The New Year is an expected time to cull our kitchen stock of items that have fallen out of rotation or rarely see any play. But a kitchen clearance doesn’t just target dusty spice jars and condiments sporting sticky drips. It includes neglected, partially-used bags of common pantry goods, too. In Purple Kale Workshops, I call these things “strays,” items leftover from preparing one meal, then overlooked as players in the next. Beans, especially, seem to end up in odd jars around my kitchen; the following soup is a favorite destination for assorted quantities of beans, of different ages and temperaments. Enjoy.

Stray Bean Soup

    Gather together stray bags of beans–turtle, pinto, navy, Great Northern, cranberry, or black eyed peas. I usually leave out chickpeas or soy beans, thinking their distinctive flavors detract from the soup. Combine them in a pot filled with a generous amount of water (about five times the volume of beans), loads of sliced garlic cloves (about 4 cloves per dried cup), thinly sliced onion (1/2 an onion per cup), and a bundle of any fresh herbs on hand. Cover and bring to a quick boil. Stir and turn heat to low. Cover again and cook until each kind of bean is tender; the time will vary depending on the age and type of bean and some beans will turn to mush before others are nearly done. As the beans cook, leave them mostly undisturbed, checking now and again just to stir the bottom beans up to the top, and to make sure there is still plenty of water in the pot. Remove herbs, salt–modestly, at first–and puree the beans in a blender, in batches, using as much cooking liquid as you need for a fine, smooth soup. Season with additional salt and splashes of red wine vinegar. You may want to re-season the soup as it continues to cool, playing the salt and vinegar off each other. Cool any extra soup to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator or freezing.

    A note about cooking beans: I try to start cooking with more water than I think I need and a generous amount of aromatics. This is especially important if I am cooking a lot of beans at once, and if my cooking pot is wider than it is tall.

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