Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mixed-Bean Soup with Sausage and Greens

Photo: Four different beans, sausage, vegetables and kale in a flavorful broth
Bean soup - when did it turn into such a taste treat? Not when I was a youngster, dreading Mom's endless pots of Split Pea or Navy Bean Soup. Not as a teenager, politely but firmly declining Ten-Bean Soup during Rose Parade/Rose Bowl events. Years later I  raved about the Lentil Soup served in the basement cafeteria of Raitt Hall on the University of Washington campus. My kitchen files hold a tattered and splattered 3x5 file card from the 70's that includes both the recipe and many years of  adjustments to a dynamite Cuban Black Bean Soup. Somewhere over the years I went from a bean soup hater to bean soup lover... okay, I'm still not too fond of traditional Navy Bean Soup.

Here's a recipe I'm playing with this month, tweaking repeated batches since the soup adapts well to changes in seasonings and base ingredients. That adaptability keeps us well-fed without the boredom of repetition. As written, the original version yields a hearty, well-flavored broth nicely loaded with beans and bits of sausage and vegetables. Beyond a few focused minutes of chopping, slicing and dicing, this kettle of goodness requires minimal hands-on effort and little time. The flavors do benefit from an overnight rest - time to blend and mellow - but the soup is tasty on day one. Double the recipe if you are going to feed a crowd.

Photo: A spicy SW bean and hominy soup with sausage and vegetables 

This weekend's kettle of soup was a spicier version, leaning more Southwest or Tex-Mex in spicy heat. While not as thick as a chili it was heading in that direction flavorwise. I can almost hear some diehard chiliheads gasping in horror: real chili doesn't have any beans (nope, none, zero, zip, nada) and this is such a bean centric recipe. Relax, I'm only talking about the chili flavors here, not the solids.  

It's still football season and my half-time meals or tailgating menus will see more bean soups before Super Bowl Sunday. (Go, Seahawks!!) Perhaps I'll try another flavor variation, maybe a different multi-bean twist, or I might turn instead to one of these bean soup favorites...

Black Bean with Chorizo
Lentil Soup
Ad-Lib Posole
Green Pozole with Chicken
Red Posole/Pozole Rojo 
Tuscan White Bean Soup

Do you have a favorite legume soup? Share the recipe or a link to it in a comment. 

Mixed-Bean Soup
Serves 8

2 Tablespoons olive oil

4 strips thick-sliced bacon
2 links cooked chicken Andouille sausage, cut in coins or small chunks
1 large yellow onion, small dice
2 peeled carrots, small dice
1 poblano pepper, remove seeds & membrane & cut in small dice
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and rained
2 cans cannellini (white) beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes with juices
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4-cup fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced 
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups kale, destemmed and cut in bite-size pieces
1 generous cup of ham, small dice (optional)

Optional flavor additions and garnish:

*Gremolata for topping
Splash of green Tabasco or other hot sauce
Drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Warm the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat; add the bacon and cook until crisp. Set aside on paper towels to drain: chop and reserve as garnish.
  2. Sauté the sausage coins in the oil and bacon fat to brown slightly. Add the onions to the pot and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the carrots and poblano and cook until barely softened, another 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the next 11 ingredients, beans through thyme. Cover the pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
  4. Let cool to mellow and blend the flavors (or skip this step if you are hungry and in a hurry. Remove 1/4 of the soup to another container and puree with a stick blender. Return the pureed soup to the larger soup pot.
  5. Reheat the soup over medium heat; add the kale and ham (if using), cooking to heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings - I typically add Green Tabasco and red wine vinegar at this point. You may want to offer them at table to suit individual tastes.
  6. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with a generous sprinkle of gremolata and bacon bits. (Don't skip the gremolata - it makes a difference!) Offer grated Parmesan, hot sauce, olive oil and red wine vinegar at the table as well.

Stir together in a small bowl:
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
grated zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

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OR you might take the soup in a SouthWest/Tex-Mex direction like I did this weekend and use one or some of the following suggestions...

...substitute a 50/50 blend of hominy and pinto beans for the 4-bean combination noted above
...substitute cumin, cilantro and Mexican oregano for the rosemary and thyme.
...add fresh cilantro in addition to the fresh parsley.
...use more poblanos or add tamed jalapeños
...substitute 1 pound crumbled pork sausage or chorizo in step 2 (drain off the excess oils) and skip the ham in step 5.

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