A Good Soup for the Sick Recipe

Turn to this miraculously delicious soup when you are feeling sick - beans, water, garlic, shallots, chiles. Total active prep time was under five minutes, the rest is just waiting and anticipating.

A Good Soup for the Sick

You don't really appreciate your lungs until they decide to mount a revolt against your body. This is what is happening to me. I've been hacking, coughing, and wheezing for the last forty-eight hours. It is a dry cough which makes it all the more unsatisfying. To add insult to injury, I think my teeth are rotting from all the cough drops I've been popping. As much as I hate to admit it, they seem to be the only thing to help. Cough drops, and if I sit really still, and don't talk.

Sounds like I need a big, brothy, nourishing bowl of soup, right? That's what I thought too. I wasn't going to walk to the store though. I made it about two blocks to the coffee shop this morning, but that was my outing for the day. My soup would need to consist of ingredients already in my pantry or refrigerator.

Lucky for me, my main market squeeze, Steve Sando sent me (and Pim) home with bags of beautiful (new crop) Borlotti beans last Saturday. Borlotti are a beloved type of cranberry bean with a thin skin and melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. A fantastic bean for pasta e fagioli. My focus wasn't on pasta though, I was thinking more about broth. Hot, fragrant, delicious broth. A look around the kitchen turned up a few dried, smoked chiles, garlic, shallots, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and a mystery wedge of hard cheese. Plenty to work with.

Beautiful Borlotti Beans

Keep in mind I don't actually feel like cooking, I only want to reap the benefits of a homemade bowl of soup for lunch. I want to do as little as humanly possible to get it. So at about 10:30 this morning I dumped a bunch of the above ingredients in my Le Creuset pot, put the lid on it, and stuck it in the oven for two hours, hoping for the best.

After an hour the smell of the chiles, garlic, and shallots started creeping out of the oven and into my office. I was pretty sure I was onto something good. An hour later a quick taste made me a believer. A couple ladles of the beans - just on the brink of falling apart at this point - topped with chile and garlic-infused broth, and showered with a thin veil of finely grated cheese and a kiss of cilantro. It was good and it made me feel better for a little while. Here is my gift to all the other people out there with this nasty cough- A Good Soup for the Sick. Total active prep time was under five minutes, the rest is just waiting and anticipating.

I just realized that this recipe is pretty close to being 'all local' for you Bay Area cooks participating in the Eat Local Challenge - chiles from Tierra, beans from the delta, farmers market produce, Sciabica olive oil and Three Sisters Cheese (not within 100 miles, but still from California and the neighboring San Joaquin Valley).

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A Good Soup for the Sick

I used Rancho Gordo Borlotti beans for this recipe, but you could use other beans from the cranberry family if they are more readily available. The thing I love about Rancho Gordo beans is that they are fresh crop dried beans. Some of the dried beans you come into contact with in stores are from crops five or more years ago. Steve's beans are typically less than a year old and they plump up beautifully.

1 pound cranberry beans (like Borlotti)
8 cups of water
15 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed

2 big shallots (I might have used a white onion but didn't have one), sliced on the axis into thin crescents

2-3 dried smoked chiles (I used smoked serranos) but I suspect dried chipotles or even one or two chipotles from the can (in adobo sauce) would work nicely

2 teaspoons+ fine sea salt for seasoning

a drizzle of flavorful extra-virgin olive oil

a small handful of cilantro, chopped

a couple (optional) handfuls of a salty hard cheese, Parmesan, grated (I think my mystery cheese was actually Three Sisters Serena)

Soak your beans overnight. Before soaking give them a good rinse. Look carefully for any pebbles or dirt clumps. Cover with a few extra inches of water, the Borlottis take in a lot of liquid. When you are ready to use the beans, drain them, rinse again, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350. Place the racks near the bottom of the oven.

Put the beans, water, garlic, shallots, and chiles in an oven-proof pot or casserole - preferably one with an oven-proof lid. Place the pot on a rimmed baking sheet (in case of accidental overflow), and place in the oven for two hours, or until beans are nice and tender. After the first hour check every twenty minutes or so. When the beans are done, pull the pot out of the oven and season generously with salt. Stir and taste. Season so the broth tastes just right, the beans need some time to take in the saltier broth at this point, so once you have the broth seasoned nicely, just let the soup sit there on the top of the stove, covered for another ten minutes or so. Taste and adjust for seasoning one more time and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

To serve, first ladle a generous scoop of beans into each bowl, and follow with the broth to cover. Sprinkle with cilantro and cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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Hope you're back up to speed soon! Sounds good, but I'm still a fan of the rosemary chicken noodle soup...


Hope you're back up to speed soon! Sounds good, but I'm still a fan of the rosemary chicken noodle soup...


Looks wonderful--we tried the cannellini beans with added spinach plus roma tomatoes. And, of course, loads of freshly-grated Parmesan. Cheap and healthy and yummy. Hope you're feeling better.


Looks wonderful--we tried the cannellini beans with added spinach plus roma tomatoes. And, of course, loads of freshly-grated Parmesan. Cheap and healthy and yummy.


I haven't gotten anything done today. I feel like a fog, but what can I say? I've just been letting everything wash over me lately, not that it matters. Shrug.


love you're site - been dying to try this soup since you posted it. i made it for lunch today but felt it lacked a bit of punch - i added about 1tbs of sugar and the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of 1 and a splash of olive oil - turned out fantastic. thanks!


I made the soup tonight, even though we were all feeling pretty good. Maybe it was the cool cloudy day here in New York that put me in the mood. I cooked it in a pressure cooker. Cooked the beans in water half way -- drained (not rinsed) added the 8 cups of water and the other ingredients all at once, and added pepper, a big chunk of ham, and two more chunky pieces of parmesean cheese. Kids loved it over rice with some freshly grated parm cheese. I added baby spinach and diced cherry tomatoes over my soup (no carbs please!). Good recipe!


This soup sound wonderful I love soup. I am a big fan of a nice thick vegetable soup. I can't wait to try this soup. Thanks


I love anasazi beans. The color is similar- but when I got the email of this post I got my hopes up that your soup for the sick would be the ol' faithful Chicken Noodle Soup. I have been on the hunt for a year now for a great not good but GREAT Chicken Noodle Soup recipe. Do you have any great ch.noodle soup recipes to share?


Thanks everyone for all the nice notes... Bee, I used my 4 1/2 quart Le Creuset for this soup. I have two others as well though - I think they are 5 1/2 and 7 1/2...The bigger pots get quite heavy, particularly when they are full. If you are cooking for a big family I might go a bit bigger than the 4 1/2, but I would go take a look at them in person, pick up the pot, see what you think.... Tana, I'm sure the cannellini would be tasty as well. Different...but tasty - I might be tempted to throw in some shredded spinach. I love the pot liquor you get with the borlotti.


Take good care of yourself! I nursed something similar to what you describe for far too long last fall. The soup looks really delicious!

Lucy Vanel

Heidi, feel better soon. Thank you for the bean connection as well as the recipe. It's my kind of cooking indeed. Also I love to acquire really good sources for food stuff. I will definitely buy from your source. Again, better days!

mary jo

Heidi, this looks so delicious. I hope you're feeling better now: it's a wonder we're all not sick with the weather. Do you think I could use cannellini until I can score some of those borlotti? I'm low on my Rancho Gordo.


Sounds delicious and great for a cold. Feel better!

Susan in Italy

Feel better soon. Those beans are beautiful. A lovely photograph, and they sound excellent. Fresh crop beans can be a revelation.And soup is a sweet sort of cure-all. Permit me to recommend the following evening treatment: Hot bath or shower just before you retire. Dry quickly. Pop immediately into bed. Pull up lovely smooth sheets and blankets. Have handed to you (or have ready) a very hot toddy including a bit of lemon, plenty of whiskey or limoncello, tea. Honey optional. Drink same, and crash into a deep sleep. For some reason, this nearly always improves my breathing with a chest cold. And it is generally quite pleasant-though there is usually a bit of slightly indelicate sweating at some point. Well worth it, though. and way more fun than a mustard plaster, as old fashioned remedies go.


Sounds good but I still think a really strong and flavorful chicken soup is still the best. I make mine with a whole chicken, several cloves of garlic, onions, celery (including leafy tops) and onion. I eat mine with a lot of grated Locatelli Romano and/or Parmesan. I leave out the cheese if I'm getting over a stomach virus. My Grandmother from Abruzzi made chicken soup with tiny little pasta called "pastine." It's a great comfort food.


i have a sickness soup too, just boil the heck out of a grocery store roasted chicken and add in some stuff that will make you feel better its easy and very yummy soup soothes the soul


Sounds really lovely. Get well soon :o)


Now I 'm not a big fan of beans...but that soup sounds gorgeous - I may just have to try it! :)


Sounds a great soup for attacking a cough. Bee, I make soup in the slow cooker, lovely when you come home on a cold night.


Get well soon....


Just what I need now! I'm also "hacking, couging and wheezing" with a dry cough. Am taking a homemade brew of ginger and oregano. This soup sounds and looks fantastic! I'll try it if I can find beans in the pantry.


The soup looks good. Sorry to hear you are under the weather, Heidi. I have to agree with you about Steve Sando and his beans. He is a member of one of the gardening lists I am on and he is such a cool guy. He has the most wonderful beans. I'm glad you had some of his borlotti beans to cook up. I hope the soup made you feel better. My husband had that coughing thing awhile back as did I. It stinks. Soup makes the throat feel better. Not much else worked. Get better soon.


Sounds wonderful! I love soup. I would eat soup every day if I had the time to make it. How many quarts is your Le Creuset pot? I can only afford to get one and would like to know what size would be good for general use. Please advise. Thanks for your wonderful posts!


Get well soon, Heidi! Even with a cold, you still take the most amazing pictures. That bean inside the bowl with the hairline cracks is stunning! I have a few chipotles and some garlic hanging around too . . . I'm going to try this out. Thanks for another great idea.


sounds delicious - hope you feel better!


Your soup sounds like my kind of cooking, and putting it in the oven puts it right over the top for ease when ill. Love those Rancho Gordo beans, too. Feel better soon!


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