So far our legume series has featured two unusual ways to prepare them—fried in an appetizer and a french-fry substitute. This week we fall back to the tried and true, the traditional bean soup (or stew). People have been cooking up beans in a pot since before the invention of farming. They were first gathered from wild vines. My guess is that the first gatherers just popped a few freshly shelled beans in their mouth. They were tasty, but a bit later in the night, the digestive problems set in and they changed their minds. Beans have various complex sugars and combined sugar-proteins (lectins) in their husks. Some of the sugars are hard to digest and others are downright toxic to humans. See http://www.usdrybeans.com/nutrition/nutrition-facts/. They soon discovered that cooking destroyed most of these problem nutrients and thus into the pot went the beans.
By the way, some slow cookers (mainly older ones) don’t get hot enough (176 degrees Fahrenheit) to break down the lectins. If you suspect that your slow cooker isn’t adequate, check its temperature or soak and/or boil the beans and discard that water before finishing them in the slow cooker.
“Pease porridge hot. Pease porridge cold. Pease porridge in the pot nine days old.” Was Mother Goose a negligent cook, unconcerned about her childrens’ nutrition? Well, if she was one of the multitude of peasants in middle-ages Europe, peas porridge (from the French potage) might be all she had for the week’s rations. Even the well-to-do began their medieval feasts with a course of potage or two. What’s potage? Anything cooked in a pot. Ummm, soup or stew; I’m still undecided.
Let no one doubt that bean soup is a cornerstone of civilization. The United States Senate has bean soup in its private dining room every time the doors open. This unbroken tradition began over a century ago by order of some farm-state senators of that day.
Tradition aside, about this time, mid-winter, I start to really crave this stew. It’s this recipe that started me on my cheese-rind-in-the-soup kick a few years ago. In this recipe the cheese rinds help tame the spicy sausage, mellow the beaniness and lend a soft cheesy flavor. I choose to use lots of different beans because each size has its own distinct purpose. The small lentils, peas, and beans dissolve into the soup to thicken it into a stew, the mid and larger beans provide texture. Bob’s Red Mill 13 Bean mix is what I’ve always used, but of course there are others.
As long as the mix has both large beans and small lentils and split peas it should work. One cup of this soup will give you the warmth and energy to shovel the walk or even to bundle up the kids in the countless layers necessary for snowman building. Enjoy!
Mixed Bean and Sausage Stew
I’ve made this soup with kielbasa, chorizo, and andouille sausages. I use the turkey variety, but as long as your using a good quality, smoked and strongly flavored sausage it should work.
2 cups dried mixed beans with no flavorings such as Bob’s Red Mill 13 Bean Mix
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package smoked sausage (12-16 ounces depending on the sausage), quartered lengthwise then cut into 1/2” pieces
1 large onion, diced in small 1/4” pieces
3-4 large carrots (about 3/4 pound) diced in large 1/2” pieces
1 teaspoons dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
2 bay leaves
6 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese rinds
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
Soak the beans overnight or bring to a boil for five minutes and soak for one hour, then drain. In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer add the sausage.
Cook the sausage, stirring several times, until it is brown on all sides, about eight minutes. Add the onion and carrots and continue to cook until the onions are translucent, about four minutes longer.
Add the beans, the thyme and bay leaves and the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer until the larger beans are just tender, about one hour.
Add the cheese rinds and one teaspoon of salt and continue to cook until the smallest of the beans have fallen apart and the largest of the beans are very tender, about another hour.
Be sure to stir the stew occasionally to make sure the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Season to taste and serve with crunchy bread.