We had a party after church this morning, and since our priest at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels is a vegetarian, the folks who bring food to the coffee hour--let alone a party--will always include meat-free dishes for him. I eat them too, when I get the chance, and this morning the Mexican family giving the party favored us with home-made bean soup.
I was thinking about how I haven't made bean soup in ages, although I do make lentil soup because I like the cheerful "red" lentils, which are actually a kind of tangerine color. They also cook up rapidly, so that you can have lentil soup in half an hour any evening after work.
But how about making up our own bean soup mix? Of course you can find the well-known bean soup mixes, such as Bob's Red Mill, at our health-oriented stores like Sprouts in Tucson, but the prices run around four dollars for a packet. It will make 2 to 3 batches of soup, and instructions are kindly included on the package, so I don't have anything against Bob, but you can also kind of tailor your bean soup mix to your own preferences.
I looked it up online and you can simply get and combine equal parts of any bean that you like, so here is my recommendation. For a bean soup mix, combine 1/4 cup of each of the following: pinto beans, black beans, small red beans, Great Northern beans, lentils (red, yellow or green), green split peas and yellow split peas.
What if you don't like green split peas, for instance? Just substitute another bean type, such as garbanzos, and there you go. In fact, you can expand the list and no harm will be done; you can simply go to the store and get one of everything you find in dried beans. And then there are the "heirloom" beans that are being researched in wilderness areas and rediscovered, to be grown again and made available to the American public again. Look them up online and you might just discover a fascinating hobby.
After that, all you need is an onion, some garlic and some broth. The recipe that I adapted includes canned tomatoes, but you could also peel, seed and dice your own tomatoes into the soup. Then you add liquid--any liquid from water to broth (beef, chicken, vegetable) and cook it in a slow cooker until it has turned into a thick, rich bean soup.
Whether you make it vegetarian or not, this soup will be soul-satisfying on a chilly Arizona winter night, I tell you. Mexican flavors can be included by adding chili powder, diced chilies or canned diced green chilies, any version you like. If you are in doubt and live down here, you can just ask a Latino friend for their opinion, or the nice Latino-looking lady who is shopping where you shop. I have been approached a few times by younger folks who are looking for pie apples or a good brand of pumpkin pie filling (get the pure pumpkin, not "pumpkin pie mix").
So here's the basic bean soup recipe that will make you happy forever. Add in your whole-wheat bread that you have now mastered and life is all good.
BEAN SOUP MELANGE
2-1/2 cups organic bean combo
1 organic onion, diced small
4 cloves of organic garlic, minced
2 diced bell peppers (red, yellow or green)
2 Tablespoons olive or other neutral organic cooking oil
1 large can diced organic tomatoes
1-2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt to taste if necessary
8 cups of liquid (water or broth)
Heat a large Dutch oven with the oil inside. Saute the onions, garlic and bell peppers in the hot oil until they have become soft.
Add all the other ingredients, cover and bring the soup to a boil. Lower the heat immediately to the lowest possible and simmer for 2 hours.
Check the soup to see if it needs more liquid, and add if it does. Cook for an hour longer and the soup should be completely cooked down and all the beans should be tender. If the beans are still hard, simmer for another half hour, check again and so on.
Serve this soup with crusty bread, cold unsalted butter and a hearty wine like Burgundy.
It's also possible to do this soup in a slow cooker; just skip the saute part of the cooking and place all ingredients in a slow cooker on LOW heat and let it go for several hours before you check to see if the beans are softened up nicely. If not, follow the procedure above. And if you are thinking that it seems like this is a perfect all-day recipe to come home to after work on a dark, cold winter evening, you are right!