A Hill of Beans
It’s always a good week when there is plenty of lunch fixings in the fridge. The people I work with tend to brown bag it and then sit together to talk over lunch. It’s a nice break in the middle of the day. I work with a diverse group of people from all over the world, so the conversations are always interesting and lively.
I’m not a huge fan of cold lunches. I do like sandwiches, though I typically prefer grilled paninis over something cold between two pieces of bread. Salads are good for lunch too, but I like to accompany them with something warm, even if it’s just something simple like warmed bread or toast.
An ideal lunch for me features a bowl of soup. The weather is starting to turn, so I’m trying to cram in all the cold-weather favorites I didn’t get a chance to make this fall and winter. French Market Soup is a hearty bean soup that makes an appearance at least once each cold season. It’s also a good recipe for using up the odds and ends on the bean shelf in my pantry.
I start with a big bowl on top of a kitchen scale. I add a bit of this and a bit of that until the scale hits 1½ pounds. I include some dark beans, like black beans and kidney beans. Some white beans, like cannellini or flagelot, are also a must. I also throw in some mottled beans, like pinto or Jacob’s cattle beans. Finally, I add a scattering of lentils and split peas, in a variety of colors. The array in the beans looks gorgeous!
The beans need to soak overnight. I like to pour boiling water over the beans instead of cold. It gives them a head start. Then, beans are cooked with some smoky ham hocks before adding the other ingredients. The soup cooks for several hours, so you really need to do on the weekend. The end result is a big pot of a delicious soup.
Unfortunately, this week, my company is bringing in lunch three days, so some of the soup will have to go into the freezer for later, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
French Market Soup
Adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Russo & Sheila Lukins
1½ lbs mixed dried beans
2 ham hocks
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
10 cups water
½ lb kielbasa sausage (turkey or regular)
1 (28-oz) can ground peeled tomatoes
1½ cups red wine
2 onions, chopped
½ cup chopped Italian (flat) parsley
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Gather 1½ lbs mixed dried beans. Sort them to remove any stones or other debris. Rinse. Place in a large bowl or pot. Bring a large kettle of water to a boil (you will need enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches). Pour the water over the beans, and soak overnight.
Drain the beans. Return them to the pot with the ham hocks, garlic, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ hours, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
Cut the kielbasa into 1-inch coins, then quarter the slices. Add the kielbasa to the soup and simmer for 1 hour longer. Continue to skim if necessary.
Remove the ham hocks. While the ham hocks are cooling, add the remaining ingredients. When the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, remove the skin, shred the meat, and add it to the pot. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve piping hot.