Magic Bean Soup

Last spring a friend gave me heirloom beans from Monticello to plant in my garden. While I love fresh green beans, I’d never grown beans for drying before, so I threw a few into the ground against a 10-foot trellis in the backyard. By August, the vines had burst to the very top of the trellis, reaching to the sky like they were in a fairy tale and had a giant to beguile.

In September the pods started turning a brownish yellow and they were ready to harvest. They came out of their shells like little jewels, purple and black and shiny. As I picked and shelled them, I put them in a big, flat wooden bowl to dry. When they were dried I put them in a glass jar and set them on my kitchen shelf to admire their simple beauty.

Then came the winter and all I wanted to make was soup. Of course I had to try my pretty little magic beans. For color and variety, I mixed them with navy beans, cannellini and black-eyed peas. (Related: In the South there’s a tradition that if you eat black-eyed peas on New Years Day, your year will be filled with prosperity. This soup is my get-rich-quick scheme.)

Bean soup has always been a go-to in my family. I make it more like a stew with lots of beans, veggies and sometimes even sausage. It’s so easy to make a big batch and have it in the freezer for a quick, satisfying meal after an afternoon of skiing, sledding, snowshoeing or shoveling, all those winter “S” words.

I like to top my bean soup—and lots of other dishes—with a classic Italian gremolata. Nothing could be simpler than parsley, garlic and lemon zest mixed together, but it really adds flavor and depth to many recipes.

Now get ready to make your next favorite soup. And be careful, there might be giants!


Photo by Candace Karu

1 pound of your favorite dried bean, or a mixture
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped (or 2 shallots)
6 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (homemade if you have it), plus 1 quart of water (for richer broth, use 4 more cups of broth instead of water)
2 teaspoons salt (keep tasting, you may need more, beans like salt)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or red pepper flakes for more heat
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 pound sausage, browned (I like kielbasa, but any kind of sausage will do. A few strips of crisp bacon, crumbled in at the end, is also tasty.)
8 ounces baby kale or spinach


Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches and soak overnight.

Drain beans, then add to stockpot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about an hour or until beans are still firm. Drain.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add beans, broth, water, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about an hour (heirloom beans like mine might take a little longer to become tender).

While soup is cooking, brown sausage in a skillet then drain on paper towel.

Stir in kale and sausage and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve in deep bowls and top with gremolata, if using. A hunk of crusty baguette, pita or naan is a great way to get every drop of this delicious soup.


  • I save the rinds from my good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in my freezer and add one to the soup as it simmers. It gives it a lovely nutty flavor. Be sure to fish the rind out of the soup before serving.
  • Don’t hesitate to add more veggies—carrots, celery, squash, you name it—to this soup.
  • If possible, make this soup 24–48 hours ahead of time. Its flavors get more robust and mellow with time.


Photo by Candace Karu

Medium lemon
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine
1–2 cloves fresh garlic


Zest the rind of one lemon with a microplane or fine grater. Finely chop cleaned fresh parsley (be sure to dry with paper towels before chopping). Microplane or mince garlic. Mix together and refrigerate.

Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. She lives near the ocean in an old farmhouse with two ill-behaved dogs and two hard-working barn cats. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at

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