French Market Bean Soup

Somewhere among the cuneiform tablets found scattered around Ur are bound to be recipes for bean soup, likely even soups using many types of dried beans. This particular recipe is far more 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 the French Market in New Orleans is speculative at best. It’s a rich, hearty soup, good hot or cold.

No small degree of this recipe’s appeal is that you can easily make custom combinations of dried beans and parcel them out as gifts. A typical commercial mix contains calls for equal parts 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 in a somewhat similar measure and you call it whatever you like. My buddy Dan Vimes sends me a mix he calls Pelahatchie Peas Pot every year on the anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. Dan puts his bean blend in GI issue canteens. You can put yours in whichever moves your zen, just be sure to throw in a bouquet garni with each package.

You’ll also want to include the recipe: Place in a heavy pot a pound of beans and seasoning, with 2 quarts water, a ham joint/hock or smoked turkey neck/tail–a cup each chopped onion and celery, and a couple of dried cayenne pods. A lot of recipes will tell you to add a can of chopped tomatoes at this point, but don’t; if you do the acid in the tomatoes will take forever to cook. Bring to a boil and simmer until beans are soft, adding water if needed. At this point, you can remove meat from bone, chop and throw it back in the pot back to the pot. Sure, it’s a pain to do, but it’s a nice touch, it really is. Now is when you add canned tomatoes, either small dice or crushed, with a judicious amount of juice. Throw in two very finely minced toes of garlic, and stew for melding, about another half hour. Thicken or thin to your liking, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread or crusty wheat.