This soup is guest- or even restaurant-worthy to those who are open to "country style" food. With hunks of hearty brown bread (and beer) you'd be satisfied and have no room for dessert!
it absolutely captures my memory of a smoked ham bean soup.
Apart from having to remember to soak the dry beans the night before, and having about 3 hours of cook time, it's fairly easy to make. it also features a commonly used Hungarian thickener called a "rantas" (rawntawsh) which is added at the end, changing and improving the soup's texture and appearance. To fit with my food memories I added little dumplings. Once I saw the size of the ham hock and read that I was to add 12 cups of water I wondered which soup pot to use. Turned out my Le Creuset Dutch oven was just fine.
1 lb. dried pinto beans
Soak these overnight and drain them before using. I was planning to make the soup the next afternoon and so I put these into a large container late on the evening before. The beans do soak up some water so be sure they are covered by several inches of water. I left them in the water until using them midday, next day.
1/4 cup lard or canola oil x2
You will need 1/2 cup lard in total - 1/4 for step 1 and the rest for the thickener. See Tips (below) re lard.
1/4 cup lard or canola oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot
1 medium yellow onion
1 small parsnip
1 stalk celery
Melt 1/4 cup of the lard (or heat half the oil) in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat.
Chop all the vegetables - aiming for similarly sized chunks, sized about 1/4" to 1/3". Add garlic and chopped veggies to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and turn light golden, 7–9 minutes. Near the end of this step you may notice a bit of a "fond" (brown bits) forming on the bottom of the pan. That will add to the flavour, but take care to not let it burn. Since the next step is adding water - add a bit now and deglaze the bottom of the pan.
1 lb. dried pinto beans
2 bay leaves
1 large smoked ham hock
12 cups water
As per above, the pinto beans have been soaked overnight and drained. Add beans, bay leaves, ham hock, and 12 cups water to the pot and bring to a boil. Keep an eye on this and reduce the heat right away to medium. Partially cover with a lid and cook until beans are very tender, about 2 hours. That cooking time will also make the meat on the ham hock tender. The kitchen will smell great! (Skim off the foamy scum once or twice - see Tips / photo below.)
Now for a little interlude... after two hours, 1) transfer the ham hock to a cutting board and let it cool while doing the next two steps. It will be very hot, but will be easier to handle later if you cut or pull it apart a bit to speed up the cooling; 2) take the dumpling batter from the fridge and drop it by bits into the lightly simmering soup to make little dumplings; 3) make the rantas / thickener below - and "borrow" about 1.5 cups of the soup broth to be used for the rantas step.
1/4 cup lard
1/4 cup flour
1.5 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 cup sour cream
1.5 cups of broth from the soup
Salt and pepper, to taste
Now for the classic "rantas" / thickener. (See photo sequence below.) For this i use a 10" frying pan - though you could use a saucepan. Heat lard over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth - see Tips below. Cook 2 (maybe more) minutes. That mixture should be smooth and spread over the bottom of the pan. You want it to go from white to a very light golden colour. Do not walk away from this. it can go from perfect to a dark brown very quickly and then you have to start all over.
Take the pan off the heat. Why? Because paprika can burn easily and should never be added to a pan over heat. Whisk in the paprika and stir off heat for about 1 minute. Whisk in the sour cream. All that flour is going to thicken the sour cream (see photo #4 in sequence below), and when adding a thickener to a soup it is ideal if they have a more similar consistency. With the pan back on medium-low heat, begin to add some of the soup broth you set aside. Each addition will go through stages of seeming to not mix in, then to mix in, and then thicken again. Keep repeating this until you have used the 1.5 cups of soup broth. (Below, photo #5 is after 1 cup of broth and #6 is after 1.5 cups.) At that point the rantas / thickener can be added to the soup. Cook 4–6 minutes more.
Discard the skin and bone from the ham hock. Shred or cube the meat and stir into the soup. Add pepper and add salt to taste.
Notes and Tips...
- Lard - lard has been used to begin most Hungarian recipes for centuries. It's use suffered a bit in the last century when "fat" had a "bad wrap". For more details re the use of lard and fat see my Flummoxed about Fat blog post. I find it is easy to find lard these days at delis. If you opt for canola oil instead, you will have a lovely soup, but it will not be quite as authentic.
- Skimming soup scum - soups made with meat yields a foamy scum around the edges of the soup pot. Especially for clear broths you need to skim this off, and never let the soup boil while it's there. A hard boil breaks up the scum and the broth becomes gray and cloudy. While this soup is going to be creamy, my "old country" habits compelled me to skim off the scum once near the beginning and once near the end.
- Flour - for things like this thickener it is ideal to have a special flour that minimizes lumps. I always have Easy Blend flour on hand.
- Paprika - you want to use to the best Hungarian sweet paprika you can get your hands on. See these tips.
- Prep ahead - the veggies and dumpling batter can be prepped the day before. As with so many soups, this will taste even better on day two.
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