It's a cold, drizzly day here in Paradise City.* Yesterday was, too, and so I decided to make some bean soup. And because I was feeling unaccountably ambitious (and thrifty!), I decided to start with dried beans rather than the canned variety.
According to Mark Bittman, it is not in fact necessary to soak beans before cooking, either overnight or via the "quick-soak" method (which in practice always leads to my forgetting about the stupid things and letting them boil over). Just pick them over, rinse well, cover with water and simmer away. He even recommends salting them halfway through cooking, rather than waiting to the end to salt as many authors suggest (apparently they believe beans toughen or fall apart or something if you salt them before they're finished). But Bittman says that beans salted before they're completely cooked will absorb the salt better and end up more thoroughly seasoned. If it's good enough for Bittman, it's good enough for me, so... OK.
I had a bag of dried "bean soup mix" from the bulk bins at Winco, containing everything from lentils to split peas to kidney beans to black-eyed peas. After reading Bittman's wisdom on all things leguminous, I sort of wished I had just one type of bean to deal with, since each of these beans takes a very different length of time to cook. But oh well... there was nothing to be done about it.
So I tossed about 3 cups of beans into a pot with plenty of water (I've scorched more than one batch of beans in my time), brought them to a boil, turned the heat down and simmered them, covered, for about half an hour. Then I tossed in a teaspoon or so of salt and simmered them for about 10 more minutes while I did the following:
- chopped 2 peeled carrots and 2 ribs of celery into 1/2" pieces**
- chopped 1 onion fairly finely
- sweated the above for about 5 minutes over med-low heat in 1 Tbsp of oil
- cut 12 oz of smoked sausage into 3/4" pieces
- minced 4 cloves of garlic
- tossed the above into the pan with the veggies and cooked, stirring frequently, until the sausage was beginning to brown around the edges and the whole thing smelled delicious
When the veggies were suitably sweated (wow, that sounds so appealing), I drained the beans and combined them with the veggies and sausage in the Crock-Pot, along with the following:
- a can of diced tomatoes with green chiles
- a can of stewed tomatoes
- 2 cups of chicken broth
- a sprinkling of red pepper flakes
- a few generous shakes of Frank's Red Hot sauce
- a pinch of salt
- a solitary bay leaf, added on top like a little Polynesian raft
The beans, as I had suspected, were cooked to varying degrees of doneness. The kidney beans and black-eyed peas were just tender, while the lentils and split peas were already starting to disintegrate into mush. But I soldiered bravely on anyway...
So I turned the Crock-Pot to Low, put the lid on and got about the business of the day (including wrapping Rhys into the "toga" of his Caesar costume 3 4 5 times, and the last time included pinning the damn thing to his shirt in three places). We trick-or-treated, returned home with a daunting load of candy, and made biscuits to go along with our soup, which was smelling very very tasty by this time.
Rhys wanted to help. "Of course you can, Sweet Child o' Mine,"*** I said. He stirred the cheese into the biscuit dough and helped me "blop" the dough onto the cookie sheet in appropriately-sized blops.
Ten minutes later, dinner was done! The lentils and split peas had vanished into the mass of soup, but they had thickened it very nicely--I think the texture was much better than it would have been had they all hung together. The soup was tasty enough that Fisher and I each had two bowls, and it made enough that we're having leftovers for lunch today (my favorite--yay!).
So the moral of the story is that you don't have to presoak dried beans. This liberating revelation is sure to lead to beans, with their humble but hearty and nutritious character, appearing on our table more frequently. And since I know you're wondering... no, no, I have not noticed any increase in flatulence among the members of our household today. Thank freakin' goodness. There's enough methane toxicity around here as it is...
* Sorry, sorry, sorry. I solemnly swear not to make any more gratuitous GNR references. It was just sort of irresistible.
** No, I didn't measure. Shut up.
*** Yeah, I lied. Sorry, again.