Legumes and the Cyber-Squire

Filed in The Gentrys Pantry by on October 13, 2015 1 Comment

With the exception of Heinz Beans on toast, legumes don’t seem to have been part of the traditional countryside cuisine.  Even my copy of Irish Countryhouse Cooking, which is chock full of ways to cook the fish and game of the British Isles, has only a couple of recipes and those are for those odd broad beans we rarely see on this side of the pond. This is, to some degree, understandable.

Legumes Through History

Other than the broad bean (Vicia fava) along with chick peas, peas and lentils have a long tradition in Old World cooking.  It dates back to the Neolithic where these legumes were among the first cultivated crops.  Easy to grow, nutritious and relatively good tasting, they were common fare.  And it’s that word ‘common’ which explains why they were seldom found on the tables of the landed.  Anyone rich enough to build and staff a house with a hundred rooms on thousands of acres had no need for the reservoirs of inexpensive protein that legumes could provide.  Why eat lentils when you had venison and pheasant for the shooting?  Rich people called for rich food and so pottage joined rabbit pie as beneath His Lordship’s notice.  Too bad for him.

On the other side of the world, however, the civilizations of the New World were cultivating and breeding their own varieties.  It’s from these New World beans, Phaseolus sp that come most of the varieties we prize today.  This put an additional roadblock in their use on the gentry’s table as English cooking, until the last half century, was the most conservative cuisine in Europe.  It was the way all Northern Europeans ate from the Middle Ages until Catherine d’Medici married Henry II of France and brought Italian cooks to Paris and launched the world famous French cuisine.  The British aristocracy were never ones to jump onto the latest fad so it took a very long time before they were willing to give these new-fangled legumes a chance.

Now before anyone starts on the usual smears about English cooking I’d like to point out that their opinions are hopelessly out of date.  I’ve had some splendid meals in the UK and not just because someone imported a French chef.  If legumes were not a part of the traditional English countryside fare, it would surprise me not one whit to find that in today’s manor kitchen they have place right beside the leeks, carrots and all the other vegetables the English grow so well.

Why Eat Legumes?

Other than because your mother said they are good for you, being full of dietary fiber and protein, legumes will stretch the meat course and in many cases improve it.  They are just plain delicious.  What other reason do you need?  Oh, yes, a diet high in legumes reduces blood cholesterol, reduces your chances of developing diabetes or, if you already have it, help keep your blood sugar within bounds.  But better yet, they taste good and they’re easy to prepare.  So to encourage you to hustle down to the market and buy a bag or two, or to plant a batch in next spring’s garden I present my signature Variable Bean Soup.

Variable Bean Soup

Legume Soup Extraordinare'

Variable Bean Soup

The first thing I want to make clear is that Variable Bean Soup gets its name because everything in it is variable.  In fact, I never make it the same way twice.  I’m not sure I could!  So what this is is less a Rule than a Guideline.  Pick and choose from the various ingredients and you will end up with something delicious, satisfying, nutritious and sure to stick to your ribs through the coming colder months.



  • Stock (Either go to Sprouts and special order Better Than Bouillon Ham base or get an order of baby back ribs without sauce from Lucille’s and simmer them until the bones fall out) Feel free to substitute a cup of red wine for part of the stock.
  • Pre-Soaked Legumes (Pinto, cranberry, Tiger, or whatever your favorite variety is) about 1 cup per serving
  • 2 or so Tbs. oil (olive, bacon fat, lard, canola, etc.) Half olive/half butter is really good, too.
  • Sofrito: This is the Italian base to nearly all soups or stews. It consists of 4 parts onion, 2 parts carrot and 1 part parsley by volume. You mince them all together. However, there’s nothing wrong with substituting bell pepper for the carrot or celery for the parsley. It will all work
  • 2 or more Tbs. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbs. Hungarian paprika (hot or mild to your taste)
  • Meat: This can be the pork from the smoked ribs but should also include smoked sausage like kielbasa about ¼ lb. per serving. Left over ham wouldn’t hurt, either, nor would crisp bacon bits.
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • Sour cream


In a kettle heat the oil and sauté the sofrito until the onions are translucent to golden. Add the garlic and sauté about 15 seconds. Take the pot off the stove and stir in the paprika. Mix in well. Put the kettle back on the stove and stir in the pre-soaked beans and enough stock to cover by about an inch. Bring to a simmer and stir in the tomato paste and add the meat. Simmer 1-3 hours or until the beans are done to your taste. I like them soft and creamy. Make a roux with the butter and flour. (Note: This quantity is if you put in 6 cups of stock. Adjust as needed or however thick you prefer your soup.) Stir the roux into the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, Tabasco Sauce and red wine vinegar as desired. Serve in bowls with generous dollops of sour cream, hot bread and either dark beer or stout red wine. Good for cold nights and it reheats beautifully.









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  1. Lorraine Lawrence says:

    You inspired me to make a bean “chowder” today. All the ham and pork bits I’ve been saving in the freezer and Italian white beans, onions and a few vegetables should do it.

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