Autumn has finally arrived here in Florida — not a moment too soon as far as I’m concerned — and my mind is turning to soups, stews, and other hearty fare. I’ve always been a fan of beans. However, my love affair with them really took off when I was a struggling graduate student and any method that allowed me both to eat and stay within my meager budget was grabbed like a lifeline. Hearty bean soups offered one delicious, full-of-goodness solution to my budget crisis then, and I’ve been cooking them regularly ever since.
The following is not a fancy-pants bean soup but rather the most basic of basic varieties: a medley of different beans flavored with onions, celery, red pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and a splash of balsamic vinegar for extra zip. Virtually any combination of dried beans and/or pulses works well for this soup, including white, navy, pinto, kidney, red, black, cannellini, fava, split pea, lentil, chickpea, black-eyed pea, cow pea, flageolet, azuki (adzuki, aduki), lima, and cranberry beans, among others. Paired with good quality bread and a salad, this budget-minded soup make a vitamin- and protein-rich meal.
1 pound of assorted dried beans (a 1 pound bag of 15-variety dried beans works well)
2 1/2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
1 meaty ham hock (approximately 1/2 pound) or more
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (approximately 2 cups)
3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
2 cups coarsely chopped celery
3 large carrots, cut into 1/2″ cubes (approximately 2 cups)
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped (or 2 15-ounce cans chopped tomatoes)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Rinse beans well, drain, and place in a large stock pot. Add water, cover, and allow to soak at room temperature for at least 6 hours or overnight. Alternatively, you can immediately boil the beans on high for 2 minutes, remove the stock pot from the burner, and set it aside for one hour before proceeding with the next step of the recipe.
- Add ham hock and bay leaf to stock pot, cover, and simmer until the beans are just tender, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
- Separately, in a large frying pan, sauté onions and garlic on medium heat for 2 minutes or until wilted. Add celery and sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and carrots; sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add frying pan contents, crushed red pepper, and vinegar to stock pot and simmer for an additional 30-45 minutes, adding water, if necessary, to achieve the soup consistency you prefer. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Remove bones, if preferred. Serves 8 as a main course.