Canned beans are convenient, but for soup I prefer dried ones.  Not because the dried beans taste better — canned varieties, especially organic ones, are just as good — but because of the rich, earthy liquid left behind after they cook.  Flavorful and full-bodied, this cooking liquid makes an outstanding soup base — all you need add are some vegetables, maybe some grains, and a little stock or water.

Chickpea and swiss chard soup

Makes about 4 quarts

1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

1/2 c. wheat berries

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 Spanish onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

15 oz. can diced tomatoes

1 bunch swiss chard, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Measure wheat berries into a small saucepan and cover with cold water by about three inches.  Season lightly with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until wheat berries are chewy but no longer tough, about 1 hour.  Drain and set aside.  (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

In a large saucepan, cover drained chickpeas with three inches of cold water.  Bring to a hard boil and skim the froth off the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer until nearly tender, at least one hour.  Season generously with salt and cook until done.  Drain, reserving cooking liquid. (Can be done a day or so in advance.)

Warm a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onion, celery, and carrot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Add can of tomatoes and cook, stirring, until juices are thickened, about 4 minutes.

Add swiss chard to pot and cook, stirring, until wilted.  Stir in chickpeas, wheat berries, stock, and about 4 cups of reserved bean cooking liquid.  Bring to a simmer and cook briefly to meld flavors.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Don’t have wheat berries? Cooked barley, kasha (buckwheat groats), farro, rice, and short pasta shapes are all good in soup.

Or chickpeas? I like white beans — from tiny navy beans to fat cannellinis — in brothy vegetable soups.

Or chard? Greens are good in bean soups because their natural bitterness complements the beans’ starchy creaminess.  Tougher greens, like kale, need to simmer for at least 15 minutes to soften.  Tender spinach is done when it wilts — you can stir it into the finished soup.

Or tomatoes? Bean and vegetable soups need acid for balance — if you don’t have tomatoes, try adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar at the end of cooking.

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