Soup really is the easiest of foods. And no, I am not talking about how easy it is to open a can of Campbell’s (which, by the way, is full of chemicals and formerly good food that has been stripped of its nutrients by overprocessing. Just saying). I’m talking about starting from a cup of dried beans and random ingredients and making something tasty and nutritious. It’s a great way to clear out a fridge filled with bits and pieces: a handful of mushrooms, two celery stalks, a bunch of almost wilted kale and a couple slices of bacon and suddenly you have transformed the hopeless into the delicious.
Beans are inexpensive and super easy-they just seem intimidating because they take time. But the time is not active work-you cook while you live the rest of your life. If you have a crockpot, beans are a no-brainer: put them in a big bowl of water the night before to soak, then in the morning drain and add to the slow cooker with whatever seasonings and vegetables you want. Put it on low for 8 hours and come home to a big pot of soup that will not only feed you for dinner but also freezes well and can be used for several lunches.
(My former roommate, who insists that she cannot cook, makes soup in her crockpot every week using a couple of cookbooks and her ingenuity. So really, soup is the easiest thing out there.)
Here is what I made a couple of days ago, mostly to use up the last of the bacon in the fridge. This soup didn’t make too many lunches because it was so good that Jer polished it off very quickly. If you don’t have a crockpot, this can of course be made on the stove-it just might be a later dinner, or something you will want to make on the weekend. You can use fresh or canned tomatoes-I used a can of fire roasted tomatoes I had gotten on sale, and they added a great depth of flavor. And just so you know, thick-cut peppered bacon is to die for in soups.
Bean and Bacon Soup
2 cups dry mixed beans
3-4 slices thick cut bacon
6 cups water, stock, or any combination of the two
1 can diced tomatoes or 3-4 diced roma tomatoes
1/2 onion diced
minced garlic, if desired
1 tsp each: salt, pepper, chili powder, thyme
Saute bacon and onions about 7-10 minutes, until bacon begins to crisp and onions are translucent (if using garlic, add in after 5 minutes). Transfer to bowl or storage container and keep covered in fridge. Place beans in a large bowl and cover with 4-5 cups cold water. Soak overnight. In the morning, drain beans and add to slow cooker along with the all other ingredients. Cook at low for 10 hours.
In the morning, place beans in large bowl and cover with 4-5 cups cold water to soak. 8 hours or so later (basically whenever you get home from work) drain the beans. Saute bacon and onions in a large stock pot for 7-10 minutes, adding minced garlic after 5 mins if desired. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about an hour.
Simple, right? Soak, drain, saute, boil, simmer. Not too many ingredients, not too much actual work. Soup gets better over time, so it’s always better reheated the second day. And the possible combinations are endless. You can add other vegetables if you want. You can substitute cremini mushrooms for the bacon and make it vegan. You can use one or two types of beans, or a 15-bean supermix. And if you are really pressed for time, you can even use canned beans: just add 2-3 cans of beans with the tomatoes and stock after sauteing the bacon and onions and then simmer for however long you want. That’s yet another benefit of making soup: you can feel free to experiment with whatever you have. So get creative!
Oh, and if you are looking for another great crockpot recipe, try Macheesmo’s Mushroom Barley Stew. It made so much, and it was so good, Jer ate it almost every day for a week!