Let’s get beans and make some soup!
Actually, that isn’t how that little ditty goes.
The more traditional words to the rhyme go thusly:
Beans, beans, the magical fruit!
The more you eat, the more you toot!
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So eat some beans at every meal!
I learned the rhyme back in Girl Scouts. No, not officially–our troop leader nearly fainted dead away when we took to chanting it around the dinner table at our camp’s lodge. No, we learned it from one of my older cousins who had gone on the camping trip as a chaperone. You can see how seriously she took her duties.
Actually, in all fairness, she kept us girls safe, showed us how to tie useful knots, and helped us weave mats to sit on so we wouldn’t get wet in the grass. And she showed us how to build fires, too. She was a regular old Girl Scout except she had no use for those stuffy songs and boring chanted doggerel that the scout leaders taught us, so in our tent before we went to sleep the first night, she taught us the “Sacred Bean Chant,” which happened to come in handy since my mother had brought baked beans for dinner.
It was all good until some of us girls started whispering the “Sacred Bean Chant” to each other during the flag lowering ceremony when we were supposed to be singing “Taps.” Then, we got reprimanded for being bad citizens and all around troublemakers because we didn’t act properly solemn as the flag was lowered and folded.
I’ve just never been good at solemn in my life. Never, ever. Even when marching in protest of violence against women (as a former battered wife, I take this issue seriously, deadly seriously) during a “Take Back the Night” event with my friend Kendra way back in 1993 here on Ohio University’s campus, I couldn’t stick with the program. For the record, neither could Kendra. We got to feeling silly and having too much fun stomping around and chanting, “Women Unite! Take Back the Night!” and I think it was actually Kendra who started a counter chant–and yes, it was the “Sacred Bean Chant.”
And well, I joined in.
And we chanted it alone for a while, but then a few other less than serious women joined us, and we got some stink eyes from the unsmiling “serious feminists” for not taking the march seriously. We finally felt a bit self-conscious and stopped near the end of the march when a bunch of women (Or were they wimmin? Womyn? Wommin? Dunno….) went even more off script than we had, went off the parade route, laid themselves down on Court Street, blocked traffic and were then summarily arrested.
Kendra and my little leguminous transgression suddenly seemed a bit tame in comparison.
So, what does all of this have to do with the point of this post?
Well, not a lot, but the stories are amusing.
Anyway, I’m writing about beans, specifically beans in soup.
I love bean soup. (I love soup in general, too, but again, I digress.) A favorite dinner when I was a kid was ham and navy bean soup, which was cooked with the ham bone and whatever bits of meat that fell off or could be nipped off the bone to be eaten in the soup. The marrow from the bone gave a deep richness to the beans, and the vegetables that were included- onions, celery and carrots- (with one lonely bay leaf) lent their lovely fragrances to the melange, and it all tasted so good together that it never occurred to me that it was an essentially frugal dish.
It was a means to use up every bit of goodness out of a ham, even extracting all of the juices and marrow from the bone so that we lost none of the flavor, meat or nutrients from the ham at all. After the soup was made the bone was always given to our dog, Rufus, who savored it for about a week before it was gone entirely.
But as good as the ham was, and thus as delicious as the broth was, it was the beans I loved. I could eat bowl after bowl of the beans and vegetables, with a few pink bits of ham, and then I’d drink the broth. It was so delicious, comforting and filling, especially on a cold winter evening, that it made our house seem warm and inviting, cozy, even.
Zak said the other night that soup sounded good for dinner the next day, and I had fresh horticultural beans in my refrigerator from the farmer’s market, and some ham (but no ham bone) in the freezer, so I went ahead and made a version of my childhood favorite soup that I’d like to share with you.
As I had no bone to enrich the broth, I added some vegetable juice and shiro (white) miso to the broth near the end of the cooking. I also added purple-skinned potatoes and used carrots of many colors, both from my garden, and added garlic as well. The miso made a lovely stand-in for the bone marrow, so lovely that I am pretty sure I could make a vegan version of this soup that would taste just as lovely as the omnivore version–it would just be different, that’s all.
Oh, and I added a great handful of minced fresh herbs and baby chard to the soup just before serving to give a final burst of flavor and color to an already savory dish.
As per usual, even with all the furbelews and frills, the beans wound up being the stars of the show. Fresh horticultural beans are like dried navy beans on steroids–plump, creamy and filled with earthy and slightly sweet flavor that eclipses the taste of the beans of my childhood.
Horticultural beans are, and I mean this truly and with no irony, “magical.”
Horticultural Bean and Ham Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound ham cut into small dice
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, cleaned and sliced
1 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
1 pound fresh horticultural beans (or soaked dried cannelini or cranberry beans)
2 1/2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock or any mixture thereof
1/2 quart water
1/2 pound small potatoes, boiled in their skins then drained and quartered
8 ounces of V-8 or other vegetable juice
1 tablespoon shiro miso (I use Miso Master brand)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mixed fresh chopped herbs–I used more rosemary, sage, and Greek columnar basil–you use what you have or would like
1/2 cup young chard leaves, cut into a very thin chiffonade
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onion, and sprinkle with salt, then cook, stirring until the onion turns slightly golden. Add the ham and continue cooking until the ham browns and the onions are nice and deep gold in color. Add the garlic, bay leaf and rosemary leaves and keep cooking until the onions are reddish gold and everything is fragrant.
Add the carrots and celery and cook until they brown very slightly–then deglaze the pot with the sherry or white wine, and boil until the alcohol evaporates. Add the beans and the stock(s) and water, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, and cook, covered with the lid slightly ajar, until the beans are mostly tender. Add the potatoes, and cook until the beans are fully tender.
Add the vegetable juice, and bring to a simmer. Remove 1 cup of the liquid into a bowl or measuring cup and add the miso to this separate broth. Stir the miso well into the broth. Turn off the heat under the soup and pour the miso/broth mixture back into the pot and stir well to incorporate throughout the soup.
Add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 of the minced herbs.
Serve in bowls topped with some of the rest of the herbs and some of the chard as a garnish.
Note: In order to make this vegetarian, leave out the ham and use only vegetable stock in the soup, and up the miso amount to 2 tablespoons.
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