To soak or not, THAT is the question! You may have thought it was “To be or not to be” but that isn’t nearly as fun to write about :o). Today’s Mixed Bean Soup brings up the age-old question, “Do I really need to presoak the beans?” The short answer is yes you do. Soaking the beans helps reduce the cooking time, reduces the natural sugars which we humans have trouble digesting, and because they are filled with water, soaked beans cook more evenly and are less likely to fall apart during cooking. Now you have some new trivia to entertain your friends with at your next party!
Legumes are a delicious and healthy source of protein. They are naturally low in fats and cholesterol and high in fiber, folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. While this recipe calls for a ham hock, you can leave it out if you want a vegetarian soup. But it does add a lot of flavor, so if you don’t include it, after soaking in water, drain the beans and use a flavorful vegetable stock to cook them in.
Today’s recipe is inspired by Barbara DeGroot, who writes the wonderful food blog, Modern Comfort Food.com. She focuses on fresh, updated approaches to comfort food classics. We both love comfort foods, so naturally I want to cook every single thing she writes about. I know you will enjoy following her!
If you have been wanting to get more creative in the kitchen, this recipe is perfect for you. Using the basic concept of cooking aromatics and beans together, you can use anything you have in the cupboard to make this soup. I usually have a variety of dried legumes on hand and today I’ll probably use a combination of favas, split peas, and chickpeas. Maybe I’ll throw in a can of black beans toward the end too – they’ll look nice in the finished soup!
I am always looking for new ways to eat healthier and soups are the perfect simple meal. Combined with some slices of bread and a salad, you have a wholesome, filling, hot meal. Soups make wonderful weeknight dinners!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
While you can use a single type of bean in this soup, using a variety adds interest, flavor, and texture. Be sure to very carefully sort through them, a little at a time, to be sure there are no small pebbles or other things that shouldn’t be there. Given how beans are grown, it is nearly impossible to remove all the debris, but you can easily do it by hand. Once they are sorted, rinse them well before continuing with the recipe.
Also, don’t forget to preheat your soup bowls by warming them in a low oven or filling them with hot water for a few minutes. Cold bowls sap the heat from the soup and we always want it piping hot!
Be sure that the ham has not been injected with liquids that can often contain gluten ingredients. While the hock is traditional, if you aren’t sure it is gluten-free, you can substitute guaranteed safe ham (in any form) or sausage. If you are using thinly sliced sandwich ham, leave the slices whole and remove them before serving – they will have imparted their flavor to the soup but will be tough. Replace it with fresh ham slices, cut into small squares for easy eating.
- 1 lb of assorted dried beans (a 1 lb bag of “soup” beans works well or any combination you have on hand)
- 2-1/2 quarts (10 cups) boiling water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 meaty ham hock, regular or smoked, approximately 1/2 lb (see note above for gluten-free)
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped (approximately 2 cups)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
- 2 cups coarsely chopped celery
- 3 large carrots, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (approximately 2 cups)
- 2 (15 oz) cans chopped tomatoes (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper, optional
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Pick through beans, discarding any twigs or pebbles you find. Be careful, you don't want anyone to chip a tooth! Rinse beans well, drain in a colander, and place in a large stockpot. 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.
- Drain the beans, discarding the soaking water. Rinse under running water, place back in stockpot, and cover with 10 cups fresh water (or stock if you are not using ham hock). Add the ham hock and bay leaf, cover, and simmer on low 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 carrots; sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add sauteed vegetables, tomatoes, chipotle, and vinegar to stockpot and simmer for an additional 30 to 45 minutes, adding water, if necessary to achieve the soup consistency you prefer. Beans are done when they can be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork. Remove ham hock and cut off meat. Return meat to the soup. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve hot with slices of bread and a tossed green salad.
- Yield: about 8 main course servings
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