Dried Bean and Lentil Soups: Nourishing and Inexpensive

Country Supper Soup
Country Supper Soup

Dried peas, beans and lentils make nourishing and inexpensive soups and should be served frequently by budget-minded housewives. Although the proteins they contain lack some of the essential amino acids, this can be easily rectified by serving them with cheese, warm crusty bread, or by adding just a little meat to the soup.
Beans vary in cooking time according to variety and age, and are usually soaked in water overnight before cooking. If you have forgotten to soak them, a quick method to tenderize them for cooking is to place them in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and let stand, lightly covered, for 1 hour. This is the equivalent of 8 hours of soaking. To save time, you can also use inexpensive canned beans for these recipes. Remember that 1 cup dried peas, beans or lentils will expand to 2 ½ cups after cooking - this will equal two 10 ounce (310 g) cans.

Country Supper Soup

Serves 8-10

This thick soup, full of vegetables including nutritious haricot beans and richly flavored with beef stock, provides a robust meal for any family. Serve with crisp crusty bread or a heavy dark rye bread.

You will need:

  • 1 pound (500 g) dried haricot beans
  • Bouquet garni
  • 2 carrots
  • 4 zucchini
  • 4 potatoes
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 9 cups beef stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Generous pinch each dried thyme, marjoram, basil
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Soak beans in cold water to cover overnight. Next day drain, put into a saucepan with cold water to cover and add the bouquet garni. Bring slowly to the boil, reduce heat and simmer slowly or 1-1 ½ hours until tender, then drain. Peel carrots and potatoes and cut into large dice. Slice celery and zucchini.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan and add carrots, potatoes and celery. Cook gently for 5-10 minutes until all vegetables are coated with oil. Add crushed garlic and cook a few minutes longer. Pour beef stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add sauteed vegetables, crumbled bay leaf, herbs, then zucchini and beans. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are just tender. Correct seasoning, add parsley. Serve hot with a bowl of grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Lentil and Lemon Soup

Serves 6

Red, yellow, green or brown lentils can be used for this simple soup. I usually choose red ones as they don't require soaking and disintegrate completely when cooked. Brown lentils are better soaked, as this reduces the cooking time by half, but even with soaking and long cooking they still keep their shape, so I prefer to use brown lentils for salads or serve them as a separate vegetable. You can vary this recipe by lightly frying the diced bacon with a finely chopped onion and adding to the soup just before serving. Two cups of washed and drained silver-beet cut into ribbons and cooked with the bacon and onion makes a pleasant change, or simply stir in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.

In the Middle East, where lentil soup is popular, a teaspoon of ground cumin or a little ground coriander is added and the soup is garnished with fresh parsley or chopped dill. For an extra rich soup, enjoyed in Turkey, sauté the onion with butter, add the silver-beet and just before serving beat 2 egg yolks with the juice of a lemon, add a ladleful of the hot soup and beat well. Pour back into the soup gradually, stirring constantly and bring the soup back to just below boiling point.

You will need:

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 6 cups water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 rashers streaky bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 potatoes

Method:

  1. Wash lentils and soak overnight in water. Put into a pan with their soaking water, adding a large pinch each of salt and pepper, and the diced bacon. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 ½ hours or until lentils are soft. Add peeled and cut-up potatoes, simmer for a further 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Mix well so potatoes thicken the soup, add lemon juice. Serve very hot.

Red Kidney Bean Soup

Serves 6-8

You will need:

  • 8 ounces (250 g) red kidney beans
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Bouquet garni
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 9 cups stock
  • ½ ounce (15 g) butter, extra

Method:

  1. Soak beans overnight in plenty of water, then drain and rinse. Place in a large saucepan with fresh water to cover and cook for about 1 hour. Drain. Heat oil in a large pan, add chopped onion and sliced carrot, cook covered over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Add drained beans, bouquet garni, wine, salt, pepper, tomato paste and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently until beans are soft, about 30 minutes. Push beans and vegetables through a sieve, or puree in an electric blender. Return to pan and taste for seasoning. The soup should have the consistency of thick cream; if too thick add more wine or stock. Reheat to boiling point and add extra butter. As soon as it melts, serve the soup.

Pea Soup

Serves 10

You will need:

  • 1 pound (500 g) split peas
  • 1 ham bone or 1 pound (500 g) bacon bones
  • 12 cups water
  • 2 ounces (60 g) bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • Juice ½ lemon
  • Pepper, salt
  • 1 ounce (30 g) butter or polyunsaturated margarine
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose (plain) flour

Method:

  1. Wash split peas, place in a large saucepan with bones and water and leave to soak overnight. Bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours. Dice bacon, chop onions, cut carrots in small dice and slice celery. Heat bacon in a pan until fat runs. Add vegetables and fry until golden brown. Add to soup with bay leaf and thyme and cook for 20 minutes. Remove bones from soup, cut all meat off and dice. Push soup through a sieve or process in blender. (Although this is not strictly necessary, it does give a smoother soup).
  2. Add lemon juice and diced meat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a small saucepan and blend in flour. Add a little hot soup gradually and cook, stirring, until boiling. Stir this blended mixture into hot soup.

Roman Bean Soup

Serves 6-8

Many Italian soups are almost meals in themselves - like this one, thick with haricot beans and macaroni. It's a good soup for a weekend lunch.

You will need:

  • 1 cup haricot beans
  • Bouquet garni
  • 2 ounces (60 g) salted pork or bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 8 cups hot water
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Soak beans overnight in water to cover. Drain and place in large pan with fresh water to cover. Add bouquet garni, cover and simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Season with salt at the end of cooking time.
  2. Finely chop salted pork or bacon, onion and celery. Crush garlic with a little salt. Heat oil in a saucepan, add chopped ingredients and sauté until golden. Peel and chop tomatoes and add to pan with salt, pepper, hot water and cooked beans. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add elbow macaroni and cook a further 8-10 minutes or until macaroni is tender, adding more water if necessary. Serve hot with a bowl of Parmesan cheese handed separately.

Minestrone

Serves 8

A nourishing Italian bean, pasta and vegetable soup, Minestrone is easily made. It makes a hearty meal on its own, served with crisp rolls and butter. The dried beans and vegetables used in this recipe are the traditional ingredients but they can be varied according to taste.

You will need:

  • 3 ¾ cups water
  • ½ cup dried red kidney beans
  • ¼ cup dried chick peas
  • 6 ounces (185 g) salted pork, cut into cubes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 carrots, scraped and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) lengths
  • 4 celery sticks, trimmed and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) lengths
  • ½ small cabbage, coarse outer leaves removed, washed and finely shredded
  • 6 medium-sized tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 4 pints (2 litres) chicken stock
  • Bouquet garni
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces (250 g) fresh or frozen peas
  • 4 ounces (125 g) macaroni
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Method:

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to the boil over high heat. Add the beans and chick peas and boil them for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the beans to soak in the pan for 1 ½ hours.
  2. Replace the pan over high heat and bring the water to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer the beans and chick peas for 1 ½ hours, or until they are almost tender. Remove the pan from the heat and drain the beans and peas in a colander. Set aside.
  3. In a large heavy saucepan, fry the salted pork over moderate heat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until it is golden brown all over and has rendered most of its fat. With a slotted spoon, transfer the salted pork to a plate and set aside while you cook the vegetables. Pour the olive oil into the pork fat and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Fry them, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, or until softened. Add the potatoes, carrots and celery to the pan and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the cabbage and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and add the bouquet garni, chick peas, beans, salted pork, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to the boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer the Minestrone for 35 minutes. Uncover the saucepan and remove and discard the bouquet garni. Add the fresh peas and macaroni and continue to cook the soup for another 10-15 minutes, or until the macaroni is just tender.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the soup into serving bowls or into a large, warmed soup tureen. Sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

For more delicious dried bean soup recipes.

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