Stewing pots of dried beans and chickpeas and lentils all winter yields nutritious legume broth that is simply too good to pour down the drain. I save it for soups and stews including shellfish chili that I made on Super Bowl Sunday.
Here, with some leftover cooked red beans from Cayuga Pure Organics, a regional source, I decided to use the beans and stockpiled broth to made delectable bean soup. I had a small section of smoked ham hock in the freezer that went into the pot, along with a chopped onion and garlic. After stewing all of the ingredients for a while, I lightly pureed the soup, leaving it slightly chunky and adding little bits of meat from the hambone. You could make this with canned beans, adding vegetable broth or a meat stock, and use bacon or smoked ham instead of a ham hock.
Red Bean Soup
1 onion, diced
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ c cooked red dried beans
2-3 c bean broth or a combination of bean broth, vegetable broth, meat stock and/or water
1 small piece of smoked ham hock (or diced smoked ham or slightly cooked bacon)
Salt and pepper
Herb garnish (cilantro or parsley)
Gently cook the onion in vegetable oil until translucent, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add the beans, liquid, and ham hock and bring to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. Remove the ham hock and cut the meat from the bone, dicing it into very small pieces. Set aside. Puree the soup, leaving it somewhat chunky (or make it smoother if you prefer). Add the diced pieces of ham, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot, garnished with cilantro or parsley.
Cooking Dried Beans
The conventional wisdom about cooking dried beans is to soak them overnight in ample water to cover, which hydrates them. Some add baking soda or salt but I do neither at this point. When ready to cook the beans, drain the water and add new water to cover the beans by at least an inch. They will continue to swell as they cook. Bring them to a simmer on the stove, using a flame-taming disk. Turn the heat as low as possible and let the beans cook, covered for 1-2 hours, checking partway through to make sure that there’s adequate water and to check for tenderness. Different beans cook for different lengths of time, depending on their type and their age. Alternatively, you can cook them in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot in a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours. In the fall when dried chickpeas come into the markets, I find I can skip the overnight soak and cook the beans entirely in the oven, starting with a cold oven and heating it to 250 degrees. The beans are typically fully cooked in an hour or an hour and a half.