White Bean Soup

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: At least 1 hour

You can make soup out of any bean you like, of course, but small white beans cook more quickly than most. (Even without soaking, you need as little as an hour, though for various reasons see Plain Talk About Legumes and Gas, I can’t guarantee that.) They also pure beautifully and have a mild but still beany flavor that most people like. There are many directions to go here, and they’re all easy; see 10 Ideas for White Bean Soup.

11/2 cups small white beans, washed, picked over, and soaked if time allows (see Cooking Beans, the Quick-Soak Way)

6 cups vegetable stock or water, or more as needed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium to large carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 bay leaves

Pinch dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chopped parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

01 Drain the beans if you’ve soaked them, then combine them in a saucepan with the stock, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat down so the mixture simmers steadily. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very soft, at least 1 hour; add more liquid as necessary so the mixture remains soupy.

02 When the beans are very tender, season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, you can pure the soup at this point: put an immersion blender in the pot and semipure it, leaving it a bit chunky, or put all or some of it in a blender (carefully, and after it’s cooled a bit) and pure until smooth. (You may prepare the soup in advance up to this point. Cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, and reheat before proceeding.) Serve garnished with the parsley.

10 Ideas for White Bean Soup

As good as basic bean soup is, it can be made gloriously delicious with a few simple additions. Try any of these, alone or in combination:

  1. Tomato paste (about 1/4 cup) or canned (or, of course, fresh) tomatoes (a cup or two) added at the beginning of cooking
  2. Mild chiles, like anchos (1 or 2, stemmed and seeded) added at the beginning of cooking
  3. Nori seaweed, toasted and minced, added at the beginning of cooking (about 1/4 cup) and again as a garnish (a sprinkling)
  4. Chopped fresh vegetables (1 to 2 cups) carrots, celery, potatoes, shallots, turnips, or whatever you like added about 20 minutes before the end of cooking
  5. Any whole grain, like brown rice, barley, or peeled wheat (1/2 cup or so, with the beans reduced by the same amount, added at the beginning of cooking); or quick-cooking grains, like white rice, pearled barley, or bulgur, added during the last 15 to 20 minutes of cooking
  6. Minced garlic, at least 1 teaspoon, added about 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
  7. Chopped greens, like kale or collards (1 to 2 cups), added during the last 5 minutes of cooking
  8. Butter, about 2 tablespoons, stirred in at the end of cooking
  9. Extra virgin olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per serving, added at the last minute
  10. 4 to 8 Garlic Croutons, 1 or 2 added to the bottom of each soup bowl before serving.