Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Red Bean and Spinach Soup

Bean soup is a staple in my house; its simple to make and fun to improvise. If I have some dried beans (which I always do) a few veggies (ditto) and a complimentary starch: rice, pasta, potato, I've got rich satisfying soup. The same basic process can produce nearly unlimited variations just by mixing up the variables. First you've got beans: red beans, black beans, white beans, pink beans, garbanzo beans etc..... and don't forget lentils and split peas. Next, veggies: you've got the classic celery and carrots, also mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, squash, peppers and on and on. Add a complimentary starch, seasonings and flavorings like spices and herbs, meats (bacon and sausages really go well, but any meat will work), olives, flavored oils and vinegars, etc, and you can see the potential for your own versions are endless.

I was inspired to share my bean soup habit by a new stall selling beans at the farmers market. I realize I am disproportionately excited about this, but I am pumped! I love beans, and these beans are the best; super fresh, and right there with my weekly staples every Saturday morning. Now if they would sell coffee beans at my farmers market I might be able to give up shopping indoors all together.

Red Bean and Spinach Soup
the recipe:

canola oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup dried red beans, soaked over night or "quick-soaked"
3 - 4 cups spinach, rinsed and stemmed
1 cup ditalini pasta
fresh ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

In large heavy bottomed saucepan or dutch oven saute onion in canola oil over med heat until caramelized, but not dark. (lower heat if necessary to prevent burning) Add garlic and saute one minute. Deglaze pan with wine (pour in wine and scrape up any bits (fond) stuck to the pan). Add soaked beans and water to generously cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam or scum from the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender (1 -3 hours depending on the type and freshness of your beans) skimming surface often and adding water as necessary. Generously salt beans and add pasta. Simmer until pasta is nearly al dente. Add spinach and simmer until pasta is done and spinach is just wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve immediately with extra virgin olive oil and fresh ground black pepper. (If you want to make soup ahead, either wait to add pasta and spinach, or remove from heat before pasta and spinach is fully cooked. The soup will finish cooking when reheated.)

Reading this recipe I'm sure you can see all the ways this very basic recipe can be adapted. First you can throw some diced carrots and celery in with the onion, or maybe some peppers and cilantro, or mushrooms... get creative, it's nearly impossible to mess it up. this first step is also a great time to add bacon or whole or ground spices (there flavor is intensified by a brief saute in hot oil). Next, in goes your beans, this is also a good time to add long simmering flavor enhancers like wine, canned tomatoes, cheese rinds, dried chilies, etc. (Note: using dried beans makes a very rich and flavorful broth. If you don't have time to use dried beans, you could try canned and use some meat or veggie stock.) Once your beans are tender, it's time for vegetables and starches; almost anything goes here, just keep in mind the cooking time for each ingredient. Finally, taste and adjust your seasoning; keep in mind if you haven't added one in earlier steps, you probably want a little bit of some kind of "acidic" flavor to balance it all out. Lemon juice or vinegar works great.

Here is an example of one variation: Chickpea Stew with mushrooms carrots and rice. I flavored this batch of soup with a Parmesan cheese rind. As you can imagine, this soup tastes all together different from the red bean soup, with only a few simple changes. Simply swap out chickpeas for red beans, add minced carrots and mushrooms to your caramelized onions, and cubed carrots and mushrooms instead of spinach, simmer with Parmesan and add a little rice and a squirt of lemon.


  1. coffee beans! why don't they get that going? talk about one-stop shopping.

  2. I love the pic of the red bean soup. All the colours and shapes and textures together look really pretty and delicious.

  3. mmm, yum. i may have to make this tonight. not sure why my kidney beans always end up in chili, i should be more creative! thanks for the idea. (:

  4. If they had coffee beans and a steady supply of cheese at my market in Wichita, I would just buy my groceries for the year during the 4 farmer's market months. Mmm.

    I know what you mean about beans! I eat them at least 2-3 times a week in soup, with rice, in nachos.... there are at least a million ways to eat them!

    I'm glad I found your blog. :-)


  5. making beans the real magical fruit one recipe at a time.