Cranberry Bean, Barley and Fennel Soup

cranberry bean barley soup

I happened across something the other day at my local grocery store that I'd never seen before … fresh beans in their pods! It's really rather odd that I've only ever cooked with dried beans, since beans form such an important part of my diet, but I'd never been able to find them before at any grocer or market despite the fact that Ontario grows plenty of beans … although apparently mostly white pea beans.

fresh cranberry beans

In any case, I was very excited to buy these fresh colorful beans even though there was no sign identifying what kind of bean they were (and the cashier didn't know either). I looked them up at home and found that they were cranberry beans, also known as borlotti beans. Both the pods and the beans inside are an attractive mottled white and pink, although they lose the pink color when cooked. They have a mild and pleasant nutty flavor similar to pinto beans, which makes them a great addition to soups … which is just what I did now that the cool fall soup season is coming upon us.

I've written up this simple, hearty and nourishing fall vegetable soup with barley and the wonderful anise flavor of fresh fennel as though you were using dried beans (which is what most of us will most often have at hand). But if you do happen to find fresh beans, you will certainly enjoy their firmer and fuller texture. Simply snap them out of their pods and boil them in a pan of water for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender — they don't need to be soaked but they do need to be cooked, so don't be tempted to eat them raw. To get 2 cups of fresh beans, consider buying about 1 3/4 pounds (800 grams).

Cranberry Bean, Barley and Fennel SoupCranberry Bean, Barley and Fennel Soup
Recipe by
Published on September 15, 2014

Simple, hearty and nourishing fall vegetable soup with cranberry beans, barley and fresh fennel

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  • 2/3 cup dried cranberry (borlotti) or other white beans (2 cups cooked), or 2 cups fresh beans
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1 jalapeño, seed and finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • Rinse the beans and soak for 8 hours or overnight in several inches of water. Drain and rinse, then transfer to a medium saucepan and cover with several inches of fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Drain and set aside.

  • (If using fresh beans, there's no need to soak beforehand. Simply bring the beans to a boil in a saucepan of water, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender before draining.)

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks and stir until softened — about 5 minutes. Toss in the garlic, ginger and jalapeño if using, stir for 1 minute, then add the fennel, potato, carrot and celery and stir for another 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Toss in the fennel seeds and thyme, stir for another minute, and then add the cooked beans, tomato and barley and pour in the vegetable stock or water. Stir in the turmeric if using and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender (add more stock or water if desired).

  • Season the soup with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

cranberry bean soup with barley and fennel

Other nourishing fall bean and vegetable soups you will enjoy:
Romano Bean and Vegetable Soup
Beet, Barley and Black Bean Soup
Indian Chickpea and Pumpkin Soup
Indian-Spiced Squash, Pear and Adzuki Bean Soup with Lightly Braised Mixed Mushrooms

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