Soup Beans

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There is nothing better on a cool Southern night than a bowl of soup beans with plenty of tangy chow-chow and a hunk of cornbread.

Soup Beans
Photo:

Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

Active Time:
3 hrs 20 mins
Total Time:
11 hrs 20 mins
Servings:
8

To explain this Appalachian dish, you'll need to borrow a bit from each word in the title: Soup Beans. The beans, pinto only, are tender, smoky, and creamy. They're resting in a broth that's more concentrated and flavorful than a pot of typical pinto beans, but it's still thin enough to need cornbread to complete the ultimate spoonful.

This dish was likely born of necessity. It fed farmers in the Southern Appalachian mountain range for generations. It was perfected in the long, brutal winters when going to a supermarket for dinner was out of the question. It was shared, family to family, before a recipe was ever committed to paper. But it remains one of the most comforting dishes to anyone who's ever been lucky enough to sop up some.

What Is In Soup Beans?

It starts with pinto beans. You can make this exact recipe with black-eyed peas, pink eyes, or limas too; just adjust your cook time for the size of the bean. However, if it's made with anything other than pinto beans, it's bean soup, not soup beans.

For flavor, we use two kinds of pork—bacon and ham. Both provide subtle hints of smoke and salt, and both leave behind tender morsels of meat to make this dish more robust.

Everything else—spices, aromatics, toppings—are open to interpretation. We like the trinity of celery, onion, and bell pepper; they provide a nice base for building on the meaty flavors of the bacon and ham. Chicken stock is our pick for building out the rich broth, but you can use any broth or stock you have on hand.

What To Serve With Soup Beans

It's not Soup Beans without a wedge of cornbread, some tart chow-chow, and possibly a side of fried potatoes. We finished this recipe with scallions, but in the earliest days of spring, you'll see ramps and green onions fresh from the field used too.

What Do Soup Beans Taste Like?

The beans themselves are cooked until they're tender and creamy, but there's no cream in this recipe. Instead, the beans sit in a broth that's better described as pot likker, the richly flavorful liquid that's left behind after cooking beans or greens. But here, unlike say collard greens or classic chicken noodle soup, the pot likker is thick. It will seem like it could almost coat the back of a spoon. (One might say that's the sign of a good pot of soup beans.)

The ham and bacon provide meaty savoriness to the beans, and while this is ultimately just a ham-and-bean soup, the long, slow cook time pulls out flavors you won't get from the standard stovetop simmer.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. dried pinto beans, rinsed and sorted

  • 6 thick-cut, applewood-smoked bacon slices, chopped

  • 1 medium (9 oz.) yellow onion, chopped (1 3/4 cups)

  • 1 large (10 oz.) red bell pepper, chopped (1 1/4 cups)

  • 2 medium-size celery stalks, chopped (about 2/3 cup)

  • 2 Tbsp. minced garlic (from 3 garlic cloves)

  • 8 cups chicken stock

  • 1 (2-lb.) ham bone

  • 1 dried bay leaf

  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper

  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

  • 1/4 cup chow-chow

  • Thinly sliced scallions

  • Cornbread

Directions

  1. Place beans in a large bowl; add water to cover beans by 2 inches. Soak beans 8 hours or up to 12 hours. Drain beans, and set aside.

    pinto beans soaking in water

    Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

  2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium. Add bacon; cook, stirring occasionally, until rendered and crispy, 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside. Do not wipe Dutch oven clean.

    cooking bacon in Dutch oven

    Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

  3. Add onion, bell pepper, and celery to drippings in Dutch oven. Cook over medium-high, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

    cooking onions, pepper, celery in dutch oven

    Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

    Add soaked pinto beans, stock, ham bone, bay leaf, and crushed red pepper. Bring to boil over medium-high; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender but still retain their shape, about 2 hours. Uncover and cook until liquid thickens slightly, about 30 minutes.

    souop beans in dutch oven

    Greg DuPree; Food Stylist: Ali Ramee; Prop Stylist: Hannah Greenwood

  4. Remove from heat, and stir in thyme. Divide soup evenly among bowls, and top each serving evenly with chow-chow, scallions, and reserved bacon. Serve with cornbread.

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