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How-To

A Lighter Touch with Bean Soups

These soups deliver fresh flavors and a balance of textures, without sacrificing richness

Fine Cooking Issue 62
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Many bean soups have all the subtlety of a bowl of oatmeal: satisfying, certainly, but working your way through a whole bowl can prove a heavy task. The bean soups I like best are lighter. Layers of flavors and textures take the place of a dense, porridgy broth. They’re not fussy, either. I don’t empty the kitchen cupboard into these soups; rather, I allow a few strong flavors to lead the way. And while these soups are quick to put together, they’re somewhat slow to cook. But if you’re like me, you won’t mind a pot of gently simmering soup filling the kitchen with warmth on a cold winter day.

Four tricks for deeper flavor, better texture

I use at least one substantial flavor to perk up the beans in each of these soups. Cured pork, like bacon in the lentil soup or chorizo in the chickpea soup, not only adds salty richness but also cuts through the starchiness of the beans. Roasting vegetables before stirring them into a minestrone adds an extra layer of flavor. And a little bit of an earthy herb like rosemary makes a white bean soup more interesting.

To add texture and crunch to these soups, I stir in or sprinkle on garnishes like croutons, crisped bacon, or fresh herbs toward the end of cooking. It’s a trick that gives a soup some complexity. You can also control the texture of the soup by pureeing some or all of the beans. Pureeing a portion of a soup gives it some substance, while pureeing it completely gives it a smooth, elegant edge.

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