It's funny that I always seem to think of my dad when I make bean soup. It's not because he was an expert with the soup pot. Far from it. My dad spent very little time in the kitchen cooking. But, on rare occasions when he was forced to make a meal (every mom gets sick once in a while), he'd pull a can of Campbell's bean with bacon soup off the shelf. Looking very out of place at the stove, my dad would plop the cylinder-shaped bean mixture into a pot, stir in some water and heat it up. He'd slap a couple of bologna sandwiches together and supper was ready.
It's been years since I've had bean soup from a can. When I was a newlywed, my parents gave me a cookbook, "Taste/the best of Taste from the Minneapolis Star." That book held the first bean soup recipe I'd ever prepared from scratch, using 2 pounds of dried beans. If I remember correctly, that first batch of soup contained beans still a bit hard and chewy and offered little flavor. I didn't share any of that soup with my dad. And I didn't stop making bean soup.
Over the years, I've soaked and simmered many pots of beans, certain that I could come up with a hearty, satisfying family-friendly soup. When my sons were young, I remember adding mashed potatoes and grated carrots to a pot of beans simmering with a ham bone. After all, they loved mashed potatoes. For some reason, that soup just didn't pass their taste testing. Maybe it was the beans.
I've finally developed a bean soup that is filled with tender, creamy beans, aromatic vegetables, a little bit of ham and a slightly smoky flavor.
If you have a meaty bone left from your holiday ham, it's a good time to make Bean Soup. And if you don't, buy a couple of ham hocks, because it is a good time to eat Bean Soup.
If you're like most people, you've eaten an overload of sugar and fat over the holiday season, resulting in bloat, sluggishness and, maybe, clothes that seem a little too snug.
Dried beans, a source of insoluble fiber, can bring relief. Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, does not dissolve in water or break down in your digestive system. It passes through the gastrointestinal tract almost intact. Think of a broom sweeping out your digestive system, pushing all the toxins through.
My Bean Soup takes a bit of forethought, as the beans should be soaked in water overnight. One of the mistakes I made with my first pot of bean soup many years ago was not using enough water for the beans to rest in. In water, they swell and become larger. For the beans to stay completely immersed in water, the depth needs to be a couple of inches over the top of the beans. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a soup pot with fresh water, a ham bone and a bay leaf with a clove of garlic. While the beans are simmering, chop up carrots, onions, celery, garlic and potatoes to add to the soup when the beans are almost tender. Sautéing the vegetables before adding them to the soup intensifies their natural sweetness and adds depth of flavor to the finished pot of soup.
If my dad had been offered this choice, I'm sure the canned soup would have stayed in the cupboard.
My older son was just here with his family. He had a bowl of hot Bean Soup the day I made it. He liked it. He had another bowl the next day. Yes. Mission accomplished.
1 pound dried navy beans
1 meaty ham bone or 2 smoked pork hocks
1 large dried bay leaf
3 chubby cloves garlic, 1 whole and 2 minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dump the dried beans onto a baking sheet and sort through, picking out any little pieces of debris. Rinse beans and transfer to a large glass mixing bowl. Add enough water to come 2 inches above the beans. Allow the beans to soak in the water overnight.
Drain the beans. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large soup pot. Add the drained beans, ham bone, bay leaf and one clove of garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until beans are almost tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove ham bone, garlic and bay leaf.
Heat olive oil in a sauté pan. When hot, add chopped onion, carrots and celery. Saute over medium heat until crisp-tender. Add minced garlic and sauté for another minute or two.
Add sautéed vegetables to the soup pot along with the chopped potato. Cook at a gentle simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.
While soup is simmering, pull meat off the ham bone or hocks and cut the meat into small pieces. Discard the bones.
When vegetables are tender, stir tomato sauce and meat into the soup pot. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer soup until heated through. Serve piping hot. Makes about 14 cups of soup.
Tips from the cook
--In "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eating Clean," Registered Dietitian Diane Welland suggests that if you forget to soak beans overnight you can put them in a saucepot with enough water to cover, and then bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes. Take off heat, cover, and let beans soak in water for 2 to 3 hours. This should be just what they need to be ready to cook in Bean Soup as directed.
--If you prefer Bean Soup on the thick side, puree half of the soup, in small batches, in a blender or food processor until fairly smooth. Stir the puree back into the remaining soup.
--Soup can decrease by volume as it cooks. For this reason, it is best to season with salt and pepper after the soup is cooked.
--Store Bean Soup in refrigerator for three to five days or in freezer for three months.