To make our food budget work, we eat soup a lot. In fact, soup is so often on our menu, it was really easy to blog about for a year in the soup project. But I have secret. I'm a long time soup lover and it's one of my favorite breakfasts. So I'd been dreaming about a white bean soup for awhile, but I was against adding any canned tomatoes. It's a sign I'm tired of winter-early spring fare in the Northwest. My other option for "something sour" is lemon. Basil is a perfect pairing for a spring white bean soup.
You can use small white, navy, or cannellini beans. I love beans from Willie Green's Organic Farm. And I've gotten them many times, but if you're looking for budget items these days, you can also use white beans from the Grocery Outlet if you want because this soup is about a symphony, not a solo performer.
I don't use prepared vegetable broth or stock--it's just a pricey way to sell water. You can make decent soup without any stock at all if you include, carrots, celery and onion and make sure to balance 5 flavors--salty, sweet, spicy (hot), bitter, and sour. For sweetness I like to add sweet potato and cook it just enough so it begins to fall apart in the soup.
You can still find sweet potatoes at the market or you can check for the best price in grocery stores. I love the local variety, but sweet potatoes are one of the "clean 15," along with asparagus, eggplant and kiwi.
The "clean 15" means they are okay to purchase as non organic, according to the Enviromental Working Group. So if you see a non organic sweet potato price bargain and you're on a food budget, go for the deal.
Another farm vendor I love at the market is Olsen Potato Farm. Their well-tended varieties make eating potatoes fun. My favorite is the Purple Majesty with purple flesh inside purple skins. Any red potatoes will do in this soup, but you might want to consider organic since potatoes are always on the "dirty dozen," list and no one needs extra pesticides with their soup.
I get my shiitaki mushrooms at Sno-Valley Mushrooms. But if you can't get Sno-Valley mushrooms, you can often find decent quality at natural food stores. You can also use regular button mushrooms if you have a tighter budget than mine. This soup is just as delicious with less expensive mushrooms.
Here's this week's recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do. My Cooking Assistant of course gave his lick of approval.
Lemon-Basil White Bean Soup
When you sautee the onions, don't let them brown much. A brown color will transfer to your soup and this soup looks best with the orange glow of sweet potatoes.
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, red or yellow, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chopped red or green pepper
4 or 5 shiitaki mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 potato diced
1/2 sweet potato, diced
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 to 5 cups water
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup dry white or navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 bunch spinach, tough stems removed and chopped
Sea salt to taste
Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add oil, onion and peppers. Stir and cook until onions soften. Add mushrooms and garlic and continue to stir and cook until garlic begins to brown.
Add carrot, potato, sweet potato and Mama Lil's peppers. Stir to coat vegetables, then add thyme, water, white beans, and thyme. Cover and simmer on low for one hour or until beans are soft.
Add olives and basil. Cook for 10 minutes. Then add lemon juice. Place the spinach in the bottom of the soup bowl. Ladle soup over the leaves and stir to wilt the spinach. Add sea salt to taste.