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.

Not too sweet and just spicy enough, these quick pickles will keep for weeks in the fridge.  Outstanding with egg salad, cream cheese on toast, or just straight from the jar, in our house they’re gone in a matter of days.  You can use the brine to pickle string beans or green tomatoes, as well.

Sweet and hot refrigerator pickles

Makes about 3 pints

2 lbs. pickling cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 tbsp. kosher salt

3 c. ice cubes

2 c. cider vinegar

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or more, if you like your pickles really hot)

1/2 tsp. coriander seed

1/4 tsp. tumeric

8 whole cloves

In a large mixing bowl, toss together cucumbers, onion, and salt. Cover mixture with a clean, dry dishtowel, then cover surface with ice cubes (keeping the salted cucumbers very cold ensures crunchy pickles). Refrigerate for about 3 hours, until vegetables have released some liquid.  Rinse well under cold running water to remove excess salt.  Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and spices.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add vegetables to pot and bring to just under a boil.  Remove pan from heat.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to jars or other containers with tight-fitting lids.  Cover vegetables with brine, cover containers, and refrigerate.

Pickles keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.

After six weeks of unrelenting heat and scorching sun, the lawn is as good as dead but the garden is vegetable heaven. Pole beans — especially the purple-streaked rattlesnakes — are my favorite crop so far this season. The trellised vines are lush and pretty and produce handfuls of beans every day. We’ve picked half a dozen fat, pickling cucumbers (first two pounds are now hot and sweet refrigerator pickles) and scores of tiny sungold, red plum, and black cherry tomatoes.  The cilantro has gone to seed, which will yield a full jar of coriander once it’s dried and toasted.

Rattlesnake pole beans

Clockwise from top left: Opalka tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, coriander seeds, bell pepper

July sees our perennial flowers at their best, too.

Rudbeckia, coneflower, coreopsis, and lobelia

Hot, sultry, and downright oppressive, July has but one redeeming feature: vegetables.  (No, make that two: vegetables and peaches!)  And that bountiful summer harvest is all the sweeter when it comes from one’ s very own garden.  Yesterday’s haul from my modest vegetable patch was the inspiration for this fresh and colorful three bean salad.  Long, slender French gold beans, plump and juicy rattlesnake beans, a few early tomatoes, a fat red onion, and a handful of herbs made planning dinner easy.  A grilled flank steak and cornbread from the freezer rounded out the meal without heating up the kitchen.

Three bean salad with tomatoes and herbs

Serves 6

1/2 lb. green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 lb. wax beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 lb. tomatoes, chopped (and seeded, if you like)

2 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

10 fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped

10 fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook green and wax beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain again.

Combine beans and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Toss.  Let salad stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes before serving.

Tacos go technicolor with this lively combination of grilled chicken and summer vegetables. If you like yours spicy, add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper to the marinade and a few jalepenos to the salsa. Serve with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and soft corn or flour tortillas.

Tangy grilled chicken thighs

Serves 6

2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)

6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and roughly chopped

1/3 c. olive or canola oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Trim chicken of excess fat and place in a large, shallow dish (or gallon-sized zip-top bag).

Whisk together vinegar, lime juice, garlic, sugar, and cumin seed until sugar is dissolved. Drizzle in oil, whisking well to incorporate.

Pour marinade over chicken and toss to coat.  Refrigerate for a few hours, turning chicken occasionally so all pieces are well-marinated.

Remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat, turning halfway through cooking, until done, 12-15 minutes.

Avocado-corn salsa

Lime juice can be a little bitter — a spoonful of sugar helps take the edge off. If you prefer, use cider vinegar instead and leave the sugar out.

Makes about 4 cups, serving 4-6

2 large ears corn, grilled if you like, kernels removed (or 1 1/2 c. frozen corn, thawed)

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 red bell peppers, diced small

1 large avocado, diced

1 handful cilantro leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 lime)

2 tsp. granulated sugar (optional)

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Combine corn, onion, peppers, avocado, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice and sugar until sugar dissolves.  Whisk in oil, then drizzle over salsa.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

The vegetable garden is humming along nicely, producing a bounty of fat, sweet sugar snap and shell peas, peppery mache, and tender red and green leaf lettuces, plenty for salads every day. Our pole beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes are in bloom. There are ripe black raspberries to pick each morning and the resident squirrels are feasting on our strawberries (next year I will wrap the barrel in chicken wire). There are mountains of cilantro and mint and a steady supply of creeping thyme and oregano.

Clockwise from top left: sugar snap peas, mache, pole beans, leaf lettuces

Clockwise from top left: potted tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber blossoms, black raspberries

Flowers are in full bloom along the front and side fences. Finally, my novice landscaping efforts are starting to pay off — next year, the perennials will be large enough to divide and replant in new areas of the yard.

Clockwise from top left: coneflower, pineapple mint, potentilla, rudbeckia Indian summer

This humble, hearty recipe began as an afterthought, thrown together at the last minute to round out a dinner of baked salmon and carrot salad.  I had half a box of orecchiette and a can of chickpeas languishing in the back of the pantry, an overgrown herb garden that needed cutting back, and — despite a nagging feeling that beans and pasta would be too heavy for a warm summer evening — no time to rethink.

Good thing, because the results were refreshingly delicious.  Better yet, our 5 year old (who tends to reject dishes speckled with “little green bits”) cleaned his plate!  And the leftovers, served with a scoop of sweet and tangy carrot salad, made an excellent lunch the next day.

Orecchiette and chickpeas

Makes about 3 1/2 c., serving 4

1/2 lb. orecchiette

15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)

1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh parsley

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook orecchiette in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender.  Drain.

While pasta cooks, whisk together lemon juice, oil, and herbs in a large mixing bowl.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Toss hot pasta and chickpeas with dressing.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Serve warm.