One of the things that stinks when you’re an adult is that chances are if you’re the family cook there’s no one waiting to comfort you with a hot meal when you come home after a hard day. So we all need to have a little supply of easy and comforting foods for these lean times, bonus points if they are amenable to a glass of wine (or two). For me, bean soup is one of these things. It is comfort in a bowl, and it will also give you a few days of delicious lunches – thereby making your life easier to boot.
Last year I tried some heirloom beans from the local farm market and they changed my life. Yes, it was that dramatic. I have always liked all kinds of bean soup, but with heirloom beans it became positively ambrosial. So far my favorites are the Steuben Yellow Eyes, pictured here.
If you do not have easy access to heirloom beans they are available online from several sources, including Rancho Gordo. But whenever you’re anything by the pound it’s expensive to ship, so if you’re in the midwest the best prices I’ve found are at Barry Farm (unpaid endorsements). With little more than water, onion and carrot these beans will give you a wonderful soup.
Heirloom Bean Soup Recipe (Four servings)
1 c. heirloom beans, rinsed and picked over
3 c. water
1 t. baking soda
3 c. water (can also be a mixture of water and chicken stock)
1/2 c. onion, diced
1 large carrot, sliced
Spices to taste: Cracked pepper, salt, Old Bay Seasoning, a bay leaf, red pepper
1 c. smoked ham, diced (optional)
Add the beans to a large cooking pot and cover with the first 3 c. water. Heat to boiling, add the baking soda. It will fizz up like crazy and then settle down. My grandma always did this, she said it makes them easier to digest. I don’t know if it works, but I follow her directions faithfully anyway.
Let cook for 15 minutes. The beans will start to get wrinkly and float to the top.
Drain the beans and rinse. At this point you could put them in your slow cooker if that works better for you. Recover with the second 3 c. water. If I have some on hand, I like to use a mixture of water and chicken stock. Add the onion, carrot and bay leaf. If you have a ham bone, add it too.
Cook for two-three hours (7 hours in a slow cooker on low) until the beans are soft and tender. Add the spices and the ham, simmer for another 10 minutes. Ladle it into bowls and serve. I like to top each serving with some grated hard cheese.