Southwestern bean soup, made better

Using dried beans in this Southwestern Bean Soup only increases the flavor, wihout requiring too much time or effort.

Most recipes call for canned beans as though they were the only option. Using them is exquisitely convenient, but making recipes with dried beans is almost as easy. Hear me out, please, before you click away.

I sometimes use canned beans when cooking for myself, so I'm not an uncompromising purist. But, no canned brand matches the flavor and texture of home-cooked beans. Certainly not after you rinse canned beans to reduce their sodium content and remove the remains of canned "bean juice."

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Some dried beans do not require long soaking or hours to cook. Black-eyed peas need just a four-hour soak. They cook in 30 to 40 minutes, about what it takes to make a nice pot of soup. Or use the quick-soak method and black-eyed peas will be ready in two hours. Of that time, only 10 minutes involves you; the rest, while the beans soak and then simmer, is untended. For this method, bring the dried peas to a boil in a large pot, like cooking pasta, then cover and set aside for 1 hour. Drain, replace the water, and cook until the beans are tender, about 40 minutes.

Other dried beans may be ready more quickly, too, provided they are less than a year old. This can be hard to know. Shopping at stores where the stock moves quickly make this more likely. A pound of dried beans is two and a half cups. When cooked, it makes 10 half-cup servings, less than the cost of most canned choices. You can cook just one cup of dried beans at a time and use them to make soup or chili for four servings.

This soup, almost a stew thanks to all the good stuff in it, includes what southwestern Native Americans called the three sisters - beans, corn and squash. Warming and aromatic with smoked paprika, it makes a complete winter meal.

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