You guys: I don’t like to brag, but I made some really great soup over the weekend. I just threw it together (if you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that’s just what I do). You should probably make this before Winter’s over – it’s supreme comfort in a bowl. You can’t be in a hurry to make this – it’s the kind of thing you keep working at while you’re doing other stuff around the kitchen. Here’s what I did:
To soften the beans, I put the whole bag of these into a bowl…
…and soaked them in tap water for about an hour. Then I put them in a stock pot, covered with fresh water, and boiled them till the largest beans were almost soft through – that took a couple of hours. (Smaller beans, like lentils, soften fast, so test the larger beans.) The water was cloudy and tinted dark (from the black and dark red beans in the mix).
You can soften the beans however you prefer – use a pressure cooker or your slow cooker overnight. If I’m being too vague, just ask your grandma, or someone else’s grandma, or the internet. Just, don’t be afraid of dried beans. They do add some time to the process, but they are economical, they keep in the pantry for forever, and, well, they’re good. Plus, they give you a reason to cook this low and slow, which makes all the flavors blend.
The bag of beans includes a seasoning packet, but instead of that, I used Penzey’s Soup Base – Ham-flavored:
While the beans were cooking, I fried three links of fresh (uncooked) Andouille sausage in a cast-iron skillet that still had some bacon fat leftover from yesterday’s bacon. (Vegetable oil would have worked, but wouldn’t have been nearly as tasty.) Once the links were cooked through, I let them cool, then sliced them in half lengthwise, then in small half-rounds horizontally – so the pieces were bite-sized.
I purchased the Andouille last summer at a Karns Market near Harrisburg PA and stashed in my freezer for some later use. They make seriously excellent fresh sausage there, in many varieties. You could also use the mass-market, cooked links, but I would still fry them in a little bacon fat before slicing. Because FLAVOR.
Then, I finely-chopped about 4 stalks of celery, one whole medium Spanish (yellow) onion, and a handful of baby-cut carrots (probably equal to two regular-sized carrots), and minced two garlic cloves. If I’d thought of it, I might have added some chopped green bell pepper here, but that’s totally optional. I threw all of that into a 4 quart, cast-iron Dutch oven, into which I had placed several tablespoons of bacon fat (leftover from that morning’s bacon) (always save your bacon fat, people!). I sauteed this for about 5 minutes, then added 2 heaping tablespoons of the ham-flavored soup base, and dipped out a cupful of the hot bean water and added it to the Dutch oven mixture, stirring to dissolve the soup base.
Next, I strained out the rest of the beans from the stock pot and placed them into the Dutch oven, along with enough of the bean water to fill it about three-quarters full. At this point, I tried to add a can of diced tomatoes, except that my can opener malfunctioned and we literally could not open the can. In hindsight, though, the soup was really perfect without the tomatoes. If you must, maybe add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. But don’t make a special trip to the store to buy it.
I added the sausage to the Dutch oven. Lastly, I spiced it up: about 2 teaspoons each of dried parsley and dried oregano, plus about a tablespoon (you know I don’t measure) of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning. Add more or less of this to your taste.
I brought it to a boil, then turned it down to simmer, put the lid on the pot, and stirred it every 30-45 minutes or so. It probably cooked for 3 hours or so – I lost track. All I know is, when I finally turned it off, the beans were completely soft and the soup was thick and SO TASTY. And here’s what it looked like:
If you’re from Central PA, this will remind you of the classic ham-bean soup, only it’s spicier, and uses a variety of beans. The use of sausage instead of ham is a wonderful variation. Grab it when it’s on sale and freeze it till the spirit moves you. (I’m already plotting my next trip to Harrisburg so I can stop in at Karns again.) My batch didn’t end up being too hot-spicy – if heat is your thing, you could kick that up with some more of the Creole seasoning, or by adding some red pepper of some variety. Just do what you know works.
A quick side-note about hot-spice. I grew up in a home where the main spices we used were very basic: salt, garlic salt, onion salt, oregano, parsley, and some paprika (just for color on the tops of casseroles). We had ground black pepper on the table, but my mom rarely added it to food as she cooked, so concerned was she of making something too “spicy” for someone. People can season their own, she’d say. Well, I’m still not a fan of spicy-hot food, owing to the relative lack of spice in pretty much everything I ate growing up, but have developed a love of big flavor. Inside our pantry now, there’s a door-sized rack FULL of spices, and I love experimenting with them.
So that’s it! Try it and let me know how yours turns out.