Winter is the perfect time for these hearty soups that are good for you, filling and easy to make. I think it was Mark Bittman, one of my favorite cookbook authors, who made the comment that bean soups are just an excuse for croutons. I like to make bean soups on cold winter days and warm the house at the same time.
There are multitudinous kinds of dried legumes from which to make soup. Some of the more familiar and easy to find in the supermarkets are the white limas, great northerns, navy, and cannelloni beans. Among the dark beans are kidney, pinto, and black turtle beans. If you have a garden and grow your own, there are many other varieties available from grower’s catalogues, such as Christmas beans (speckled red and white), YinYang (black and white), and other colorful and flavorful beans from all over the world.
When our children were still at home, we often made what they called “guess-what soup.” Invariably, that soup started with beans — sometimes several kinds — soaked overnight. The next day, we’d drain and reserve the soaking liquid and add to the beans whatever good aromatics we had in the kitchen — onions, garlic, celery, herbs, sometimes dried tomatoes or mushrooms. There was always time for another activity while the beans bubbled away — making bread, doing homework or a 4-H sewing project.
Once the beans were soft enough to puree, that was done, and the soup was returned to the pot. Then we added whatever leftovers sounded good — a bit of stew, some ham or bacon bits, maybe the one remaining smoked sausage and vegetables of all kinds. Cooked a little more, and dinner was ready. Since most soups are not very fussy about what goes into them, use your imagination and you can’t go wrong.
BASIC RECIPE FOR BEAN SOUP
The basic recipe will serve four to six people as a main course, but you can double or triple the recipe. Bean soups freeze really well, and since they take three or four hours to make, freezing some represents an economical use of your time.
Put in a large stock pot:
One pound dried, pre-soaked beans (follow package instructions for soaking; a mix is fine)
2 to 3 quarts water (half water and half stock is good too)
Ham bone or smoked sausage (optional)
Prepare and reserve:
2 diced carrots
2 stalks celery with leaves, sliced
1-2 onions, chopped fine
Garlic (1 to 4 cloves – optional)
¼ cup chopped parsley
Dried tomatoes or mushrooms (optional)
Any leftovers you want to add
1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring beans and water to a boil and reduce to simmer. When beans are almost soft, remove ham bone or sausage, remove pot from heat, and puree some or all of the beans in a food mill or blender. Return to pot; add ham bits, cut up sausage and the reserved vegetables and leftovers. Simmer for an additional hour or so, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a bowl of croutons on the side and a green salad.
David and Muffy Vhay own Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast. Contact the ranch at 775-882-3643.