January 07, 2011

Hearty Bean Soup

This soup recipe started as something my son's second grade class made while studying cooking and nutrition.  Each kid was sent home with a jar of beans and spices and some simple instructions, and the parents were to work with the child to prepare a soup using those ingredients and instructions, plus a few other staple ingredients noted in the instructions. 

That recipe made a simple but tasty bean soup.  I liked it quite a bit, and over the years I've revisited the recipe many times, customizing it to my taste over that period of time.   I made it again recently, for the first time in a few years, and after a bit more customization reflecting what I've learned about cooking over time, I'm even happier with it now than ever before.
First you make a simple beef broth by boiling a meaty soup bone (and, optionally, some marrow bones), skimming off the gunk that collects at the top, spooning off the fat and straining the broth before returning it to a stock pot with whatever bits of meat you can salvage from the bone.  That's pretty much all that was done in the original recipe, but the beef flavor was rather lacking in that version.  That's not too surprising, since it takes a fair bit of beef to make a hearty, beefy stock just by boiling meat and bones.  Over the years, I've punched up the meaty flavor by adding some soup base and this time - reflecting one of the standard Cook's Illustrated techniques - combining a bit of chicken stock with the beef stock.  

When I first read about this, I was suspicious, but the CI people are spot-on... combining the chicken stock (or broth) with the beef stock amps up the meaty flavor without making it taste like chicken soup. 

From there, one tosses in a few cups of beans, split peas and lentils, some seasonings and some sauteed vegetables, lets it all simmer for a couple hours, and voila!  You've got a tasty bean, beef and vegetable soup.   By cooking it long enough for the split peas to have mostly broken down and the lentils to have started doing so, you end up with a hearty soup with a thick broth.  It serves up great with a crusty bread, which comes in handy for sopping up the broth. 

Hearty Bean Soup

yield = 8-10 servings

1          1 1/2-2 pound meaty beef soup bone
2 1/2    pounds beef marrow bones (optional)
13        cups water
3          cups chicken stock (or broth)
10        teaspoons beef soup base
            (if you are using marrow bones, you need
             only 8 teaspoons soup base)
1 1/4    cups pinto beans
1          cup lentils (brown, or other variety)
1          cup split peas
1/2       cup great northern or navy beans
1/2       cup reed kidney beans
2          teaspoons dried parsley flakes
1 1/2    teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 1/2    teaspoon table salt
1 1/2    teaspoon dried dill weed
1          teaspoon celery seed
1          teaspoon dried sage
1          teaspoon dried thyme
1/4       teaspoon crushed red pepper
2          tablespoons vegetable oil
1          cup finely chopped carrot
1          cup finely chopped celery
1          cup finely chopped onion
5          teaspoons minced garlic
1          15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

Beef soup bone and marrow bones.

Add the soup bone, marrow bones (if using) and water to a large stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and allow to simmer one hour, skimming the foam occasionally.  Remove the soup and marrow bones.  Pull the meat away from the bone, removing gristle and excess fat, and discard all of the bones.  Let the broth cool a bit, skim off fat, then strain the broth and return it to the stock pot,  Return the shredded meat to the pot.  Add the chicken stock and soup base and start to reheat.

Pour the beans, split peas and lentils into a collander to rinse and pick over (it isn't that unusual to find small bits of gravel in bags of dried beans).  Add the beans, peas and lentils to the stock pot along with the parsley flakes, pepper, salt, dill, celery seed, sage, thyme and crushed red pepper.  Heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the carrot, celery and onion and cook until the onion is clear and all the vegetables are softened (5-6 minutes).  Add the garlic, cook one minute, then stir the contents of the skillet into the stock pot along with the tomatoes.

Simmer partially-covered for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Taste, adjust seasonings as desired and serve with a crusty bread. 

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