Winter Soups From Summer Bounty
Raw, windy February days cry out for soup and I am rarely without a simmering soup pot on the stove and a jar or two of split pea soup or bean chili or curry in my fridge. Because I mostly cook vegetarian or vegan meals, I often add beans or peas to lend vegetable soups more protein, so I’ve always got an assortment of dried beans and peas in the cupboard. When I eat alone, it’s very often soup, so drop-in family and friends rootling through the fridge can always find the latest version of soup ready to warm up and enjoy with thick slices of homemade oatmeal bread.
Over the years, I’ve dried many kinds of home grown beans and peas to use in soup making, and pretty much any of them can work. However, the heritage types really are the best for clear reasons. They are easy to grow, they dry and store well, and they taste wonderful. In terms of protein and other nutrients per square footage, beans are right up there with potatoes and quinoa for productive use of garden space. Pumpkins and squash should get some space as well, as much for their meaty, vitamin-packed flesh as for their low-carb, protein-rich seeds. Add a handful of toasted pepitas to pureed potato leek soup (or anything else) and you double the protein while adding a delightfully crunchy contrast to the silky soup.
Classic Soup Legumes
There are dozens if not hundreds of classic soup bean varieties from all over the world. Many originated in South and Central America, where native beans range from white through red to black (their descendants are the heritage beans that have been grown throughout Europe for centuries). The Mediterranean basin is home to garbanzo beans, while mung and adzuki beans as well as peas are native from India into Asia. Happily, home gardeners can grow most of them in the maritime Northwest, especially when we get a warm, dry summer.
Among my favorites are Cranberry beans, soft white with burgundy splashes and speckles and a deep, rich flavor. There are many selected forms, all lovely in soups and spreads. I especially like the tenderness of Black Turtle black beans, but all make extraordinary soup and are great in tacos and chilis. Cannellini or white kidney beans are notably creamy and are the go-to bean for Tuscan spreads and soups. They also make a lovely alternative to garbanzos in pesto hummus, a family favorite. Among lima types, I prefer the cheerful red-and-white striped Christmas beans, which shell quickly when dry and make superb slow-cooked baked beans.
Special Soup Peas, Please
Soup peas enjoy our generally cool Northwestern climate and even appreciate our mildly acid garden soils. The best kinds for drying are not the super sweet, crunchy podded types but heritage varieties that produce dense, starchy peas in tough, inedible pods. You can plant peas a lot earlier than beans, which demand warm soils and tend to rot in cool spring weather. Most soup peas can’t rival sugar snaps and snow peas for raw eating, but they have superior staying power in terms of drying and storing.
I’ve had great crops from Blauschokker, a heritage purple podded shelling pea dating back to the 1500’s. It’s tasty fresh and richly savory when dried and makes a very pretty ornamental vine that hummingbirds love to visit. Amish Snap peas also dry very well, with a deep, pleasant flavor, though the color is beige rather than bright green. As the name suggests, Amplissimo Viktoria Ukrainskaya is a Ukranian soup pea that dries to a soft gold with outstanding flavor.
A World Of Bean Soups
There are as many styles of bean soup as there are pasta sauces, and similarly, a few changes of ingredients or techniques produce markedly different results. To change up texture, puree the soup with a stick blender, or just puree half of it for a cream-base effect. Add crunchy garnishes like fresh pea tendrils or chopped snow peas, diced raw apples or toasted coconut flakes, roasted pumpkin seeds or chopped peanuts. Stir in some tart yogurt or add a drizzle of mellow coconut or olive oil.
To speed things up, cook your beans ahead, saving their broth. As a rule, 1 cup dried beans makes about 3 cups cooked. You can refrigerate cooked beans for 3-5 days or freeze them for up to three months. Here are two current favorite recipes to get you started:
Tarascan Bean Soup
I like cranberry beans in this traditional soup, which is usually made with chicken broth. I think my vegan version, topped with quickly pan-fried tortilla strips and fresh chiles instead of cheese, is even better. It’s not watery, because the nutritional yeast builds the savory flavor and adds a cheese-like warmth to the soup.
Vegetarian Tarascan Bean Soup
4 cups cooked beans with their cooking broth
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano or marjoram
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or mild)
3 yellow corn tortillas, chopped
3 ancho chiles, chopped
2 cups fire-roasted or slow-roasted tomatoes
1/4 cup flaked nutritional yeast (optional)
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
1 cup stemmed cilantro
Bring beans and broth to a simmer over medium heat. If broth does not generously cover beans, add water to cover. In a large soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil with the onion, garlic, oregano or marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and the paprika over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender (10-12 minutes). In a frying pan, heat remaining oil and quickly pan-fry tortilla pieces, then set aside on a plate and repeat with fresh chiles (1 minute is plenty), set aside. Add the warm beans and broth and roasted tomatoes and juices to the onion and puree with a stick blender. Add water to desired consistency and stir in nutritional yeast, adding salt to taste. Stir in avocado slices and cilantro and serve, garnished with tortilla bits and chiles. Serves 4.
Vegetarian Tuscan Bean Soup With Kale & Kale Chips
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried peperoncini flakes (hot or mild)
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon stemmed thyme
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems chopped, leaves sliced in ribbons
4 cups cooked white cannellini beans (rinsed if canned)
1 cup toasted kale chips (optional)
In a soup pot, heat oil, onion, garlic, pepper flakes, lemon rind and salt over medium heat for 1 minute. Add thyme, rosemary, celery, carrots and kale stems, cover pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add water to cover, bring to a simmer, then add beans and chopped kale, adding water to cover if need be. Reduce heat to low, cover pan and simmer until kale is tender (10-15 minutes). Serve as is or puree the soup with a stick blender and serve, garnished with kale chips if using. Serves 4-6.