My boring bland bean soup!
October 27, 2014 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I made white bean soup in the crockpot and it's okay... but how do I make it AWESOME?!

I prepared this white bean soup in the crock pot this morning before work in a hurry and eyeballed all the ingredients.
I found I didn't have any fresh garlic so I subbed garlic powder. I also added a ham shank for flavor.
It really does taste okay, but a lot like something you'd pour out of a can and not "omg yummyyyy this has been stewing all day with love" like I expected.
I'm looking for something (hopefully inexpensive and ideally on hand) that I could add it make it more delicious? I've been on a crockpot kick where I make a big batch and eat it all week so I'm hoping to really turn it into something I can look forward to eating.

Here's a few things I have on hand:
- better than bouillon chicken flavor
- frozen lb of bacon
- hot sauce
- full assortment of dried herbs and spices
- frozen chicken breast and ground beef (maybe convert it to a white bean chili? is that a thing?)
- fresh spinach
- assortment of fresh cheeses
- salsa verde
- pesto

Anything that's going to cost more than $5 is more than the pot is worth so the cheaper, the better!
Bonus points for a great, inexpensive wine to pair with it :)
(PS I also want to add that I love this particular blogger's recipes and the blandness is almost certainly an outcome of my haste this morning, not the quality of her recipe!)
posted by rubster to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd cook some chopped bacon until super crunchy to sprinkle on top. Maybe carmalize some onion in the bacon fat to add on top also. A tablespoon or two of vinegar stirred into the pot once you turn the heat off could really help. I like to use apple cider vinegar but any kind would work. The soup will taste better after a day or two!
posted by Swisstine at 1:20 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a white bean chicken soup recipe that I love (it's waiting for me in the crock pot tonight). Differences:
Made with chicken stock - add boullion
Made with 1 lb shredded chicken
A full tsp of thyme and a tsp marjoram
Fresh parsley
A bulb of fennel
A can of stewed tomatoes

Of these, I think the tomatoes would make the biggest flavor difference. And maybe the boullion.
posted by Kriesa at 1:22 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Barring things that require you to go back in time (ham bone and bacon should go in early, imho), consider a healthy dash of hot sauce (Tabasco Chipotle sauce has a nice smokey flavor that would go well). You might get the same effect without the heat by adding a few drops of liquid smoke.
posted by plinth at 1:22 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

yes, bacon. I always put bacon in my white bean soups. Also sweet chili sauce at the end can give it a nice flavor.
posted by gaspode at 1:24 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can try these in a small bowl first, to see how they work out:

- apple cider vinegar (just a *little* bit; experiment);

- freshly-squeezed lemon

- tarragon

The four main flavor dimensions are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. I'm betting you don't have a lot of "sour" going on (obviously you wouldn't want a whole _lot_ of sourness, but a little can add a bit of interest). Hence my first two suggestions. These are also inexpensiveish and very useful for other dishes (particularly vegetables).

The last is a bit of a long shot. You may or may not have tarragon, but it's got a strong flavor, slighly mint-like, aromatic. It's good sprinkled delicately on green beans, too.
posted by amtho at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cook 6 or so pieces of bacon until crispy. Stick in the food processor with a big spoonful of smoked paprika and Aleppo chili flakes (or whatever chili flakes you have -- red pepper flakes work but use less as they're spicier), and a pour of oil. Pulse until you get bacon "crumbs." Sprinkle on your soup.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:28 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

- Caramelize or saute an onion and stir a hunk in

- Definitely try adding in some pesto into a bowl and seeing if you like the flavor! Ditto with a spoonful and a tiny bit of paprika

- Try a bowl with a bit of acid? I have a white bean recipe that I love, but I add in substantially more white wine than it calls for, though adding it after it's already been stewing would not have the same effect. Dash of white wine or champagne vinegar?

- Is one of your cheeses something like parmesan? In Italy my host mother would always swirl additional olive oil on top of soups and spoon on very finely grated parmesan or peccorino romano. The extra added a wonderful light flavor.

(As a side note because I think this have been overlooked-- this soup already has a ham shank in it.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:28 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fresh parsley + any other fresh herb you have on hand, a couple slices of bacon or other cured meat, chopped onion, all the zest of a lemon with juice reserved, more salt. Instead of putting that in the soup uncooked, do it up in a separate pot with some of the soup after the bacon's gone sizzly and the onions have browned, and cook it down into a thick flavoring paste. Then mix that back into the soup. Put a little lemon juice on the soup right as you eat it.
posted by Mizu at 1:29 PM on October 27, 2014

Rosemary is meant for white beans! Especially if you can do a bit of rosemary oil.
posted by telophase at 1:33 PM on October 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

The first thing I'd try is adjusting the salt --- try adding a pinch or two more and seeing if that heightens the flavor.

With what you have on hand, I'd try swirling in a bit of the pesto or salsa verde, for something fresh and acidic. Crumbled bacon will add meatier flavor, carmelizing a bit of onion or wilting some spinach in the bacon fact could also be good.

Other options -- dash of soy sauce or some sautéed shiitake mushrooms will also give you a bit of meaty punch. I second the sprinkle of parmesean and olive oil as well. Cracked black pepper could help to. If you have/get some parsley and lemon and garlic, could do a gremoulatta, which Italians sometimes serve with heavy, hearty meats and stews to lighten them --- a little bit of acidic zing can really liven up a dull dish.

Given that it's a white bean soup, the other traditional way to go would be to add sausage. I usually find those packaged herb chicken sausages go well with white beans --- I'd just split them and brown a couple off under the broiler and then chop 'em up and add them to the soup. Will add a buck a serving or so.
posted by Diablevert at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Up the garlic some - you can do that by roasting some garlic cloves until they're a mushy paste, and then stirring them into the soup.

Sage! Saute some chopped carrots with a lot of chopped fresh sage and stir that all in. If you really want to gild the lily, you can also add some chopped-up kielbasa.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would definitely try the pesto or salsa verde. Probably not both at the same time. Salsa verde ingredients vary, but if yours has herbs, lemon and garlic it will go a long way to lifting all the flavours in the soup.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2014

Parmesan rind. I always save some specifically for white bean stew/soup. Ads a lot of flavor. Then you just fish it out and toss it. Also, anchovy and tomato paste both add a lot of umami flavor to things cooked in a slow cooker, where you can't develop traditional flavors from browning or cooking down the liquid. Used in small quantities you won't really taste the individual flavors (don't worry about the anchovies making your food fishy!) but it will amp up the overall flavor of the stew.
posted by dellsolace at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

White beans get sad in the absence of their best friend, lemon zest.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:51 PM on October 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Heat up a big glug of olive oil, add half of a diced onion and a pair of chopped carrots, saute for 5 minutes. Add 1 heaping teaspoon each of rosemary, thyme, and oregano, another 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, and another couple of bay leaves, and saute the spices along with the onion and carrots for ~30 seconds or until everything smells amazing. Dump it all into the soup, wait for a while for the flavors to meld, and taste it again.

Otherwise: Get some glutamate in there. Toss in a parmesan rind, a sprinkle of soy sauce, add a big pinch of straight MSG, dump in a tin of diced fire-roasted tomatoes.

Splash some balsamic, apple cider, or red wine vinegar on top at the end, along with a dollop of pesto.

IME, bean soup really needs a day or two for the flavors to develop, so it may just be a time issue -- I'd be surprised if your soup is still bland tomorrow.
posted by divined by radio at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would start with vinegar and/or lemon juice. And salt.
posted by janell at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

Bacon, soy & sauteed shiitakes are all adding two things: salt & umami (OK, you can sautee mushrooms sans salt). A dash of MSG, or worcestshire sauce, or fish sauce will do the same. Other high-umami additives: parmesan cheese, steak seasoning (usually high in MSG), or dried tomatoes.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2014

The #1 biggest improvement in my bean soups came from using chicken broth instead of water. Make only this one change and your already adequate soup will be amazing next time.
posted by Andrhia at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Add bacon or ham if you have it.
posted by wwax at 2:01 PM on October 27, 2014

99% of the time when bean soup tastes flat (and since you already said you did a ham shank), it needs an acid. Agree with the recommendations for lemon juice (#1) and any vinegar if you don't have lemon.
posted by peep at 2:06 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

A crazy amount of black pepper and a bit more salt, or, my go-to when confronted with soup fail: croutons. I just take any white bread lying around, cut it into little cubes (it's better if it is on the stale side but I never consider this in advance), give them a shake to get off the excess crumbiness, and toss them into a pan with hot oil (an excessive amount but not so much that it covers them.) I've used knock-off truffle oil, olive oil, leftover chicken fat, vegetable oil. Etc. When the croutons are slightly golden brown and crispy I add, roughly, equal amounts of salt, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, and fry until they're perfectly golden brown. Then I let them drain their many fatty salty sins onto some paper towels.

Sometimes I use fancier stuff, like real garlic instead of garlic powder, but I actually think the garlic powder is just as good in this instance and I tend to go to overkill here because this is what winds up making the soup if I've wound up with a soup that tastes a bit flat and I've already tried vinegar and mustard, etc.

I tend to use salt and sugar together a lot, I don't think that's done a lot but maybe I'm wrong. It does make it easier to space out and burn things (the sugar) and I usually compensate with an annoying timer that goes off every two minutes so I shove things around.

Salty fried garlic chips are a good addition too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:25 PM on October 27, 2014

Also, personally I would be nervous about adding an acid to white beans. I would be thinking spiciness or umami, as mentioned above.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:30 PM on October 27, 2014

Add diced red pepper, finely chopped celery, a couple of dashes of crushed red pepper, chopped fresh tomato, a splash of a tasty white wine or balsamic vinegar, and some chopped frozen broccoli. And maybe some Mrs. Dash.
posted by bearwife at 2:46 PM on October 27, 2014

Salt or acid, and I like the creamier texture from blending a cup or two of cooked soup and adding it back in.
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:49 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's very common to finish a bean soup with a little wine vinegar and olive oil.
posted by Jode at 3:38 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seasoned salt (like Lawry's or the generic version) tastes really good in bean soup. And a splash of vinegar at the table.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:21 PM on October 27, 2014

I just made a white bean soup yesterday! My initial thoughts on the core recipe is that there isn't enough fat in it to give lots of flavor. It looks bland - it might not be your fault at all.

- Did you chop up the meat from the ham hock and add it back into the soup? If not, that's step one.
- The flavor might taste better on day 2 regardless of what you do now.
- To boost the fat, drizzle olive oil over each serving. Alternatives: serve with grated Parmesan cheese or a glop of pesto, as others have suggested.
- More greens might give it a rounder flavor. Kale, Portuguese cabbage, chard, and other similar dark greens keep their texture and color more than spinach.
- Homemade croutons are easy and can give it extra flavor.

I don't think that more dried herbs will make much of a difference at this point. And I'm not sure adding bacon after-the-fact will make a big difference either. Next time, though - add the salt pork, bacon, sausage, etc. in the beginning!

I've never cooked beans with lemon or other acid ... I agree with the others who would be nervous about adding this.

And for a splurge, I agree with A Terrible Llama's advice on getting some truffle oil! It's expensive, but you only need a few drops, and it makes an incredible difference. White bean soup with kale and truffle oil is divine.
posted by kanewai at 6:11 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Jacqueline at 6:14 PM on October 27, 2014

I would try some ground savory.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:02 PM on October 27, 2014

Response by poster: Last night I added salsa verde and shredded smoked chicken to a bowl and it was AWESOME!!
Now that the salsa is gone, I will move on to your other suggestions & mark all the good results as best answers.
Thank you all for your tips, the only thing better than having one big pot of amazing soup is ten, unique ones!
posted by rubster at 9:05 AM on October 28, 2014

To be clear, I add acid (whether tomatoes, or lemon juice, or vinegar) after the soup is completely cooked. Often right as I pull it off the heat. This will not affect the cooking process at all. Is that what people are nervous about? Otherwise I don't understand the apprehension. It's a very common addition to bean soups and it's delicious!
posted by peep at 10:20 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This will not affect the cooking process at all. Is that what people are nervous about?

I guess not nervous, so much as this isn't a flavor profile I encounter much. Or at least, not with beans. I remember my mom made a bean and sausage soup that was more sour, so it was probably something Alsatian or German, but that was a pretty unique taste, and one that I haven't been able to replicate.
posted by kanewai at 11:37 AM on October 28, 2014

Is that what people are nervous about?

For me I think it's specifically the presence of ham; just the idea that it wouldn't come together with mild white beans? I do use acid in lentil soup, along with mustard, but in that case I'm going for a much punchier flavor profile than what I would be aiming for in a white bean soup, which would probably be more smokey/salty/garlicky/warm/peppery as opposed to 'feisty' and somehow it's not the approach I'd be likely to take instinctively.

Always okay to find myself dead wrong, however.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:22 AM on October 29, 2014

The point of adding a bit of acid --- splash of vinegar, squeez of lemon --- is not to make the soup sour. It's to add a bit of contrast that brings out the other flavours. More like adding salt. Or like adding a pinch of dry mustard and cayenne to cheese sauce -- you're not trying to make the cheese sauce spicy, just adding a bit of contrast for the cheese flavor to bounce off of.
posted by Diablevert at 8:54 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thing about soups to remember is that they frequently are better the next day after the flavours have a chance to mingle. Same thing with stews.
posted by Amy NM at 5:26 AM on November 20, 2014

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