Vegan Winter Soups & Supreme Beans

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Still More Beloved Beans

A few weeks ago, an extremely kind and generous reader sent me a birthday gift. When I got home, there on my doorstep was a box of glorious heritage beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa, California. What a treat! I’ve been exploring the marvelous array of beans, from heirloom strains of white runner beans and pinquitos to classic cranberry beans and bold Sangre de Toro red beans. My new favorites are the chunky, maroon-and-white Christmas limas, which cook up buttery soft and meltingly rich. Whee!

I’ve always been fond of beans, especially when I’ve been growing a lot of my own food.  Few crops are as versatile and nutritious as beans, whether eaten fresh or dried. For culinary variety, it’s fun to grow as varied a mixture of fillet and shell beans as you have room for, as well as dried varieties that store well. If your bean repertoire needs expanding, grow a few great-tasting heritage beans next year.

Like What?

Well, how about some rose-and-white speckled Ayers Cranberry dry bush beans? Black and white Calypso beans cook up creamy and are traditional favorites for cooking with ham hocks (or not). Scarlet Runners have edible, fragrant flowers and are delicious fresh or dried. Black Basque and Black Turtle dry bush beans are very old varieties still widely grown today for their sumptuous flavor and fine texture. Italian cooks cherish Borloto Lamon, White Runner, and Cannellini beans, with the rich, buttery flavor that makes them favorites for rustic bean spreads.

More Marvelous Croutons, Please

This is certainly soup season, and though my summer soups tend to be garnished with chopped herbs and fruit or vegetables, my winter soups are most often crowned with crispy croutons. Before Thanksgiving, I usually make some cornbread so I can use some of the stale bits in stuffing. As it happens, slightly stale cornbread also makes fabulous croutons. A local restaurant serves deep-fried polenta croutons, which are totally delicious, and these are equally yummy and a lot less trouble.

I’ve been especially enjoying them with one of our current favorite soups, which is an enticing cross between black bean soup and roasted tomato and pepper soup. Instead of using cream, this vegan version is thickened with mashed beans and garnished with crisp chopped apple. For a soul satisfying experience, serve this delectable soup with crispy cornbread croutons as well.

Black Bean, Tomato & Roasted Pepper Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
6 cups diced fire-roasted tomatoes, with juice
1 cup chopped roasted red peppers
3 cups cooked black beans
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon rice syrup or pomegranate molasses
1 Honeycrisp apple, diced
1 cup Crispy Cornbread Croutons (see below)

In a soup pot, combine oil, garlic, onion and salt over medium high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, roasted peppers, black beans, ground pepper and syrup or molasses, bring to a simmer, cover pan and heat through (about 10 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender or in small batches and serve, garnished with diced apple and croutons. Serves 4-6.

Crispy Cornbread Croutons

1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups cubed cornbread (stale is best)

In a frying pan, combine oil, butter, garlic and salt over medium high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add cornbread cubes, gently tossing to coat, and cook, stirring often, until crisp and lightly browned (5-7 minutes). Makes about 2 cups.

Crazy Good Cranberry Beans

This hearty Italian salad makes a pleasant and satisfying vegetarian/vegan main dish when served with hot soup and warm bread or muffins.

Italian Cranberry Bean Salad

4 cups Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 cup radicchio, shredded
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon stemmed thyme
1 organic lemon, juiced, zest grated
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon honey or pomegranate molasses
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked cranberry beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Arrange greens in a serving bowl. Combine oil, garlic, thyme, and lemon zest in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add onion, celery and salt and cook, stirring, until soft (3-5 minutes). Add beans, honey or molasses, pepper and lemon juice to taste, stir to coat and heat through. Spoon over greens, toss gently and serve, garnished with nuts. Serves 4.

Tuscan White Bean Spread

1-3/4 cups cooked Cannellini or any white beans, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil

In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon rind, salt and pepper and puree to a fairly smooth paste. Open feed tube and add oil while processor is running. Add lemon juice to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon. Makes about 2 cups. Refrigerate leftovers, but serve at room temperature.

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