reading Field to Feast as a form of “armchair traveling” to a faraway continent. While I am quite happy for my blog to virtually whisk you away, I have to be honest – I live in only one of the 53 countries in Africa, which means that sometimes I have to do some armchair traveling, too.

Consider Mozambique. From Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highland town of Bvumba I have gazed into this coastal country, a place steadily rebuilding itself after years of civil war. But I have yet to cross the border. Yep, that’s right, Vilankulo, Ilha de Mocambique and Maputo, all still waiting to be explored. So, this past weekend I did a little armchair (okay, couch) traveling myself, and discovered some excellent traditional recipes from Mozambique.

The recipe that caught my eye was for a dish called sopa de feijao verde, or string bean soup. It attracted my attention because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand and 2) I have made soup with practically every vegetable I know of, except string beans. I was intrigued.

Sopa de feijao verde is a simple, elegant soup, with a peppery kick. It is certainly not the type of soup that can substitute as a one-pot meal, but it would make a lovely starter for a Sunday lunch in autumn or spring. There is something inherently graceful about long, slender green beans, and they take center stage in this recipe. However, there is nothing (slurp! splash!) graceful about trying to eat long, slender green beans with a soup spoon. In the recipe below, I have recommended cutting most of the string-bean pieces down to bite-size, while leaving a few long ones to artfully arrange on the top of your serving bowls or cups. You could also steam or blanch these longer beans separately, if you choose.

Be advised that the colors in this dish become distinctly less appealing in leftover form, as the beans’ green color seems to simply seep away into the soup, turning it the color of dirty water. (Sorry to be graphic, but it’s true!) I recommend you make just the amount of soup you think you and your lunch-mates will eat at one sitting – preferably in an armchair, well-suited for traveling.

String Bean Soup (Sopa de Feijao Verde)
Adapted from The African Cookbook
Serves 4-6 as a starter

4 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ pound string beans

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the potatoes, tomatoes, onion, black pepper and salt. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, cut your string beans in half lengthwise. Reserve a handful of these long, skinny slices, and cut the remaining beans so that they are each about 2-inches long.

Puree the contents of the pot using an immersion blender (or do that messy schlep to the blender and back routine). If any foam has formed on the top of the soup, just scoop it off and discard. Add all of the string beans and simmer for an additional 8 minutes, or until the beans are tender but still have their bright green color. This might require some close monitoring beginning around the seven-minute mark. Check the salt and pepper, and ladle the soup into small bowls or cups. Fish out some of those long string beans and arrange them on the top. Serve.

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