Thursday, March 8, 2012

Smoky Bean Soup

Thick and Hearty Soup
Oh, lowly bean.  How I love you!  So versatile, so tasty, so packed with protein and fiber.  I sprinkle you on salads, bundle you in tortillas, mash you into patties, simmer you in chilies.  And when I have the time, I turn you into warm, filling, comforting soup!

As much as I love beans, I've generally been a one- or two-bean-at-a-time kind of gal.  But I've always been intrigued by the bags of mixed beans I see in the grocery store.  As silly as it sounds, they always seemed like a ridiculous indulgence.  After all, you don't get the convenience of canned beans.  But they're way more expensive than, say, a simple bag of black beans.  I think it's the fancy seasoning packets that drive up the price, but since those seasoning packets are rarely (if ever) vegetarian, I'd have to pitch the part I'm paying for.

15 Beautiful Beans
 Finally, this week, I gave in to my curiosity and bought a bag of mixed beans.  A 15-bean blend, to be precise.  As I mentioned, I immediately pitched the packet of seasoning, but I still managed to get a ton of flavor out of this simple soup.  Served with cornbread--and eaten while cuddled on the couch with the awesome Todd Baryshnikov--it was a rich and rewarding meal.

Todd Baryshnikov
Some notes about the prepping and cooking of beans:

  • I always heard that you should avoid salting beans until they were done cooking.  According to the good folks at America's Test Kitchen, that's not good advice.  In fact, "brining" the beans (soaking them in mild salt water) actually softens their wee husks so they grow even more tender when you cook them.  I used 2 quarts of water for soaking and added about 4 tsp. of salt.
  • While it's o.k. to salt the water before the beans are done, you really can't add acid until they're as tender as you want them to be.  So hold off on the tomatoes, citrus, vinegar, and wine until they're cooked through.
  • If your mix has kidney beans (as mine did) you MUST boil the kidney beans for at least 10 minutes. Do not rely on cooking them in a slow cooker ... bring them to a hard boil and keep them that way for 10 minutes before reducing to a simmer.  Raw kidney beans contain high levels of a toxin that is eliminated by cooking. 
  • If your mix contains lentils and split peas, these are going to dissolve as you cook them (after soaking over night, they don't need nearly as much time to cook as the other beans).  That's okay!  they'll form a wonderful thick "broth" around the other, more intact beans.
  • One of the least pleasant aspects of cooking beans is the scummy foam they tend to produce.  This stuff is normal, and it really won't hurt anything ... but feel free to skim it off if it bugs you.  Again, it's normal, so don't think your beans are bad!
Smoky Bean Soup

1 - 20 oz. bag of 15-bean soup mix
4 tsp. salt
2 quarts water

2 quarts water
3 vegetable bullion cubes
1 1/2 tsp. cajun seasoning (I used Penzey's - you may need to adjust if using a different brand)
1/4 tsp. liquid smoke
1 - 14 oz. can diced tomatoes ("fire roasted" is great)
10 oz. potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
10 oz. carrots, cut into small rounds
1 c. onion
2 Tbs. canola oil

Mix the 4 tsp. salt and 2 quarts water in a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add beans, cover, and soak at room temperature for about 24 hours.

Dump the beans into a colander.  Drain well and rinse with cold water.  Remove any husks that have come off the beans.

Return the beans to the pot/Dutch oven.  Add 2 quarts of new water and 3 vegetable bullion cubes (enough to make 6 cups of bullion).  Bring the beans to a hard boil, boil for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until the beans are all tender (only about 50 minutes more ... maybe an hour).  Meanwhile, prep the potatoes and carrots and cook the onion in the oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat (until translucent and just starting to turn golden).

When the beans are tender, add the tomatoes (with their juices), potatoes, carrots, onion, cajun seasoning, and liquid smoke.  You may need to add a cup or two of water, depending on how much liquid has evaporated.  Bring back to a strong simmer, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 15 - 20 minutes (until vegetables are tender).


Wendy is the author of the Mysteries a la Mode. Visit her on the web or on Facebook. She also writes the Pet Boutique Mysteries under the name Annie Knox; you can follow Annie on Facebook, too!


  1. Like this receipe. Am going to cook soon but need a cold day to be really good. lol
    Thanks for receipe.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  2. I'm a big fan of multi-bean soup, in fact have one of those packets in my cupboard right now....going to go put in on to soak!

  3. I'm planning to make minestrone shortly, with only one kind of bean, and that involves preboiling them briefly. But 15? Did you find that they all cooked evenly? If you cook the soup long enough to soften up the slow-pokes, do the more fragile beans turn to mush (which would taste good anyway)?

    Good information about adding salt and not adding the acidic elements.

    1. Yes - the smaller beans definitely turn to mush. In this case, I liked it.

  4. I'm a big fan of beans. I sometimes feel guilty for using the canned variety, but they are soooo convenient! Interesting about salting them. Trust ATK to turn that on its head!

    And Todd is so cute. What a sweetie!

    ~ Krista

  5. Sorry to be so late to the party, kids. Wow - what a day. All day correcting problems with scantron grading. Round about lunch time, with cold rain pelting the office window, I was really wishing I had a bowl of soup and some crusty bread at my side!