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Dried beans pack power for pennies

What’s delicious, nutritious, hearty and filling, incredibly economical, feeds a crowd and makes awesome leftovers? Those dried beans you bought when you were stocking up for the quarantine! Who knew it’d take a global pandemic for us to rediscover the bountiful beauty of beans?

Beans are the rock stars of the frugal foodie world because of their versatility. You can use them in casseroles, to stretch meat in recipes, as a side dish, in salads, soups and stews or puree them to make dips.

This week I’m sharing my recipe for mixed bean soup. I use ham hocks to impart a rich smoky flavor. You can substitute any smoked sausage, smoked turkey wings or ham bones.

To make this meatless, omit the bacon and ham hocks and use vegetable broth. Add smoky flavor using smoked paprika, chipotle peppers, liquid smoke or chiles in adobo.

What to serve with the soup? Simply cornbread and hot sauce for a satisfying dinner.

MIXED BEAN SOUP

The number of beans in bean soup mixes vary. Any mixed bean soup will work in this recipe. If it comes with a seasoning packet, discard it or save for another purpose.

What you’ll need:

1 pound 15-bean soup mix

4 strips of bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces or 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

3 ribs celery, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 smoked ham hocks (or substitution above)

3 ½ cups (two 14.5-ounce cans) low sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

1 15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes in their juices

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Kosher salt, if needed, to taste

Here’s how:

The night before you plan to make soup, soak your beans. Start by looking them over and removing any debris. Then place the beans in a large bowl or pan and cover with enough cool water to cover by 2 inches. Soak eight hours or overnight at room temperature or in the refrigerator. After soaking, drain the beans into a colander and rinse them well. Set aside.

When you’re ready to make soup, in a Dutch oven or stock pot over low heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp. Stir occasionally; don’t rush this. You don’t want burned bacon; it’s bitter and your soup will be bitter. Leaving the drippings in the pot, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. If you’re using olive oil instead, warm the oil in the pot.

Next, increase heat to medium. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften. Add the carrots and celery and cook until the carrots just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Lastly, add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the beans, ham hocks (or substitute) bay leaf and liquid.

Increase the heat and bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low. Place a lid on the pot, leaving it slightly ajar. Let the soup simmer, stirring it occasionally until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes.

Finally, add the tomatoes, smoked paprika, thyme and black pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 more minutes to let the flavors come together. Remove the bay leaf and ham hocks. When cool enough to touch, remove all the meat from the hock and add back to the soup. Stir in the vinegar and reserved bacon. If your soup is thicker than you wish, add water or broth to reach your desired consistency. Add additional salt as desired.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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