Eric Akis: A hearty soup for leftover ham

Eric Akis

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting how we cook and eat. Some ingredients normally well-stocked in grocery stores are becoming scarcer and we’re being forced to switch things up.

I was reminded of that when plotting out recipes for this column. My initial plan was to offer a lentil soup recipe that had bits of ham in it — ham Times Colonist readers might have left over after serving it for Easter dinner.

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And, to make that soup a more filling meal, I was also going to offer a recipe for dinner rolls you could serve with it.

So, I roughed out the recipes, made a shopping list and headed to the grocery store. But when I got there, there were no lentils to be found, in cans or dried, and no yeast to make my rolls with.

There was no shortage of ham, though, and seeing it reminded me of another soup we made in a hotel I once worked at. It was a French-style one called potage garbure that, along with ham, contained cabbage and beans.

It was hearty, delicious and comforting, and I was able to find ingredients to make that soup instead.

I wasn’t surprised to find cabbage for sale, but I was a bit surprised to find the canned cannellini beans, also called white kidney beans, since other canned pulses that normally sit beside them on the shelf, such as chickpeas, red kidney beans and those lentils, were sold out.

Perhaps that was because many folks were not sure how to use them, or maybe the store I shopped at had just unpacked them. Either way, I was glad to have some for my soup.

For the rolls, because there was no yeast, but there was flour, I decided to make a different type of bread that did not require yeast: Tibetan-style flatbread. It’s leavened with baking powder and made in a skillet on the stovetop.

I first learned about this type of bread when I saw famed chef Jacques Pepin preparing it on his television series More Fast Food My Way. It’s not hard to make and the end result is dense bread that tastes great cut into wedges and dunked into soup. To see a video of Pepin preparing it, Google “Jacques Pepin Tibetan flatbread.”

French-style Ham, Bean and Cabbage Soup

Thick, hearty, filling soup that provides a way to use up some of that leftover Easter ham. This soup freezes well.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Makes: six servings

1 Tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced (see Note)

1 large carrot, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced

1 or 2 large garlic cloves, minced

3 cups chopped green cabbage

3 3/4 cups chicken stock

3/4 cup water

1 cup diced ham, or taste (see Eric’s Options)

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can cannellini beans (also called white kidney beans), drained well, rinsed, and drained well again (see Eric’s options)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes (see Eric options)

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp ground sage

2 bay leaves

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• chopped fresh parsley, snipped chives or sliced green onions, to taste (optional)

Place oil in a large pot set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add onions, carrots and garlic and cook and stir four to five minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and bring soup to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Lower heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer soup 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and, if desired, sprinkle it, to taste, with chopped parsley, snipped chives or sliced green onion.

Note: Diced in this recipe means to cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have ham, replace it with another type of meat, such as cubes of cooked turkey or chicken, kolbasa or even duck confit. Or make the soup vegetarian by omitting the ham and replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock. The canned beans could be replaced with 2/3 cup dried white beans, separately cooked until tender, while 1 3/4 cups of diced fresh tomato could replace the canned tomatoes.

Tibetan-style Flatbread

Here’s an easy to make bread in a skillet on the stovetop that requires no yeast. When cut into wedges, it’s the perfect thing to dunk into soup.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: about 15 minutes

Makes: one nine- or 10-inch round bread, about 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup + 2 Tbsp water (divided)

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil (divided)

Place flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Now pour in 1 cup of the water and mix with a spatula until very wet dough forms.

Pour 1 Tbsp of the oil into a nine- or 10-inch non-stick skillet, or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, and set over medium, medium-high heat. Pour and spread the wet dough into the pan. Drizzle top of dough with remaining 1 tsp oil.

Pour 2 Tbsp of water around the edges of the bread, then cover skillet with a lid.

Cook the bread for eight minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom and beginning to puff. (Check the bottom of the bread halfway through this initial cooking period to ensure it’s not scorching on the bottom. If it is, lower the heat.)

Flip the bread over, cover again and cook another five minutes or so, until lightly browned on the other side and cooked through (when done, the bread will spring back when touched in the centre).

Set bread on a cutting board. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Eric’s options: You can replace 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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