What I’m about to share with you goes deep.
It’s not just any recipe – it’s a recipe that has me 8 years old with smoke in my eyes and my nana’s voice in my ears. It’s a dish I remember coming home to after school; I’d get off the bus and my old lady would yell from across the yard and over the chickens, “Come on for mungo beans.” It would be close to 90 degrees out and I’d be dying for a cold shower to rinse off the sticky island sweat. But man, when mungo beans were on the table, her smoky outdoor kitchen was the only place I wanted to be.
I’d sit down and she’d hand me a military-issued spoon and metal bowl filled with mungo beans simmered with coconut milk from the yard and ham from the neighbors pig down the street. I’d wash it down with ice cold rain water from one of her rusty can cups – and, as I ate, she wouldn’t say a word. No questions about school. No small talk about homework or friends or chores. She’d just sit and watch me eat while she used a paper plate to fan away the heavy heat and the flies… and that’s how she loved me.
Mung beans – aka”mungo” beans. Small and simple, yet full of flavor – just like my sweet nana.
I used to have to buy them at oriental food stores (they originated in India, but are big in Chinese and Asian cuisine), but now can find them in the bulk section at my local grocery – which thrills me. They are GORGEOUS little things – my favorite green – with a very mild flavor.
Now, my nana’s original recipe used something I don’t have: fresh out-of-the-coconut coconut milk. Thankfully, however, there are good canned versions that get me pretty close to the original taste.
On the other hand, I use something my nana never did: quinoa. The quinoa gives another layer of flavor and better texture… and look how beautiful it sits in your bowl:
Here’s what you’ll need:
- EVOO to coat the bottom of the pan (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 2 cups whole dried mung beans
- 6 cups broth
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, diced and smashed
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 2 TBSP soy sauce
- Black pepper to taste
- For garnish: pre-cooked bacon
- Heat a soup pot and add enough EVOO to coat the bottom.
- With pan on medium high (a 7 out of 10), add onions and garlic and sauté for about a minute or two – just until the onions are translucent.
- Add dry mung and broth. Bring to a rapid boil for a few minutes, then turn down heat to medium, cover the pot, and allow to simmer gently for approximately 45 minutes. NOTE: You want the beans tender, but intact.
- Once beans are tender, add the coconut milk, soy sauce, and black pepper; and, gently incorporate the ingredients into the beans.
- Ladle beans into bowls and top with crispy bacon bits… and some chili paste if you like some heat!
- NOTE ON BACON: No, you can NOT use bacon bits out of a jar – and, as a matter of fact, you shouldn’t even own bacon bits in a jar! To cook bacon I always do it in the oven – and you can do it while the beans are simmering for this dish. Just preheat the oven to 425, and then cook bacon on a cookie sheet for approximately 12-15 minutes, or until perfectly crisp. No mess, no turning, no babysitting: just perfect bacon to make your bacon bits.
Now, you’ll notice I didn’t have any ham in the recipe like my nana did. (You can definitely simmer a hambone in the beans and you will be thrilled with the flavor. I, however, don’t typically do it that way – mainly because I rarely have a ham bone hanging around.) But, while I don’t cook the ham in the soup, I do top the bowl with the bacon bits – an alternative that adds great presentation and crispy bacon texture.