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Winter Bean SoupsMeals in a Bowl
by Joyce Goldstein

Many of us are really too busy to cook every day. We tend to play kitchen catch-up on the weekend, after going to the market to lay in a supply of food to get us through the days ahead. Spring or summer meal planning seems easier and marketing appears more inviting because there are so many vegetables and fruits to choose from. Bright colors, strong aromas inspire our creativity.

However in the winter, we don't have a huge assortment of glorious produce to lead us on. Humble root vegetables and greens are in abundance. They are nourishing and reliable, but maybe seem a little tame after the voluptuous summer harvest. We seek ways to make them more satisfying without having to create complicated "gourmet" meals. A solution to the meal time dilemma lies in the pantry. Now's the time to take advantage of the larder and get into those jars of dried beans. Throw in a little rice or dried pasta while you're at it. Beans, root vegetables, greens, pasta or rice are the makings of something good. Something wonderful, in fact. Soup.

Lay The Groundwork For a Week Of Meals

Soup is easy to prepare and doesn't require much maintenance or fancy equipment, or expert cooking techniques. Just start with good basic ingredients and a good stock and you're there. The first night you serve the soup it might be a hearty first course before a simple dinner of fish or poultry and vegetables. However with careful additions during the week, these basic bean soups can become fabulous full meals-in-a-bowl. Do you have a little left over roast chicken or turkey? Some baked ham? You didn't finish that whole poached fish? Are there a few spoonfuls of pesto left in that jar? A wedge of parmesan or gruyere cheese to grate? Why not add them to the soup?

Make It Ahead

I find that bean soups can be made well ahead of time, days ahead in fact. All they need is just a careful, gradual reheat, stirring from time to time as the beans have a tendency to sink to the bottom of the pot and need to be moved around, so they don't scorch or stick. Bean soups are quite filling and substantial in themselves. Even if you don't have any interesting leftovers, you can pick up a few clams or shrimp on the way home and add them to the pot. Or add some croutons and grated cheese, and you have a really satisfying supper. Just heat and eat. All you need is some good bread to complete the meal, maybe a small green salad and perhaps some fruit.

Soaking Tips

A note about soaking beans. Most recipes tell you to soak dried beans overnight. But what if you forgot? No problem. Put the beans in a pot with lots of water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for 1 hour. Then drain, cover with fresh cold water and bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pan, and simmer until beans are tender, adding salt during the last 15 minutes or so. Beans will take anywhere from 35 to 60 minutes to soften, depending upon the age of the beans. Lentils do not require advance soaking.

Try Joyce Goldstein's Recipes:

Chickpea and Spinach Soup with Shrimp, Almonds and Garlic
Curried Chicken and Lentil Soup
White Bean Soup With Shellfish and Pesto
Persian Lentil, Garbanzo and Yogurt Soup with Little Meatballs

About Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a consultant to the restaurant and food industries. For 12 years she was chef/owner of the ground- breaking, award-winning Mediterranean restaurant SQUARE ONE in San Francisco. In addition, she taught cooking for 18 years. Joyce is the author of many cookbooks, including Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean, Cucina Ebraica, Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen, and The Mediterranean Kitchen.

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