Bean soup

Bean soup made with adzuki beans

I always keep canned beans in my pantry. And, now that I have an instant pot, I’m gaining confidence in cooking them from scratch as well. Before the instant pot, my favorite thing to do was put on a pot of beans and promptly burn them since they have to cook so long. Lost a lot of good pots that way.

Another dirty little secret is that I have dribs and drabs of leftover vegetables, meats and grains in bags in the freezer. I cannot stand to waste food, so if there’s a little bit left, I’ll freeze it for use in soup later. Labeled of course.

Anything goes

The great thing about soup is that you can add simply anything to it and have unique flavors. Leftover bits of chicken or turkey with white beans and noodles make a great soup. Add some swiss chard or spinach, a can of chopped tomatoes and it turns into something different. As vegetables start coming in from the markets and our gardens, change up your soup accordingly. If hot soup isn’t appealing in the summer, remember that adding chiles will make you sweat, cooling you off. And, try bean soups cold!

Start with broth

The basic recipe for a soup is to start with good vegetable, chicken or beef broth. You can make an even richer soup with bone broth. Use store- bought if you don’t have time to make your own – you’ll still get a wonderful pot of soup (no guilt!). Saute some onion and garlic in a bit of broth or olive oil to get your flavor started. 

Sauteeing kale with carrots and peppers

Add protein and grain

Then add a protein like black beans, garbanzos, canellini or kidney beans. Use leftovers from a roasted chicken (again, store bought roasted chicken is good), leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you know you have some, somewhere in the freezer), tempeh or tofu. If you want to use cheese, add it at the very end. 

Next, add a cooked grain like brown or white rice, farro, quinoa, or a pasta such as egg noodles, farfalle, linguini or orzo. Whole wheat pastas which may not be as palatable for spaghetti are hearty and delicious in soup.

The best part – vegetables

Then comes the best part – the vegetables. Add whatever you have in the fridge or freezer – cabbage, corn, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, cauliflower or zucchini. The vegetable combinations can vary depending on the flavor you want. 

Season according to the flavor you desire. For Mediterranean, use thyme, oregano, a pinch of sage and basil. For Mexican, cumin and chili powder give it a kick. For Italian, use oregano, basil and smoked paprika. 

Although you really don’t need a recipe to make a great bean soup, here’s a start on a Mexican bean soup: 

Recipe for Bean soup

Black bean soup

2 cups broth

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ spanish onion, chopped 

1-2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained if using canned

½ bag frozen corn

½ cup chopped sweet peppers

¼ chopped chili peppers

½ c. diced carrots

½ t. smoked or regular cumin

½ t. chili powder

Saute garlic and onion in two tablespoons of broth for about a minute. Add peppers, carrots and corn and saute for another minute. Add beans and seasonings and simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a splash of sriracha if you like more heat. 

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Vegetable trimmings for stock

Almost every recipe you see needs broth or stock of one sort or another. And, before you decide to just add water, think first – stock adds a nuance of flavor that you might not even know you’ll miss. 

Vegetable stock makes a big difference in flavor

Of course, when making hearty soups, stews and chili with vegetables, beans and other ingredients that give their own rich flavor, it may not be necessary to use stock for extra flavor. But when cooking rice or grains, the addition of flavored liquid can make the difference between bland and dynamite.

Use carrot tops and tips

There are all sorts of broth and stock available commercially these days, from standard chicken to organic vegetable to the richest bone broths (many are even flavored with garlic, peppers, onions and paprika).

Make your own stock

Although they certainly do in a pinch and I always try to have some in my pantry, homemade stocks are far and away better. Not only because you know what’s in them, but because the flavor is superior and you can control the salt. 

Onions are essential to a good broth

Keep a bag of vegetable trimmings in the freezer

It may seem a bit miserly but I’ve gotten in the habit of saving all my vegetable trimmings. I keep a bag in the freezer and toss in, after washing well, the leftovers from onions, shallots, celery, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, etc. It’s important that you wash the peelings before freezing them so you can simply put them in the pot when the time comes. 

Add cheese rind and mushrooms for more flavor

When I have a full bag and a day when I’ll be home for at least half a day, I toss them in a large stock pot and add garlic, bay leaf and other herbs I happen to have. The pièce d ‘resistance is to toss in a Parmesan rind to boost the umami flavor. Mushrooms also provide this flavor. You can adjust the flavors however you like with herbs and the vegetables you choose. 

Fill the pot, covering the vegetables and turn on low. There’s no need to salt the stock – you can get a better feel for salt levels when you actually use it in a dish. Let the pot simmer and fill your kitchen with a delightful aroma for the day. After four or five hours, strain the stock and refrigerate or freeze. I find it easiest to freeze it in one cup measures since I don’t always need more than that. 

Dilled rice with homemade vegetable stock

Dilled Rice

1 c. brown rice

2 c. vegetable stock

1 large clove garlic

1 t. dill seeds or 1 T. dried dill or 3 T. finely chopped fresh dill

1 t. salt

Crush the garlic clove along with the dill and salt until you have a paste. A mortar and pestle is great for this but you can also just use the flat side of a knife. Add the paste to the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to very low and cover. Cook about 45-55 minutes. When the liquid is all absorbed, fluff the rice and serve by itself as a side dish or under stir-fried vegetables. 

Heirlooms and Saving Seeds

Heirloom tomatoes are abundant now

Heirloom vegetables give us a sweet connection to the past, and many people believe that these vegetables have the closest flavor to our childhood memories of true vegetable taste. Heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations. They get their start when a gardener hand-selects for a special trait.

Open Pollinated, Self Pollinated

Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention. As long as pollen is not shared between different varieties within the same species, then the seed will produce a plant that resembles the plant from which it came and remain true-to-type year after year.

If you decide that you want to save seed from heirloom plants, you need to understand whether the variety is self-pollinated or will cross-pollinate. Cross-pollination may mean that you end up with plants that don’t resemble the plant from which you saved seed and may not even be edible. This is particularly true with cucumbers, squash and melons.

Hybrid Seeds

Dwarf Grey snowpeas are heirloom peas

The “opposite” of an open-pollinated plant is a hybrid which is created by human intervention. Designated as an F1 hybrid, seeds are produced by seed companies by carefully controlling cross-pollination of two varieties with specific traits. It’s important to note that they often don’t “come true” from saved seed. In other words, the seeds you collect from a hybrid may produce plants that are like either parent that was used in the cross or some combination of traits. Some hybrids produce sterile seeds.

Save Seeds Now

Start making plans to save seeds now while the garden is still in full production. Peas, green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers are all self-pollinating and fairly easy to save.

Tomatoes

For soft fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers (yes, they are botanically fruits), let the fruit ripen to almost overripe but not to the point of being rotten.

For tomatoes, scrape out the seedy pulp and discard the rest of the fruit (make bruschetta!). Put seeds and pulp in a covered jar with some water and let it sit a few days to ferment. Fermentation lets bacteria kill any seed borne diseases. Shake the jar a couple of times a day.

After a couple of days, the good seeds will have sunk to the bottom and the bad seeds and pulp will be floating. Pour off the water and pulp carefully, trying not to disturb the seeds on the bottom. Then dump the seeds into a fine strainer and rinse them well. Spread the damp seeds on a tray or screen to dry. If you dry on paper towels or newspaper, they will be hard to remove without damage.

Peppers and Eggplants

For peppers and eggplant, simply remove the seeds from the pulp and wash the seeds thoroughly. Spread the seeds to dry.

Sweet and chili peppers for seed saving

Beans and Peas

Heirloom beans

Beans and peas are most easily left on the vine to dry. When dry, break or split the pods to release the seeds. Spread them on a screen or tray to dry completely.

Storage

Keep your dry seeds dry

Once your seeds are dry, store in an airtight container to prevent reabsorbing moisture from the air. Label immediately. Keep seeds dry and cool and between 32° and 41°F. Canning jars or plastic containers make great storage containers, and you can add a silica-gel desiccant to keep them completely dry.