Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Anyway You Like It" Vegetable Bean Soup

Nothing is more comforting to come home to on a crisp, autumn day than a pot of warm soup full of freshly harvested vegetables. I love to make it on weekends, then have delicious, healthy leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. No matter what type of soup I'm making, very often I'll throw beans in the pot to boost the fiber and protein. There's a trick I've learned to"degas" beans and minimize any discomfort later. Simply add baking soda at the end of the initial cooking, then rinse and finish cooking with stock, vegetables and seasoning. Unfortunately, this won't work with canned beans, that's one reason I like cooking my own.

I call this recipe "anyway you like it" soup, because there are many ways to prepare it. For example, if you don't have time to soak and cook the beans, simply use a variety of canned that have been rinsed before adding them to the stock and reduce the cooking time. Also, I suggest using turkey sausage, but you can substitute any meat (such as leftover ham or ground beef) or leave it out altogether to create a vegetarian soup. Finally, use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Carrots, celery, butternut squash and turnips will need more cooking time, but add soft vegetables (such as zucchini and peas) at the end. Make it your own way and enjoy the harvest!

"Anyway You Like It" Vegetable Bean Soup
(Makes eight 1½ cup servings)

1 pound dried beans (choose a variety or use a dried bean mix)
1½ teaspoons salt (optional)
1 tablespoon baking soda
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 stalks celery (including leaves), diced
1 (14 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes (if using fresh, add at the end with spinach)
½ pound sweet turkey Italian sausage, casings removed (optional, or substitute another meat of your choice)
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or to taste)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1. Look over beans to make sure there are no stones and rinse. Cover with cold water and allow to soak overnight or for at least 3-4 hours. Drain and rinse soaked beans and place them in a large pot. Cover with fresh water, add salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Add baking soda to pot and stir to release gas in beans. (Note: The mixture will foam and bubble so, if necessary, do this in the sink in case hot liquid overflows the pot.) After foaming has ceased, drain and rinse beans and return them to pot.

2. Add stock to beans and set aside. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in skillet and add onions. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until onions are soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add sausage (or other meat of your choice) and saute until browned, breaking up meat into bite-size pieces with spoon as it cooks. Add about ½ cup stock from bean pot to skillet and stir to release any flavorful brown bits from bottom of pan. Add onion mixture and liquid in skillet to beans.

3. Add chopped vegetables, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper to beans and stir. Simmer for 50 minutes or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally. (Depending on type of beans used, it may require more cooking time. Taste beans to determine doneness.)

4. Add spinach and boil for 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings before serving.

Nutritional Information per serving: 205 calories, 27.2 g carbohydrate, 3.4 total fat, 10.4 g fiber, 16.3 g protein

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2009

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