As the weather turns cold, my attention turns toward keeping warm. To be honest, I don’t do well with cold. If it were up to me, every night it would hover in the low 60s, and every day it would be between 70 and 75 degrees. That’s perfect weather for me – cool enough to wear a suit without sweating, but warm enough to run around in your T-shirt and shorts. (I don’t do shorts, but you are welcome to.) Of course, if I were in charge, it would only rain between 3 and 4 in the morning, when almost everyone is still asleep. Then it would dry up before the sun came up. It would snow on Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve, and when you wake up, the world would be a Winter Wonderland. Then it would be gone by the following Monday. But, hey! That’s just me!
The one thing I really like about cold weather is soup. Sure, we can make soup all year ’round. But during the winter, a good pot of home made soup is all that much better. Think about it. You come home from work all cold and tired. You trudge from your car, through the snow you haven’t had time to shovel, to your door. Off with the wet shoes, the three scarves, two pairs of socks, four layers of shirts and sweaters. And while you’re shedding yourself of several pounds of “winter weight,” you can smell the soup – and perhaps the fire your sweetheart has prepared – and suddenly, everything is all right in your world.
There are a lot of great winter soups, and I’m going to post several of them over the coming months. But I decided to start with this one, because it’s such a great childhood memory. Normally, Mom did a pot about once a month, and I always looked forward to a few days of “beans n broth.” When I left home and began to make my own, I followed Mom’s lead and just used the included seasoning packet. You know that’s now what I’m going to suggest today, though, right?
Of course not! I’m going to show you what I’ve learned over the years that will turn a generic pot of bean soup into a culinary masterpiece. Or at least make it taste a LOT better. I call this recipe Any Bean Soup because I’ve seen 9- 11- and 15-bean varieties. (For some reason, it’s always an odd number, and I’ve never seen 13-bean soup – probably because it’s unlucky.) For me, the more the merrier, so I always go for the most beans possible. But it will work with any bag of beans you care to use.
Put an extra log on the fire and let’s go have some fun!
1 bag of 15 bean soup mix (16 to 20 oz.)
1 quart chicken broth
1 lb. smoked ham hocks
2 – 3 cups cubed ham, polish or other sausage
2-3 stalks celery (about a cup)
4-6 carrots (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 or 2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
4-6 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 cups Swiss chard, kale or spinach
Juice of 1 lemon
Green onions (optional – for garnish)
Open the bag of beans. Throw away the seasoning packet. Or bury it in the yard. Just don’t use it.
Place beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly.
In the morning, drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add one quart of water along with the chicken broth and ham hocks. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer (uncovered) for about 3 hours.
After simmering, remove the ham hocks. Add the cubed ham or sausage.
Just before adding to the pot, chop the onions, celery and carrots. Crush or mince the garlic. Add them all to the pot, along with everything else except the greens, lemon juice and green onions.
Let the pot simmer for at least another 30 minutes. An hour is better, because this is when all the ingredients are going to get to know each other and get happy. And it’s really important that everything is happy.
About fifteen minutes before serving, add the greens (remove big stems and roughly chop them first).
Just before you’re ready to serve up some bowls of Super Goodness, add the lemon juice and remove the bay leaves.
Garnish each bowl with a few spring onions, if desired. You can also offer lemon wedges for those who want even more sparkle in their bowl.
One of the most popular versions of this soup is Hurst’s® HamBeens. Their bag of beans includes the following varieties: Northern, Pinto, Large Lima, Blackeye, Garbanzo, Baby Lima, Green Split, Kidney, Cranberry, Small White, Pink, Small Red, Yellow Split, Lentil, Navy, White Kidney, and Black beans. They’re the standard by which all others are measured and, in my opinion, fall short. But still throw away the spice packet.
Make sure you get your beans soaking the night before you’re going to do this. Yes, there are ways to speed up the process. But, like making love, it’s really better if you take your time. As my song says: “Everything’s better in slow-mo.” (Slow Motion Love – © 2012, Lane Baldwin)
I know it seems like overkill to use ham hocks and another meat. But the ham hocks add a LOT of flavor to the pot, so I strongly suggest you don’t skip this step.
Most recipes use cubed ham or Polish sausage. But don’t let that stop you from trying other kinds of sausage to see which one you like best. After all, this is your soup now.
If this is your first time, start slow with the red pepper flakes and cayenne. You can always add more – either to the pot, or to your own bowl – but you can’t take it back out once it’s in there.
Any diced tomatoes will work, but the fire-roasted variety is the best. Personally I like to hold one can of tomatoes, adding them at the same time as the greens. this ensures you’ll have some actual pieces of tomato in the bowl, as the first can will pretty much dissolve into the broth.
Feel free to do this soup in a slow cooker. This is the way to go if you’re going to be leaving the house. Just set it on LOW and cover.
I like to serve this soup with a really good loaf of Italian or French bread, or some sort of hearty rolls. In fact, I don’t really need anything else. But you could always put a nice salad next to it and be even healthier.
The next time the temperature drops, put on a pot of this soup and see if you don’t feel like a kid on a snow day again. And, of course,
Play with your food!
I have more Soup Recipes here.
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.