Conservation Cooking: 13 Bean Soup


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Conservation Cooking: Where to Start?

In all the debates over what constitutes sustainable agriculture and what we should be doing, two practices enjoy broad support across the political spectrum: diverse crop rotations and fixing more nitrogen in the soil with legumes in order to use less synthetic fertilizer.

One of the major things holding back wider adoption of those practices is your fault, my dear fellow cooks and diners: You guys don’t eat enough beans and lentils.

If you want farmers to grow a more diverse range of crops and use less fertilizer here’s a recipe to help you do your part, what I call: Conservation Cooking.

If you want to get into conservation cooking, there is no better place to start than 13 Bean Soup. This is a stepped, modern version of a classic – I’ve tried to depth of flavor on the bass lines, while punching up the mids and freshening the melody and treble notes. It also has more vegetables and fresh green herbs, so the nutrition of this soup a step up from the days of yore.

This recipe takes no small amount of work. It’s really a restaurant kitchen recipe in the way that it requires multiple separate steps and is best done over two days. So, if you really want to make a contribution to conservation agriculture, pass this on to a chef. If you are a chef, make it a regular feature in the fall and winter and let’s bring back a classic to a new generation.

13 Bean Soup
Perfect for a cold winter day, or breaking up monotonous corn and soy rotations.

The idea here is to start with some deep slow and low flavors, and then finish fresh with barely steamed sweet mini peppers, carrots that still crunch and we just bloom the herbs rather than stewing them into oblivion.


• 13 Bean Soup – 1 pound plus (depending on the portion of beans you bought, but the 20oz bag is pretty standard, but sometimes they are bigger and you might use half instead)
• Smoked Ham Hock – 3 hocks
• Bacon – 2 pounds
• Onions – 2-4 medium or large onions
• Garlic – 1 head
• Celery – 4-5 ribs (save those leaves, chop’em up and toss them in with the thyme)
• Sweet Potato – 1 big one
• Sweet Mini Peppers – two handfuls
• Carrots – 5-6
• Fresh Bay Leaves – 10-12 leaves
• Fresh Thyme – two tablespoons, chopped
• Fresh Rosemary – two tablespoons, chopped
• Fresh Italian Parsley – one bunch
• Fresh Chives for garnish
• Salt and Pepper
• Good quality Sherry Vinegar
• Olive Oil

I do this soup in a large crock pot, but you can do it on the stove or in a big dutch oven.

This is what diverse rotations that fix their own nitrogen look like in your kitchen. Beautiful!

Rinse your beans and soak them overnight or while you are braising and stewing your pork.

Braise 1¼ lb of bacon. I put a little water in the pan and let it go at 300 about an 90 minutes. In a pot on the stove, stew the ham hocks in water with bay leaves – also around 90 minutes (don’t forget to save energy by using a lid). In the crock pot: Chop 3/4 lb of bacon and render to crackling stage, then and chopped onion and cooking until you have caramelized the onions. Add garlic either a few minutes before adding beans and cooking liquid or when you are done for the day and let them cook with the heat of the bacon and onions.

Pull apart ham hock as pictured. Deglaze the bacon pan into the ham hock liquid, that’s going to be the cooking liquid for the beans. Set aside the braised bacon for service.

Chop celery. Add celery, beans, a teaspoon of salt, and cooking liquid to the bacon and onions with some bay leaves. Prepare mis en place for the next stage:
Peel and chop sweet potato and carrots. I would chop for restaurant service or impressing a dinner party, but I used the big fat gauge shredder for the sweet potato, it doesn’t look as nice, but it’s a lot quicker. I shred carrots for soup a lot as well, but you want to chop them for this recipe to maximize the crunch. Chop herbs, chop mini-peppers. Let the beans cook for about three hours until just past al dente.

Add the sweet potato, generous amounts of cracked black pepper, and the rosemary. After 20-30 minutes, add the carrots and mini-peppers stirring them in. After 5 minutes turn off the heat and stir in the chopped ham hock. After another 5 minutes stir in the chopped thyme, celery leaves, and the Italian parsley.

Adjust salt to taste.

Heat an cast iron skillet to medium high. Rough chop braised bacon. Brown bacon on two sides. Top soup with bacon, fresh chives, cracked pepper, a drizzle of sherry vinegar and olive oil.

Render bacon, caramelize onions, bloom garlic.

Peel and shred the sweet potato.
Add the rosemary with the sweet potatoes. After the sweet potatoes are cooked, add the carrots and sweet peppers.
Chopped ham hock. It’s already fallen off the bone, so we put it at the end so it doesn’t get mealy and stringy.

By staggering when we add ingredients, the richness of our aromatics – celery, onions, garlic – are fully developed, but the carrots are fresh and crunchy. The herbs still heady and discernible.
Let’s brown some braised bacon for garnish. Don’t be afraid to really put a move on that Maillard reaction.
Chives! Enjoy.

For more Conservation Cooking recipes see:
• Birds and Bees Power Bars Recipe
• Homemade Lentil Burgers – nutritious, sustainable, delicious
• SNAP Challenge Gourmet: Homemade Muesli
• Thanksgiving Soup

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