Recipes: Here’s what to know about beans and 3 soups you can make with them

Conundrums and complaints aren’t new to the U.S. Senate. Imagine the scene on a sweltering summer day in 1907.

“Thunderation!” decried Joseph G. Cannon, the Speaker of the House, his outburst sparked by bean hunger and anger over what he perceived as an uncaring House restaurant kitchen.

The chef neglected to make the traditional bean soup that day. Speaker Cannon (R, Illinois; 1903-11) was steamed up about it.

According to acclaimed cookbook writer Crescent Dragonwagon (“Bean by Bean” Workman, $15.95), what followed was a plea to serve bean soup every day, “hot, cold, rain, snow or shine.”

The House passed a resolution (yes, they somehow agreed on the soup subject) that regardless of weather, when the House is in session, bean soup must be on the menu.

Dragonwagon and I agree that the recipe for the U.S. House Navy Bean Soup could use some sprucing up. More flavor, more pizzazz.

I’ve included three bean soup recipes, variations that boost up the flavor profiles. But first some tips, a little “bean college.” If dried beans seem burdensome, the cannellini soup recipe uses canned beans for a quicker approach.

Picking over dried beans: Pour the raw dried beans out on a white kitchen towel, then spread them out and have a good look; I recently found an itty-bitty rock in some dried navy beans.

Soak to unmake the mischief: I love how cookbook author Dragonwagon describes intestinal gas as mischief. Help to de-gas dried beans by soaking them in cold water (the level of the water should be 2 inches above the surface of the beans) for 6 to 8 hours. Or use the quick method: Place beans in pot and cover with water by 1- to 2-inches. Boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow beans to sit in the water for 1 hour. With either method, drain and rinse beans well after soaking.

Mischief slowdown: A study at the University of California at Berkeley found that bean-eating subjects “reported greater tolerance and less discomfort by the end of a three-week period of bean eating.”

Salt? Don’t add salt until the beans are thoroughly cooked and tender. The same goes for vinegar, lemon juice and tomatoes. These ingredients toughen the outer coats or skins of the beans. When adding salt at the end, do so to taste. Cooked (dried) beans need salt to be happy.

Protein powerhouse: Between 6 and 11 percent of dried beans’ cooked weight is protein; 1/2 cup of cooked beans, depending on variety, has about 8 grams (an egg has 6).

Shopping tips: When purchasing packaged dried beans, look for undamaged bags or boxes with beans of uniform size. As tempting as the packages of assorted beans appear, arranged in their clear cellophane packages, I steer clear of most dried “bean soup mixes.” Due to the differences in size and density of the beans, they require different cooking times; sometimes the results are unsatisfactory.

Storage: Store dried beans in a well-sealed container at cool room temperature. They should keep for up to one year. They will take longer to cook as they age. Do not mix older dried beans with a new batch; cooking times of old and new supply will likely vary. Refrigerate leftover cooked dried beans, airtight, up to 4 days. Bean soups freeze beautifully; eat within three months for best flavor.

Tuscan Bean and Farro Soup with Cabbage features diced butternut squash and sofrito. (Photo by Nick Koon)

Tuscan Bean and Farro Soup with Cabbage

Yield: 6 to 7 servings


1/2 pound (1 1/4 cups) dried pinto beans

1/2 cup farro

11 cups water, divided use


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled, chopped

1 small celery stalk with leaves, chopped

2 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 pound green cabbage, cored, shredded

1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced (about 2 cups)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, minced

Generous 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled or fresh minced

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice


1. Place beans in bowl, cover by 2 inches with cold water and soak overnight, or 6 to 8 hours. Drain.

2. Combine farro and 3 cups water in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender but still a little chewy. The brand I buy at Trader Joe’s takes 10 minutes of simmering; consult the package directions for cooking times. Drain and season with salt; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion and cook until onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add carrot, celery, and sage; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add cabbage; cook, stirring often until cabbage in limp, about 10 minutes. Add beans, squash and 8 cups water (or enough water to cover ingredients by 2 inches). Bring to boil on high heat; reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. If beans are not tender, simmer gently until beans are tender, about 10 minutes. Ladle out 2 cups of beans and vegetables with a small amount of broth; puree in blender in small batches or food processor. (I use an immersion blender and puree a small amount in the pot). Return pureed mixture to pot.

4. Meanwhile prepare sofrito: While soup is simmering, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary; cook 30 seconds and stir in tomatoes. Add salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down and sofrito is thick and delicious and beginning to stick to the pan, 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Stir sofrito into the soup. Stir in the cooked farro. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Source: Adapted from “Mediterranean Harvest” by Martha Rose Shulman (Rodale, $39.95)

White Bean and Chicken Soup with Chilies is made with Northern beans, chicken broth and mild green chillies. (Photo by Nick Koon)

White Bean and Chicken Soup with Chilies

Yield: 8 servings


1 pound dry great white Northern beans

72 ounces (1 1/2 48-ounce containers) chicken broth, plus more as needed

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 medium onions, chopped

2 (4-ounce) cans diced mild green chilies

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

5-6 cups diced, cooked chicken breast

For garnish: tortilla chips, some crumbled

For garnish: grated Jack cheese

For optional garnish: sliced avocado, sliced radish, sliced green stalks of green onions


1. Place beans in a large bowl or pot. Add cold water to cover beans by 2 inches. Allow to soak overnight or 6 to 8 hours. Drain.

2. Combine drained beans, broth, garlic and onions in a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour, adding more broth if necessary.

3. Add remaining ingredients except chicken, chips, cheese, or garnishes. Simmer 20 to 30 more minutes.

4. Add chicken; cook 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Ladle into bowls and top with some crumbled tortilla chips and grated cheese. Garnish with avocado slices, radish slices, sliced green onion stalks, and if desired, whole tortilla chips around the perimeter.

Turkey Cassoulet Soup.Additional Information: What to make with Thanksgiving leftovers as suggested by Cathy Thomas. food.thanksleftovers.1124 Photo by Nick Koon / The Orange County Register – Photographed on 11/14/11.

Quick In-The-Can Cannellini Bean Soup

To save time, this cannellini soup uses canned beans. The smoked kielbasa sausage adds a welcome richness, and if you like, some diced cooked chicken adds even more meaty goodness.

Yield: 8 servings


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large brown onion or yellow onion, coarsely chopped

3 medium-large carrots, coarsely chopped

3 stalks celery, trimmed, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons dried thyme

9 ounces kielbasa fully cooked smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise

10 cups chicken broth

2 (15-ounces each) cans cannellini beans, divided use

Optional: 4 to 5 cups diced cooked chicken

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Optional: Frank’s Red Hot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce to taste, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: The addition of Frank’s hot sauce not only adds a touch of spicy interest, it adds a touch of perky acidity (the second ingredient listed on the label is vinegar). Add just a little and taste the soup. If you like, add a little more.


1. In 6-quart or 8-quart pan or Dutch oven, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add thyme and sausage slices; cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage starts to brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile whirl contents of 1 can of beans in food processor or blender until smooth (pureed).

2. Add broth to sausage mixture. Stir in pureed beans. Stir in remaining can of beans. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium. Add chicken (if using) and simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. If using, add Frank’s hot sauce to taste.

Cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at

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