Who invented the idea of “Meatless Monday?” The U.S. Food Administration did during World War I and urged families to conserve key staples to aid the war effort, but the idea was revived in 2003 by an ad exec-turned health advocate for dietary and environmental reasons. Ironically, the Food Administration also tried to promote “Wheatless Wednesday” during WWI, which I would love to see make a comeback. But I have a feeling you won’t see the US government advocating abstaining from any
big political donors major food industries anymore. However if you ask my sisters and me who invented “Meatless Monday,” we would tell you with conviction that it was our mother. Vegetarian dinners on Mondays were a part of my life growing up. I loved them since I was a vegetarian from about the age of 10 to 18. But believe me, my mother was not trying to cater to me at all. Her thought was that we tended to indulge over the weekend with heavy meals, usually centered on lots of pasta, meat and cheese and that we needed a break. My sisters, who were most definitely NOT vegetarians called it “Low Budget Night,” since Monday’s dinners tended to be less expensive and less fancy.
Beans or lentils were almost always the star of the show on Mondays and they usually found their way into a soup. This potato and white bean soup is just a take on a traditional pasta and bean soup or “pasta e fagioli,” as you might see it on a menu. I love that potatoes, a whole food, take the place of pasta, which is a (processed) food I eat very occasionally. The recipe requires so few ingredients, many of which you probably have in your pantry. And if you make your beans from scratch, this soup will cost you practically nothing. The potatoes and beans both add a rich creaminess to the soup, as well as work together to form a complete protein. Even though beans are typically bland, this soup has a nice, almost smoky flavor and feels very satisfying despite the lack of fat. A typical Monday dinner would be a nice big bowl of this soup with a side of sauteed greens or a salad and some crusty bread. Sometimes my parents would also add a wedge of good cheese (that my father smuggled in his suitcase from Italy) to the table and that was that.
My husband grew up with neither Meatless Mondays nor Meatless Any Days, so getting him to buy into a dinner of potato and bean soup took some time. Now he loves it and especially how it makes him feel afterwards (“not gross”). Lest anyone feel cheated, I happily serve both a salad and some roasted vegetables on the side. All my kids, Mr. Picky included, love this soup. It’s white! What kids don’t like white food? Of course, I can’t help but stir in some escarole in at the end. You know me and my greens. They’re going to save your life, so I’ll find anyway to include them that I can. If your local market doesn’t carry escarole, feel free to add some spinach, arugula or chard. I always plan to have extra soup for thermoses in the next day’s lunch boxes, which works out perfectly for “Trash-free Tuesday” at our school!
Have you made any new year’s resolutions? I’ve been contemplating a few, but what tends to work better for me are measurable resolutions, such as “cook dinner five nights a week” or “do yoga every Sunday.” I’ve never had luck with “eat better” or “exercise more.” Most people tend to come up with resolutions about diet and health, but they’re usually about short term weight loss or feeling better after 6 weeks of holiday overindulgence. I think “Meatless Mondays” is an easy one to try and it doesn’t mean you’re becoming a vegetarian or a vegan, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just means a commitment to eating more plant-based foods and acknowledging the heavy environmental footprint of raising animals in this country. Just a thought.
Talk to me here — am I the only one who grew up with Meatless Mondays? Does your family currently partake? I need some inspiration for my new year’s resolutions — feed me! Or just make this soup. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2012!
- 1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, about 2 ½ cups*
- 1 2-3 inch piece of kombu (optional)
- 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 8 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (or other boiling potato), cubed
- 1 6-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (optional, I like it just as much without)
- 3-4 teaspoons sea salt (depending on saltiness of the stock)
- 1 head escarole, leaves coarsely chopped
- Grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired
- Wash beans well and pick over for stones and debris. Soak beans with kombu in plenty of fresh cold water overnight or at least 6 hours. This can be done in a covered container or in a pot (I use the same pot for soaking as for cooking the soup) on a countertop. Refrigerate if your kitchen is warm.
- Just before you begin cooking, drain the beans into a colander. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot, and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add the beans and stock to the pot and raise the heat to high. You can add the kombu to the pot, if you like for additional alkalinity. Bring soup to a boil, cover, then lower to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour.
- Add the potato, sea salt and (optional) rosemary. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Test the beans for tenderness. If they’re not done, continue to simmer until they’re tender. Once beans are tender, you can puree the soup to your desired consistency or leave chunky. Remove the kombu and sprig of rosemary before pureeing.
- Stir in the escarole and cook until wilted. Serve with grated cheese, if desired.
Saute onions and garlic.
Add potatoes, stock, salt and (optional) rosemary. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender.
Add beans to pot and cook until heated through. Puree to desired consistency (or don’t). Stir in escarole.
This soup was quite tasty. My husband loved it. I had some left over swiss chard and used that in the soup. I absolutely love putting in anything green into any meal I can now. 🙂
Good job! Love Swiss chard and it is perfect in this soup. So happy you enjoyed it!
This was fantastic. I used purple kale because I couldn’t fins any escarole and it was great. The leftovers were even better for lunch today! I couldn’t believe how rich & delicious the soup is with no cream or dairy.
Funny, I had leftovers for lunch the next day and I added purple kale to get some more greens in there and I thought the kale was great. Thanks sharing!
What do you think about putting spinach in the soup?
Pamela, how was this in the slow cooker? What modifications did you make? Thanks, Lisa
I didn’t use the kombu, otherwise same recipe. I thought it tasted good, but a little smokier, not as light-tasting. But still great!
Can you freeze this soup. I actually made it once last winter and it was amazing..meant to try to freeze a little to see how it came out, but there were no left overs.
I don’t see why not. Coincidentally I am trying this today in the slow cooker. If I have any left, I’ll freeze it and let you know. 🙂
Can this be made in the slow cooker? I am new to this all. Thank you.
Absolutely! I haven’t tried it, but I don’t see why not. Beans cook really nicely in the slow cooker. I am going to guess, but I would try it for 7-8 hours on LOW or 4-5 hours on HIGH. Let me know if you try it.
This was dinner tonight…my husband’s quote, “Was there just so much butter in this?” Me, “No, it’s just the creaminess of the beans.” Husband, “WOW! I will take this to work tomorrow for lunch. It must be so healthy.”
And, I have been using your tip from a class awhile back about making beans in big batches that I then freeze in small portions. By having the beans on hand, I whipped this soup up in a flash tonight for dinner. YUM!
Potatoes and white beans both result in a rich creaminess when pureed. It’s amazing there’s no dairy! I love that you had a batch of beans in the freezer — WOW!
silly question – do you peel the potatoes?
No such thing as a silly question! Peeling is up to you. I don’t peel them because I don’t mind the peel and there’s lot of nutrition in the peel and just under the skin of the potato. Yukon Golds have a pretty thin skin.
…and would the recipe work with russet potatoes? thanks
Russet potatoes are considered a baking potato and they have a higher starch content than a boiling potato or medium starch potato like the Yukons. Russets tend to fall apart and have a grainier texture when boiled, but you can still use them no problem in the soup, especially if you want to puree it. Not a dealbreaker, the soup will still be great!
I don’t have any kombu – will the dried beans soak ok without it?
The kombu is definitely optional. My mother has never used kombu in her life and her beans always come out perfectly tender and fabulous. The kombu is used just to add extra alkalinity and digestibility. Enjoy!
I’m making this soup now and it smells delish! I don’t have any greens on hand besides kale. . . I use kale often, but usually use it raw or roasted. What happens to the taste of kale (and the soup) if I were to use it in this recipe? I’m debating whether I think it will work or not, but don’t want to ruin the pot of soup if it doesn’t!! Thanks!
I think kale would be great! Escarole wilts fairly quickly, so with the kale you will need to cook it in the soup a few minutes longer to soften it. Most people prefer kale cooked over raw since the bitterness will be reduced. Other options for the soup are green cabbage, even romaine lettuce. Enjoy!
Although “white” soup is warming and comforting and creamy, you can also make it a one pot/dish meal by adding any variety of vegetables, especially including green leafy ones. The soup becomes a wonderful variation of a vegetable stew. Some good red wine to accompany…”meatless Mondays” are transformed into gourmet healthful Mondays! Buon appetito!
Agreed, Lois! Although I usually add greens to this soup, you can use any number of vegetables, including crushed tomatoes, cauliflower or broccoli, to name a few. Vegetables are where it’s at!