This Kid-Approved Bean Soup is Also a Pantry-Clearing Staple

published Dec 20, 2021
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Credit: Caroline Wright

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I have found myself in a life that revolves around beans, it seems. When the pandemic struck and all of Seattle rushed out to clear out the grocery store shelves, I became a bean hoarder. I have favorite beans, even, and have come to know many quite well. In fact, my favorite spread in my most recent cookbook, Soup Club, is an illustrated bean glossary: little paintings of beans with descriptors like love notes celebrating each for their character.

I am a little bean-obsessed, yes, because I am more than a little soup-obsessed: I run a vegan soup club through Seattle’s rainy months and am known to many of my friends as “The Soup Lady.” I love beans the way my youngest son loves LEGOs; they spill from cabinets where I squirrel them away for later. This means that around the time that sunshine begins to peek through the clouds and flowers break through the chilled earth, I am tasked with an unusual sort of spring cleaning, inspired by the end of soup season. 

Get the recipe: 15-Bean Soup

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Before I even have to tell them, my kids know it’s coming. I get out the step stool and my enormous, industrial soup containers that can only be described as buckets; then roll up my sleeves. We scour the pantry for places where a rogue bag of beans may have slipped. Then we fill the bucket with our findings. My youngest son’s favorite job is to slash each bag of beans as if it was a purse of precious loot. My older son prefers to call out advice and wager guesses on where the next bean stash might be found. Both boys, however, cannot resist the temptation of plunging their arms into the pebbled pool, mixing the colors and shapes together until it jumbles like confetti. 

As the bucket fills with water, the beans dance in the bubbles to the sound of my sons’ giggles. I triumphantly notice how they are captivated by this kitchen task. Moments later, the spell breaks, and we scatter: I begin to sweep up the beans sprinkled over the counter and floor and my helpers return to their book or most recent LEGO build. 

Morning arrives, and delight explodes from their sleepy, pajama-clad bodies as they catch the sight of their bean bucket. The beans grew! It’s as if they became sentient, then quenched their thirst and doubled in size out of pure gratitude. (I, once again, transform into a smug mom, relishing in one-upping the ultimately disappointing crystal kits from my childhood, or the always ill-fated Chia pet.) 

The exercise showed us all how fun clearing out the pantry could be, with a deeply satisfying result: A clean kitchen and a dinner without complaint! The recipe is endlessly flexible, and easy to scale up or down; the soup it yields never turns out the same twice. It also freezes well. Any mix of beans you find within your cabinets, or are compelled to pick up at the store, will work.

Our annual bean scavenger hunt results in a mixed bean soup that is an exercise in the wonder that comes from the act of gathering. Gathering beans, of course, but also of each other — and the warm, comforting bowl of soup that emerges as the result.

Get the recipe: 15-Bean Soup