When I come in from working in the garden on a crisp fall afternoon, nothing is more satisfying than the smell of bread rising and soup simmering on the stove -- particularly if that soup is made from vegetables I've grown and harvested. I like to make a whole meal of soup, salad and bread, but the soup must be hearty and rich in nutrients. I add dried beans for protein, and sometimes include a soup bone as well.
Recently, the vegetables ready to be harvested in my garden were turnips, daikon (an Oriental radish), cabbage and leeks. I combined them with organic black turtle beans (my family's favorite dried bean), but I've also made this soup with pinto beans and a combination of black, pinto and garbanzo beans.
Soaking beans, I've found, makes them more digestible and less likely to cause flatulence. It also reduces cooking time, which helps to keep the other soup vegetables firm. I prefer to begin soaking beans in cold water the night before or, at the very least, early in the morning, for a minimum of six hours but no longer than 24 hours. The water should cover the beans by about 1 1/2 inches. I change the water two or three times during soaking, and strain and rinse the beans before adding more cold water.
The first time I made this soup, I used dill and parsley as flavoring, and while it was good and everyone seemed to like it, I thought the soup lacked something. I then recalled that apples and cranberries were often used by old New Englanders in stews, so I added them instead. Not only did they improve the flavor, but the soup took on a decidedly fall look.
The addition of balsamic vinegar was fortuitous. One of my guests recalled that her grandmother often used vinegar with cabbage, so we added some balsamic vinegar I had on hand.
Daikon is considerably longer and thicker than a common white radish. If you don't grow these, you can sometimes get them at farmstands or in organic food stores, but they can be expensive. I've substituted both white and red radishes for the daikon with good results.
I serve this hearty soup accompanied by a crusty bread such as French bread or sourdough bread with olives, and a mixed green salad, dressed lightly with a Dijon-vinaigrette dressing made of equal parts of vinegar and light olive oil, with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to each four ounces of dressing.
Vegetable and Bean Harvest Soup
Preparation and cooking time (not including soaking beans): 1 1/2 hours
1 cup dried beans, soaked for 6 to 24 hours in cold water, then strained and rinsed
8 cups water
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
2 cups chopped leeks (3 to 4 leeks plus tops; see below)
2 cups diced turnip (2 small or 1 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced daikon
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
In a large soup pot, combine the soaked dried beans, water, vermouth or wine, leeks, turnip, daikon, salt and pepper. (An easy way to clean leeks is to cut the leek down the middle so that it opens out like a fan. Wash well under running cold water and use your fingers to remove all the dirt.) Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 50 minutes.
2 cups finely chopped cabbage (green or Chinese)
1 cup diced apple (a tart apple is best)
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Cook another 10 minutes and adjust seasoning. The soup may be served immediately or held for later use. Makes four quarts, or six very generous servings.