This recipe was shared with me many years ago by a friend who had the craziest schedule I’d ever witnessed. When she wasn’t running full speed ahead with her two middle-schoolers—to dance classes, soccer practice, music lessons, birthday parties, etc.—she was leading a high school youth group, teaching aerobics classes, volunteering at church and befriending every newcomer to the neighborhood. Her door was always open to visitors, even during the hectic holidays, and she always seemed to have something tasty to nibble on when someone appeared unexpectedly.
She didn’t have what I would call a passion for cooking, and certainly not much time, but she was incredibly skilled at getting a healthful and satisfying meal on the table in no time flat. This soup is one example, and when I pulled it out of my old recipe box the other day, I thought, “of course.” This is not an all-day-simmer kind of soup; rather, it leverages the already developed flavors of two key ingredients—jarred salsa and canned refried beans. Add some fresh onions and bell pepper, some veggie broth and your choice of chili beans and dinner is served.
The soup is every bit as comforting as any other homemade soup, but only takes 20 minutes, start to finish, which just happens to be the exact amount of time you need to throw a batch of Jiffy corn muffins into the oven (they’re perfect on the side).
What could be easier after a hectic day of shopping and errands during the busy holiday season?
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper (any color), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cumin, salt and pepper
1 cup prepared salsa from a jar* (see notes)
2 cans beans (mix and match; pinto, black, kidney, navy are all good here)
2 cups low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 can refried beans
Corn muffins for serving (optional, but yummy)
Any kind of savory salsa will work here. It can be mild or spicy, green or red, thick or runny. If you have a can of Rotel tomatoes on hand, you could also substitute with that.
Get your corn muffins in the oven, if you’re making them. This soup can be made while they are baking.
Drain and rinse the canned beans.
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Saute onion and pepper until softened. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
Increase heat to medium-high. Add canned beans, salsa and broth, and stir to combine. When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to medium. Stir in the can of refried beans, taking time to swirl and blend it into the broth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer until ready to serve.
There is nothing new under the sun, as they say, and when I start to feel flummoxed over what side dishes to make for summer meals, one of the best things I can do is revisit a classic and modernize it for my grown-up palate.
About the same period of time I became enthralled with the immense variety of baked beans at my great grandmother’s Fourth of July celebrations, there was a popular salad showing up on everyone’s dinner table. It might have been called a three-bean salad, including cut green beans, dark red kidney beans and little round garbanzo beans, which my dad always called “ceci beans.” But once in a while, yellow wax beans would also be in the mix, technically making it a four-bean salad but with generally the same flavors. This salad was often purchased ready-made, and as I recall, it was a popular item in the deli department of the grocery store where I worked as a young adult. The main thing I remember about it, besides its ubiquitous presence, is that it was sweet. Too sweet, in my opinion. I have no problem with a touch of sweetness in a salad dressing, but if it’s too sweet, it counters the benefit of eating vegetables.
So this summer, I have created an updated version of this otherwise good-for-you salad, shifting the flavor profile from sweet to zesty and herbaceous. The sugar in the recipe is nominal, and I’ve amped up the other side of the salad flavors with a hefty addition of minced garlic and a good bit of chopped fresh parsley and basil. The salad is quick and easy to make, as it relies somewhat on canned beans, and I’ve used ready-to-go fresh green beans to save time. If you’re lucky enough to have garden-fresh green beans, well, that would be awesome.
3/4 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz. can garbanzo (ceci) beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sweet onion, finely diced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 handful fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Small handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard* (see notes)
2 tsp. cane sugar
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. garlic pepper seasoning
2 Tbsp. cold water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
In lieu of regular Dijon mustard, I used the recently-discontinued Honey Pale Ale mustard from Trader Joe’s. Does anyone besides me have a gripe about how they pick and choose which products to keep? If you happen to have a jar of it, I think it’s terrific in salad dressings. Otherwise, just use regular Dijon.
Heat a pot of water to a gentle boil. Add a generous pinch of kosher salt to the water, along with a half teaspoon of baking soda, which will help the beans retain their bright color.
Make dressing for the salad; combine all ingredients except the olive oil. Whisk in olive oil gradually to create an emulsion. Salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the trimmed green beans into the simmering water and cook for about 6 minutes, or just until beans are tender enough to bite. Immediately spoon the cooked beans into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain beans to remove excess water.
Combine green beans, canned beans, peppers, onions and garlic in a large mixing bowl.
Pour in dressing and toss gently to combine. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add fresh herbs and toss again. Chill salad several hours and toss lightly to redistribute dressing just before serving. The olive oil in the dressing will solidify in the fridge, so plan to remove the salad at least ten minutes before serving for best presentation.
The Fourth of July conjures very specific childhood memories for me, and baked beans has a major role in that nostalgia. Every year, members of my family on my maternal grandfather’s side gathered at the home of my great grandmother for a reunion-of-sorts picnic and, especially, for fireworks. Grandma Stoney, whose nickname was derived from her married last name, Stonehouse, lived across the street from the community baseball field, and we were lucky to have a front row seat for the excitement of what seemed to me at the time to be an enormous fireworks display. The tiny burg where Grandma Stoney lived put on quite a shindig for Independence Day, including a parade, complete with a marching band and people throwing candy to the kids from firetrucks. Back at Grandma’s house, we amused ourselves by playing croquet in the front yard and taking turns cranking the handle on an old timey ice cream maker. No doubt, my great grandmother felt great joy having everyone there.
What I remember most, besides playing with distant cousins I rarely saw, was the food. Inside the house, every available horizontal surface—and I mean tables, countertops, the stove, card tables and anything else that could be rigged up to hold dishes—was covered with potluck offerings, as everyone in attendance always brought a dish or two to share. It was unbelievable. For me, the best of all was the dining room table, which was always covered from corner to corner with every variety of baked beans you could imagine. Some of the dishes were very saucy, some looked as though they had been dumped directly from a can of Van Camp’s, and others were baked with that delightfully sticky sweet sauce pooled in the corners of the pan. And there were always several dishes of beans topped with slices of bacon. Oh man, how I loved that table!
Bacon is still one of my very favorite ingredients for baked beans, and I’ve paired it here with a favorite flavor of my Upstate New York home—maple. That combination of smoky-salty-sweet cannot be beat, and for me, it’s as much a part of Fourth of July celebration as parades and fireworks.
This time, I made my baked beans from scratch, having soaked the beans overnight and then cooking them until tender before adding the flavorful sauce. But you could absolutely take a time-saving shortcut and use cans of beans. Just be sure you drain and rinse them thoroughly before you begin.
1 lb. dried beans, soaked and prepared for cooking* (see notes)
1 heaping cup thick-cut bacon, cut into cubes
1 sweet onion, sliced or chopped
6 oz. can no-salt tomato paste
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup maple-infused balsamic vinegar*
About 20 grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp. chipotle powder (optional)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard powder
3/4 cup cold water (added after flavor adjustment)
My recipe was made with dried cranberry beans, rinsed and soaked overnight, then drained twice and cooked low and slow until tender. If you prefer, or if you are pressed for time, feel free to use 3 standard cans of cooked beans. Drain the beans and rinse under cold running water, to remove all the “goo” from the cans. Great Northern, navy or white kidney beans (cannellini) would be great.
The maple-infused balsamic is a specialty ingredient, purchased at one of the stores that sells flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I love this product because it enhances the maple flavor without making it more sweet. If you do not find this maple balsamic, substitute an equal amount of regular dark balsamic vinegar or a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
Cook beans as directed or rinse canned beans.
Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon cubes and cook, tossing occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon cubes are just crisp. Transfer cubes to a paper towel-lined plate and drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.
In the same skillet, saute the chopped onion in the bacon fat until onions are tender and slightly golden.
In a large bowl or measuring glass, combine sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste, then add water.
Layer the cooked beans, bacon and onions in a glass 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Pour the sauce into the beans and give the baking dish a few gentle shakes to distribute the sauce throughout. The beans should be swimming in sauce, as much of it will absorb into the beans during baking.
Bake at 350° F for about an hour, until sauce is reduced to a perfectly rich and sticky mess.
Nothing makes me crave soup more than a snow day, or as is usually the case in North Carolina, an “ice day.” Like much of the U.S., we have been under threat of severe winter weather this week, and it finally arrived overnight in the shape of freezing rain. Bleh. Rather than stare out the window at the ice accumulating on the trees behind our home (beautiful, but dangerous), I’ve decided that I will make soup, and I am thankful once again to be cooking with gas. Power outages be damned, we will have a comforting bowl of something to eat. I wish I had a pot large enough to feed all of Texas this week.
Soup is a very forgiving meal, allowing you to use whatever you already have in the fridge and pantry, and this one is very true to that. A few cans of beans, some stock from a carton, basic vegetables and thick-sliced bacon comes together to create hearty, soul-warming goodness.
A few slices of thick-cut bacon, cubed (measuring about 1½ cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
Several carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
Salt and pepper
3 cans (15 oz.) white beans (cannellini, great northern or navy)
1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 or 2 bay leaves
Heat a medium-size soup pot over medium heat. Toss the bacon cubes in the pot until all edges are crispy and fat is mostly rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined bowl and drain off excess grease, keeping about two tablespoons of it in the pot. You’ll return the bacon to the soup after it is simmered and pureed.
Add the mirepoix (onion-celery-carrot) to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are translucent and carrots are just tender.
Drain and rinse the canned beans and add them to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
Add vegetable broth, tomato paste and bay leaves. Stir to combine and bring soup to a low boil, then reduce heat, cover pot and simmer an hour or two.
Remove bay leaves and puree some of the soup, using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. If the power is out and you’re cooking in the dark, use a potato masher. Blend as much or as little as you like; for me, this is usually about 2/3 smooth with chunks of bean and vegetable throughout.
Return crisped bacon to the pot and continue to simmer about an hour, until bacon is softened and its smoky flavor has infused the soup.