The Soup That Ate Our Weekend

10 Oct

What started off with the very best of intentions turned into a three day epic of foraging, bean soaking, stock making and soup steeping that made Ben-Hur look like a movie about a puppy.

One evening last week, my attention was caught by the weather report for the weekend. It was going to be cooler, autumnal, soup weather. So I said to the boy, “You should make one of your soups this weekend!” The boy, if I have not mentioned it before, is a genius soup maker (soupier?).

A few years ago for Christmas his mother gave him an immersion blender and her master recipe for puréed vegetable soups. Since then, it’s been one soupy masterpiece after another. So you can imagine my surprise when he said, “Yeah, I’d love to make something with greens, and maybe beans.” To which I replied, “Oh, like a spinach purée or something?” “No, more like a chunky soup.”

Now, please join us for a play, a tragi-comedy, if you will, in three acts.

Act 1: The Foraging.

Scene: The living room, Saturday morning. Sun streaming in through two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip tea.

The Boy: So, can you think of any place that might have really good dried beans?

Me: Dried beans? You want to use dried beans?

The Boy: Yeah, we’ve got time to soak them, why not?


I had talked him into making a stock out of, as I put it, “pig parts,” so it seemed only fair that he got his wish of having really high quality dried beans. So after a brunch of excellent Mexican foodwhere we basically sat next to the Hobbit and his girlfriend, we headed up to Kalustyan’s.

Now, it’s a darn good thing this was my first ever trip to this Mecca of all things spices, herbs and condiments, because, well, I have a condiment addiction, and if I had been making regular trips to this head-spinningly amazing store over the 8 years or so that I’ve lived in New York, well, I’d probably have died in some sort of condiment avalanche à la the legendary Collyer brothersby now. If you live in NYC and you read this blog and you haven’t made it to Kalustyan’s yet, please, go this weekend. It’s essential. And it’s not just Indian sub-continental goods, we got some Ajvar and the world’s most sinfully delicious truffle salt (more on that in a day or two).

But I digress. We settled on two kinds of beans; Borlotti and European Solider Beans (and a few other things), paid, and headed for the Greenmarket where I chose a Buffalo knuckle and some ham hocks for the base of our soup and the boy went leafy greens crazy.

Act 2: The Soaking & The Stocking.

Scene: The living room, Saturday afternoon. A rosy light glows at the edges of two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip tea.

The Boy: So, you know, we don’t have to go to Queens tonight.

Me: No? Are you sure?

The Boy: Yeah, we should go eat there when it can be an all day thing.

Me: Okay, then I’ll start the stock!


The plan had been to provision, come home, soak the beans, have a cuppa, and then head back out, to Queens, for dinner at the Kabab Café. Have I even mentioned that the boy has a massive addiction to North African, Arabian, Levantine and Middle Eastern cuisines? Well, he does. It’s beyond an addiction, in fact, I might call it a mania. But it’s a good one. Aside from my unnatural aversion to felafel, it’s one I whole heartedly endorse.

But I digress. The beans were happily soaking on top of the fridge, right next to Sprout, and the newly acquired Mrs. Ticking Hen, as I popped my soup joints into a stock pot and covered them with cold water. I wanted a pure, meaty flavor to my stock, so I used no vegetables. No herbs. No nothing. Just meat. I’m sure some French chef will come and kill me in my sleep for this sin against mirepoix, but I really don’t care, because I was right and they were wrong.

This stock was not just a soup base. It was an elixir. I super chilled it and stashed it in the fridge. The next evening, there it was, under a layer of pure fat, perfectly jellied pure essence of meat. There’s nothing more amazing.

Act 3, Scene 1: The Steeping.

Scene: The living room, Sunday evening. A luminescent full moon can be seen through east-facing windows. Our heroes sip a 2002 Cotes-du-Rhone Villages.

The Boy: I’m worried about the beans. They just don’t seem to want to cook.

Me: Just jack up the heat and clap the lid on.


Yeah, that didn’t work.

The boy started the chopping and browning sometime before 5pm. We estimate the stock and beans hit the pot at just about 5pm. By 8.30pm the beans were still crunchy. Like, bite them and they split into two halves like a peanut crunchy. This was bad.

So, what do two somewhat sane people do when their beans just won’t cook and it’s getting late and tummies are rumbling? Well, they eat turkey sandwiches with their fancy French wine.

It wasn’t so bad. The sandwiches were better than acceptable, and there was Masterpiece Theater‘s deliciously bawdy version of Cassanova (complete with cheeky Ali G reference) to keep me very happy while we allowed the soup to continue bubbling merrily away.

By 10.30pm we’d learned that the love of Cassanova’s life was still alive and that the beans were still crunchy. It was time to give up for the night and go to bed.

Act 3, Scene 2: The Steeping.

Scene: The living room, Monday evening. A pearly, slightly-less-full moon can be seen through the humid haze hovering outside two east-facing windows. Our heroes sip a 2004 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais.

Me (on the phone to my mother):Oh! Mom! I just got the thumbs up! Our persnickity pulses have finally given up the ghost! I’ve got to go!


Yes, I did say that. Persnickity pulses. Sometimes I think my love for alliteration goes just a wee bit too far. But we’re not here to talk about grammar, we’re here to celebrate the fact that the soup was finally done. The borlotti beans were definitely done, in fact, most of them had almost completely disappeared into the stock. The greens were sublime, as were the bits of ham hock, that the boy described as tasting, “kind of like the pork they serve at Momofuku,” (possibly the highest praise possible for a “pig part”).

But, some of those damn European Solider Beans were still a bit mealy, almost like the flesh of an oven-baked potato. We decided that was okay however since many sources described them as having a “potato-like flavor and texture.”

In the end, after much trial and effort, the soup was amazing.

So, what to take away from this epic?

Buffalo knuckles + ham hocks = crazy delicious stock.

Kalustyan’s makes my head hurt, in the good way.

The boy is still the Nobel laureate of soups in my eyes, but solider beans are stupid.

I will never try to cook two types of beans at the same time ever again. No bean integration. Keep the beans segregated! Yes, this experience has turned me into a beanist.

But at least the soup was delicious!


8 Responses to “The Soup That Ate Our Weekend”

  1. lobstersquad October 10, 2006 at 10:16 am #

    admirable. I gave up on dried beans a long time ago. And they´re the real food of spain, not paella . They drive me nuts, though, I just stick to the bottled cooked ones. Well done you.

  2. Tiny Banquet Committee October 10, 2006 at 12:22 pm #

    Sigh. I am sort of glad to know that I’m not the only one who has struggled with dried beans – I really would like to be one of those cooks who breezily cooks a pot of them every week, but I made two attempts (the second time with pretty, pretty flageolets from Rancho Gordo) and in both instances they took FOREVER to cook and still ended up a bit mealy, like your European Solider Beans. I have read that perhaps the way to go is to cook them slowly, in the oven, without soaking them first, and I want to try that soon.

  3. sher October 10, 2006 at 2:18 pm #

    Wow! Those are some tough beans! Maybe some are more difficult than others? But, it was worth it because that soup looks fabulous! And it all made for a great post!

  4. Tim October 11, 2006 at 2:59 am #

    I had to smile quietly to myself reading your post. Yep – I have bean there and done that. There is nothing worse than a crunchy bean when you are have a rumbly tummy. Seriously though. Bean integration is easy if you know your beans – you can get charts telling the soaking and cooking times of the different varieties so you can time it to have them all tender together. Alison Holst’s Meals without Meat has a great bean cooking guide. Also using a preasure cooker (I know, just like granny did) is great for seriously reducing bean cooking time. Lastly, beans should be kept away from salty / tomato stocks until they are tender otherwise they take longer.

    Other than that I have to say you have inspired me to soup tomorrow (yes beans and a hamhock stock). It looked delicious!

  5. jenblossom October 11, 2006 at 9:40 am #

    That soup sounds fantastic. I made a big batch of bean soup a few weeks back using a ham hock I got from the pork guy at the Petrosino Square Real Food market, and it was wonderful.

    I love soup season.

  6. Julie October 12, 2006 at 2:47 pm #

    Funny post and delicious sounding soup — despite the uncooperative soldier beans.

  7. ann October 12, 2006 at 4:12 pm #

    Lobstersquad — I’m going to give them one more try… Maybe…

    TBC — my mom SWEARS by that method. Give it a go and keep us posted!

    Sher — glad you liked it, it was a pretty amusing weekend :-)

    Tim — How did you know I have a serious jonse for a pressure cooker?? Unfortunately there’s no way I could fit it in the cabinet, so I’m just going to have to make peace with the beans somehow…

    jenblossom — I love soup season too, and I’m so happy that you’re little, furry man is alright!!!!

    Julie — thanks, it made me giggle while I was writing it, which always rules :-)

  8. Steve October 28, 2006 at 10:15 pm #

    Hello! I am Mr Rancho Gordo and maybe I can offer some advice. I cook beans 2 to 3 times a week and in general soak 4-6 hours and simmer on low, after a 5 minute boil, for about 2 hours. But then again, I know my source of beans- me! The times I’ve had trouble with customers complaining about the beans never cooking is when they’ve sokaed them too long. I don’t know if it’s science but I’ve had it happen twice. Another thought is old beans plus salty meat might equal a long cooking time. Salt doesn’t seem to affect fresh dried beans (under 2 years old) but the old beans and salt seem to be a bad combination.
    Don’t tell but I think Soldier beans are kind of boring and we’ve stopped growing them.
    Hope I don’t sound like a know it all because I don’t but I don’t want people to get discouraged with dry beans. They are great and easy and worth the bother. And they shouldn’t take too long to make it you have fresh ones.

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