French Market Bean Soup

Somewhere among the cuneiform tablets found scattered around Ur there’s bound to be a bean soup recipe, and likely soups using multiple varieties of dried beans have been around almost as long. This particular recipe is comparatively quite recent—it’s only been around about as long as I have, which dates it to around the time Sputnik was launched—and its connection to New Orleans’ French Market is likely speculative at best. But it is a rich, hearty winter soup, and much of its appeal is that it lends itself to gift packaging. You can easily combine these dried beans and parcel them out in jars to give away over the holidays.

A typical recipe calls for one pound each of navy beans, pinto beans, split green and yellow peas, black-eyed peas, lentils, both baby and large limas, black beans, red beans, Great Northerns, soybeans and barley pearls, but you can use whatever combination you like, the more the merrier, and a variety of colors is a plus. Divide your bean mixture into 2 cup (about a pound) gift packages, cloth sacks or jars, whichever you find most attractive. Including a couple of bay leaves in each portion is a nice touch.

You’ll also want to include the recipe: For 2 cups beans (and 2 bay leaves), place in a heavy pot with 2 quarts water, a ham joint or hock–some people use a smoked turkey neck or tail–a large onion chopped, about a cup of chopped celery, and a hot pepper or two. Now, a lot of recipes will tell you to add a can of chopped tomatoes at this point, but don’t; if you do, your beans will take forever to cook. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft, adding water if needed. Remove meat from bone, chop and add back to the pot. Add tomatoes now if you like along with a clove of garlic or two (crushed and minced) little thyme and basil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or French bread.

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