A great majority of Slovaks can’t imagine their day without a good, nourishing soup. Now that the days are getting shorter and colder with autumn setting its foot in Slovakia, a pot of warm, home-made soup is both an energizer and a delight. Especially if it’s so filling and healthy as a bean soup, which is often eaten as a meal on its own in my country.
Dry beans are known to be a rich source of protein, carbohydrates, B vitamin and iron. I’m not sure if our predecessors knew that, but beans have been part of Slovak cuisine since time immemorial. Indeed, they can be found in many of our traditional meals together with potatoes, sausages or ham. However, meatless bean recipes are also very common, and a bean soup is certainly one of the most popular.
We have grown our own varieties of legumes (including dry beans) for centuries, which also reflects in our traditional folk culture. There is an old Slovak song going like this:
Šošovička, hrášok fazuľa,
kde ste boli, tetka Zuzuľa?
Bola som ja po vodičku,
budem variť šošovičku.
It would loosely translate like this:
Lentils, peas and beans
Auntie Suzy, where have you been?
To get water from the well down the street
I’m gonna cook lentil soup for a meal.
When I spotted streaky giant dry beans in a local shop last week, I couldn’t resist buying a packet to make this creamy variation on a Slovak bean soup.
Creamy Bean Soup
250 g dry beans
water (about 2 l altogether)
4 large potatoes
200 g cream (12% fat content in Slovakia)
2 tablespoons fine flour
2 sprigs fresh dill or 4 teaspoons frozen one
salt, black pepper, marjoram to taste
2 tablespoons apple vinegar
Rinse the dry beans thoroughly under running water. Soak them overnight in a large bowl filled with cold water. The beans will double in volume by the following day, so make sure there is enough water to cover them as they grow.
Drain the soaked beans on a sieve and discard the water. Remember that certain varieties of raw beans contain a toxin which is only destroyed in the process of cooking. Rinse the beans again under running water and put in a cooking pot with about 1½ l cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally and adding more water if/when needed.
Meanwhile, peel and wash the potatoes. Rinse and chop the dill. When the beans are almost tender, add to them the potatoes and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and cook together for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and marjoram.
In a small bowl, mix the cream with the flour to make a smooth ‘roux’ for thickening the soup. Pour the roux in the beans, stir well and bring to the boil, at which point the soup will have thickened. Add the fresh or frozen dill and cook over a low heat for another minute, stirring all the time. Pour in the vinegar, stir well and serve hot in soup bowls.
We in Slovakia often eat bean soup with a slice of bread on the side. The vinegar not only perks up the soup’s flavours, but also helps reduce the flatulence caused by the beans.
Apart from being rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, beans also have plenty of soluble fibre, which is believed to help lower blood cholesterol. So why not give it a try and cook your own bean soup from scratch?