Bean soups are, generally speaking, fairly boring.
December 8, 2014 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Bean soup is convenient for lunch and winter-friendly and healthy and all, but in reality most of them are mind-numbingly boring. (Sorry, Bean Soup.) I am looking for very lively, assertive, strongly-flavored bean soups.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has a great lentil soup recipe that calls for a tablespoon of mustard and (I think) two tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Needless to say, it wakes you up.

I am looking for other bean soups like that -- soups that call for five cloves of garlic, soups that require a teaspoon of black pepper, soups that use acids or herbs and spices very heavily.

Not looking for anything that can't be made vegetarian (so basically just 'no chunks of meat' although it's okay if it calls for a ham bone or something -- I can work around it.)

Looking mostly for western-tradition type things, I like curry as a flavor, for example, but only really crave it once a year or so and this is something I'd likely be eating for lunch several days in a row.
posted by A Terrible Llama to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
Roasted tomato and black bean soup. Easy, hearty, and so, so good.
posted by Dolley at 9:26 AM on December 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Black bean stew/chili. Sweat a chopped onion and several minced or crushed garlic cloves in olive oil until onions are translucent. Dump in two cans black beans and water from rinsing cans, plus one 12-oz jar of salsa and water from rinsing the jar (I use chipotle salsa), about a tablespoon of chili powder (or to taste), sprinkle of garlic powder, and chipotle powder to taste. I also add in smoked paprika, at least a tsp, but that one is optional. Cook at least an hour; three-four hours will make it even better, although you may need to top off the stew with water to keep the consistency right. Finish with lime juice (to taste).

It's better if you do the initial sweat with a slice or two of bacon, chopped, but it's good vegetarian as well. I usually use two cans of black beans, but you can cook from raw if you like.
posted by pie ninja at 9:28 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: This white bean and tarragon soup is super good! I like it pureed.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rosemary white bean soup, with a lot of onions. The rosemary really perks it up, and you can certainly add more than the 2 cloves of garlic that the recipe calls for. I've only made it with the chicken stock, so you might want to add some extra salt/pepper/etc. if you use water or a milder vegetarian broth. (And for planning purposes, my cooking time has been significantly longer than the recipe says - like double.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:34 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would look into the Rancho Gordo book and maybe try some of their products too!
posted by BibiRose at 9:35 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ottolenghi's broad bean soup looks really good and if you are a vegetarian you should probably have his vegetable books, Plenty and Plenty More, anyway.
posted by BibiRose at 9:44 AM on December 8, 2014

Dal! it's delicious and healthy and you can make it hot or gingery or smokey. It also only gets better as the flavors develop in the fridge/freezer.
posted by annaramma at 9:45 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since you already have Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, make the Red Lentil Soup with Lime that's in there. It's one of my favorite things. Don't skimp on the butter!
posted by something something at 9:46 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use the jerk marinade from the Moosewood cookbooks as the base for an amazing, unique black bean soup. Sauté the aromatics together, add the other ingredients and a couple of cans of black beans, and simmer to let the flavors blend. You can puree everything for a smooth soup, or leave it chunky. You can also tweak the vinegar and spice levels (or use a Scotch bonnet or habañero instead of the jalapeños) to punch it up even more.
posted by rebekah at 9:48 AM on December 8, 2014

This lima bean soup recipe from Frieda's Fiestas is what you're looking for and then some. I could have sworn it called for lemon juice too, but maybe I just added some to mine to balance the flavor a bit. You could easily add fresh or frozen spinach, the point is just the sucker punch of all that garlic.
posted by theweasel at 9:50 AM on December 8, 2014

Spicy red pepper lentil soup is my preferred winter soup. Decent protein, low calorie. Good with crusty bread.

6 cups stock [or whatever, soup base, not too salty, veggie totally OK]
1 onion
1 red pepper
4 carrots

chop veggies & sautee in olive oil & add to hot stock

1 1/2 c red lentils
1/2 c wild rice
[or whatever, 2 cups grains]

add 2 tsp cumin [or to taste] and lots of red pepper flakes. Salt & pepper to taste. Simmer on low heat til lentils are soft, about 90 min. Stir every once in a while.
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is my favorite lentil soup. I zest a lemon and add it to the soup.
posted by a hat out of hell at 9:55 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Persian New Year's soup (ash-e reshteh)! The coziest, most delicious soup I always order at Persian restaurants. Not very difficult to make yourself - I've used combinations of this and this recipe, with some adjustments (different beans, like 5x the caramelized onions, because YUM).
posted by raztaj at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you have any recipes you like in theory but find bland at the end, you can usually add/increase garlic, cook them with a minced pepper or two, and/or (I suggest and) finish with acid, usually citrus (juice and/or zest), but vinegar might also be a good choice. Keep sumac on hand too, though it turns light-colored things kind of pink, if you care about that sort of thing.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2014

This Very Green Lentil Soup is very flavorful. It has cumin, coriander, cilantro, mint, jalapeno peppers, lemon juice and feta.
posted by amarynth at 10:12 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bean soups I've had recently (both from Isa Chandra Moskowitz) that I didn't get tired of before I finished eating them, even though I was eating them for, like, five days straight: harira with lentils, chickpeas, and eggplant & navy bean & dill stew.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 10:14 AM on December 8, 2014

Tuscan White Bean and Wheat Berry Soup.

Dramatically improved by adding a Parmesan rind to the cooking process. I believe this recipe leaves out the rosemary. Maybe add rosemary.

Google tells me a popular variation on this recipe involves Kale.
posted by jbenben at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

White beans and greens are a great scaffold to build a soup. I think the beans are more flavorful with "smoky" spices like cumin and paprika and maybe sneak a little tarragon in to add a soothing element. Personally I don't like the "piney" herbs such as bay leaf or rosemary [both of which I love] in this context.

Add the greens late and finish with a few drops of a nice oil and maybe a shred of garlic.
posted by vapidave at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2014

In one of the Silver Palate cookbooks I have, they have something that's a fairly bog-standard white bean soup, except with chopped bell pepper, chopped carrot, some chopped garlicy sausage (think like andouille or kielbasa) and a FUCKTON of garlic. You could probably hack it by making a plain white bean soup and doubling the garlic, and then throwing in the bell peppers and carrots and sausage to your taste.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: Marcella Hazan's cannellini bean soup recipe is a go-to for me - simple, hearty, and I've always found it to be a winter crowd-pleaser. I usually cook it with at least twice as much garlic as the recipe calls for (which, as much respect as I have for her, is usually the case when I'm cooking Hazan). The recipe calls for beef stock but you could always substitute vegetable.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:27 AM on December 8, 2014

I was thrown by the "bean soups are boring" intro ... but semi-vegetarian soups can be challenging. They really can be hit or miss; one pot will be great, the next bland, even though I was sure I did the same thing.

I also like to make a big pot on Sunday and eat it for lunch during the week. I don't have set recipes, but there are a few tricks I use to make a (usually) good soup:

- Potatoes and garbanzos are a good, hefty combination. I add cubed potatoes during the last thirty or forty minutes of cooking.

- A rich, gelatinous stock can work wonders. I use an electric pressure cooker to make meat stocks out of vegetable scraps and bones plus, sometimes, an ear or tail. Something that will totally melt into the stock.

- Do you have an electric pressure cooker? It's my favorite kitchen toy for making beans.

- Fresh epazote is used a lot with black beans in southern Mexico and throughout Central America. It also adds a richer back-flavor to the pot. I don't think dried works very well. It's hard to find, but easy to grow in temperate climates.

- Starting the base with a good sofrito will make a soup richer. There are a lot of variations on this. A French-style mirepoix works well with white beans.

- Look into Turkish cuisine. They are masters of beans; there are even restaurants devoted solely to bean dishes. Almost Turkish has a good collection. If you're not familiar with Turkish food, it's closely related to other Mediterranean cuisines like Greek.
posted by kanewai at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: +1 to buying Rancho Gordo beans if you can swing it. They are unbelievably good and so so so different than any canned bean option, and most other dried options. I didn't think dried beans would qualify as a 'treat' but my god, they make bean soups SING. We make a pot a week, and put some in a soup, and keep others in a container in the fridge for quick tacos, snacks and additions to salads.

This Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta, and Scallions sounds kind of weird but it's bursting with flavor. We use arugula instead of spinach, and often add Rancho Gordo white beans to the broth.

This Love Soup cookbook has earned a permanent place on our small cookbook shelf in our kitchen. It's entirely vegetarian, and the lack of photos is a shame because every soup we've made has been a winner. She has a whole section on bean soups, many of which are very bright with flavor by the addition of lemon and vinegars, and her other 'green soups' (with herbs, argula, kale, spinach etc.) are even better with the addition of some nicely cooked dried beans. We've basically decided to work our way through the cookbook but keep getting hung up on favorites along the way.
posted by barnone at 10:39 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: What I am eating this week (with at least 3 x more garlic and red pepper flakes, plus some sriracha, than this recipe calls for):

Quick and Easy Stew with Kale and White Beans
2 bunches kale, tough stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dr. Fuhrman's MatoZest or other no salt seasoning blend, adjusted to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste
3 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans or 2 (15 ounce) cans low sodium or no-salt-added, drained
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium or no salt added, or more if needed to achieve desired consistency
Add kale and water to a soup pot, cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until kale is tender, stirring occasionally.
Add onion, garlic, MatoZest, black pepper and red pepper. Continue to cook, uncovered, for 5-7 more minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes and vegetable broth and bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you want to spend some time cooking, this is worth the effort:

Tortilla Soup with Beans, Greens, and Poblano Pepper

2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into 2in,X1/2in strips (prepared ahead of time and set aside)
2 onions, chopped
1 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup white wine or water
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups no-salt-added vegetable stock
3 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped and roasted at 500 degrees for 30 minutes
1/2 cup tomato paste (see note)
6 corn tortillas, plus extra to serve on the side if desired
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon Bragg's liquid aminos
1 1/2 pounds fresh chopped spinach or other greens
3 cups cooked pinto beans or 2 (15 ounce) cans no-salt-added or low sodium pinto beans, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice or to taste
Tabasco or cayenne pepper to taste
In a soup pot, sauté the onions and garlic in the white wine or water until lightly browned over medium-high heat, about 8-10 minutes. Add the jalapeno, cumin, oregano and black pepper and sauté for another minute. Add the stock, tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the tortillas, nutritional yeast and Bragg’s and simmer another 10 minutes or until the tortillas are falling apart.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup right in the pot until smooth. Alternatively, use a high-speed blender, blend in batches and return to the pot.

Stir in the spinach, cilantro, beans and poblano peppers and continue heating until the spinach is wilted and the soup is hot throughout. Stir in the lime juice and cayenne to taste.
posted by bearwife at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: One other thing: you are right that many bean soups are kind of muddy and earthy, which is good, but they often need a hit of acidity to brighten up.

A few tricks we use:
- Lemon olive oil. It's kind of expensive but you only need a bit, and it's so good. Don't buy it on Amazon, just get a bottle at Whole Foods or whatever gourmet grocer is near you.
- champagne vinegar - I don't really know what it is, but it's really bright and tangy without being sharp
- really good sherry vinegar - especially good with mediterranean-type flavors (rosemary, oregano etc.)
- lemon zest and half a lemon (or more, to taste)
- sprinkle of finishing salt at the table
- a handful of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley added to the bowls - the flavor is diluted when cooked down a ton
- fresh chives - during the summer, I grow boatloads of chives and chop them into tiny baggies to store in the freezer. It makes it much more affordable than buying those puny packages at the store all winter! Add a bunch as soon as the soup is finished cooking and before serving.
posted by barnone at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Arvinda's Spices are delicious. You could try throwing their Curry Masala into your soups.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2014

Dramatically improved by adding a Parmesan rind to the cooking process.

Yes! This really takes vegetable soups to another level. You can often buy packages of these from places like Whole Foods, at much less than parmesan by the pound.
posted by BibiRose at 11:01 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bittman's Chipotle Black Bean Soup is my go-to 20 minute meal in the winter. Sour cream or greek yogurt on top really makes it awesome.

And, though the title is pretty similar, this Sweet potato, black bean chili (also with chipotle) is another frequent flyer in my kitchen. Totally different texture. But obviously chipotle + black beans = awesome.

Feel free to quadruple the garlic in this Kale and chickpea stew. Nice chewy kale, creamy beans, spicy broth. Also good with some veggie sausage crumbles.

I've really been on a gumbo kick lately. There is nothing timid about gumbo. It might not exactly be as healthy as a clear broth, but assertive is a pretty good adjective. Vegetarian gumbo might not be the norm, but if you've got the patience to make your roux brick dark, and some good veggie broth, you can really go to town on the ingredients. Mushrooms, pinto beans, okra in addition to bell peppers, celery, carrots would work well.
  • 3 qts stock
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1.75 cups oil (canola, peanut, etc)
  • 3 onions, diced
  • 3 green bell peppers, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • ~3 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
  • Veggies of choice, especially okra
  • andouille style or smoked veggie sausage.
Begin by making the roux. Wear comfy shoes and open a beer (for you, not the stew). Mix the oil and flour in a large pot and stir over medium high heat. Stir and stir, being sure to get every corner of the pot. Eventually it'll go from white, to ivory, to golden and the key point is "peanut butter" color. When you've achieved peanut butter, you're about half way there. It darkens quickly from this point, so switch the heat to low and keep stirring. You want the roux to be the color of a bar of Hershey's chocolate. Not black/burned, but really really dark brown. Also called "brick". Takes about 10 minutes.

The hard part is over. Now mix your, green pepper, celery and onion, into the roux and cook until the veggies are soft. Add your stock and veggies. Season to taste, feel free to use a disturbing amount of Cajun seasoning. Let this all simmer for an hour or longer. Serve with rice.

And, now that you know how to make roux, you can add it to any boring broth soup! Do note, that pouring boiling oil into water is... exciting. But you can also make this in advance and freeze it in ziplock bags, breaking off a chunk anytime you want to thicken something quickly.
posted by fontophilic at 11:15 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite trick for boosting the flavor of soup is to use miso paste. The darker the better, like the Country Barley Miso from Miso Master. I keep several tubs of miso at all times, ranging in strength and color. Lighter is good for more tawny colored broths, while darker is better for things like chili.

Another thing about soups is you can always adjust it when finishing. Vinegar, sugar and salt are what I usually use to adjust the seasoning. Especially vinegar. I almost always have on hand cider vinegar, white wine or champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar and malt vinegar. The real trick is knowing when enough is enough and not to tinker too much with the seasoning.
posted by slogger at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2014

My sister makes a white chili with chicken, white beans, jack cheese and a jar of banana peppers, including the juice. You could add tofu instead of chicken, and I've made it without the cheese because I avoid dairy.
posted by theora55 at 1:21 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hot and sour soup is worth trying.
posted by BinaryApe at 1:24 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: White Bean and Roasted Mushroom Soup is flavorful & lovely...pureed white bean and broth base includes roasted onions, garlic and herbs.

White bean, kale, and pesto soup
aldi pesto is good w/this!
posted by JBD at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Really banking on your enjoyment of curry-flavor with my answer.

Certain Indian dishes can pass as bean soups. Rajma and Daal. I don't know if they taste anything like curry, but they're flavored really assertively and so amazingly tasty and warmth giving.
posted by Rams at 2:12 PM on December 8, 2014

I recently made Meera Sodha's daily dal (from the BBC's "Cook the Perfect" podcast) and was blown away by how good it is after it's rested in the fridge for a few hours and been reheated. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra zing. (It's an Indian recipe but doesn't include cumin, hing, or kari patta/curry leaves, so it may not ping the "curry" flavor note for you.)
posted by Lexica at 7:04 PM on December 8, 2014

Add coconut milk and/or coconut flakes to your lentil soup. It makes it so much richer. And if you don't mind a wee bit of Thai flavor, add some Thai green curry paste as well (with no other spices). This recipe puts in a lot of paste, which you'd probably want to cut back, but I think it's really the coconut that does wonders.
posted by redlines at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2014

The moroccan place near my work makes this soup, bissara, which is super delicious. It's kind of a play on lentil soup, but using split peas, a lot of garlic and a few spices; not too out-of-the-ordinary in terms of ingredients, either, so although it is "non-western", it's not exceedingly so. Here's another recipe for it that uses fava beans.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:10 AM on December 9, 2014

I would recommend trying a vegetarian version of the traditional Brazilian soup called feijoada. We usually make it with ham bone, but I've had vegetarian versions with mangoes or sweet potatoes that were delicious. A couple of veggie versions that look good:

Veggie Belly
Sal et Sucre
posted by mmagnu at 3:57 PM on December 9, 2014

I made this Moroccan lentil and vegetable stew a few days ago and it was flavorful and great!
posted by Corinth at 3:28 PM on December 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone; I'm interested in all of these --- just marked as Best the ones I'm most likely to try in the next few weeks. I think I'm going to take the advice to, generally speaking, be more aggressive about doubling up on garlic and black pepper and/or adding acids as a standard practice.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:58 AM on December 12, 2014

Response by poster: Update: I made white bean and rosemary soup yesterday and doubled the amount of onion, maybe quadrupled the amount of garlic, added a ton of black pepper, just a ton, and a teaspoon of sherry vinegar (to about a quart of soup) at the end. It was awesome: I actually ate some yesterday rather than waiting to take it to work to bore me at lunch and make me feel sorry for myself.

Another thing I did was add way more fat than usual. I sautéed the onions and garlic in an absolutely shameless amount of butter and olive oil, realizing that I had been subconsciously erring on the side of thinking there had to be some sort of general austerity surrounding bean soup. That really helped the overall texture and richness of the experience, and softened the rough edges of all that black pepper.

And then I put a pat of butter and more black pepper on it when I served it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:14 AM on January 5, 2015

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