A number of you emailed asking about the soup pictured at the top the recent favorites list. This one. It was at the top of my list for a reason. If last year was the year of lentil soups, this year has been all about one rustic bean and celery soup. I make it a lot. I make it for us to eat. I made it when our neighborhood wine club came over. And I made it to share at soup night over at my friend Holly's. The original recipe is Hassan's Celery and White Bean Soup with Tomato and Caraway, from Moro East. It's a soup shared in the book by Sam & Sam's allotment neighbor - celery, caraway, and garlic are cooked together alongside big hearty beans and chopped tomatoes in what becomes an olive-oil dappled broth. You serve each bowl with chopped black olives and fresh lemon wedges. I thought I'd share a holiday version of the stew made with Christmas Lima beans.
As is prone to happen, the first few times I made Hassan's stew, I followed the recipe verbatim. Then I started making tweaks. In the beginning, I would blanched and seed the tomatoes, I would track down spring onions. I would use the exact beans called for. And I was smitten. The soup is awesome. But eventually the onions disappeared from the market, and then the best tomatoes did too. And I still wanted to make the soup. And I wanted it to be just as good.
There were also those nights when I wanted to make the soup, but I was short on time. I wondered, could I shave some time off the prep by using good canned tomatoes? What about beans? I have some giant corona beans already cooked, those might be nice. And on and on...you'll see all my tweaks, notes, and considerations in the recipe below. I also made this a larger pot of soup. Most of you know by now, if I'm going to make soup, I'm going to make a good-sized pot of it. Plenty for leftovers.
If you ignore everything else I write about today, pay attention to this. You can't skip out on the toppings. Please, just trust me on this one. The chopped black olives and fresh lemon wedges for squeezing are key. Collectively they add dimension, surprise bursts of flavor and nuance you don't get otherwise. And a chunk of toasted, crusty artisan bread is the perfect sidekick.
Lastly, the recipe has you make your own celery salt. It couldn't be easier, and any leftover sea salt is great sprinkled on any number of things - eggs, potatoes, soups, you name it. The trick is finding celery with lots of leaves still intact. I stumbled on a bunch of heirloom celery this time around with endless leaves, but this is atypical. It seems like grocers "top off" most celery leaves. That said, I can always find celery with a few leaves intact, and there are generally more leaves hiding in the heart of the celery - so I use those to make the celery salt. Works just fine.
Christmas Lima Bean Stew
I call for Christmas Lima beans here, but alternately, you can use white cannellini or giant corona beans. I've made this soup with all of the above at one point or another. You can cook the beans a day or two ahead if you want to get a jump start.. Remember to reserve some bean cooking liquid! It's not the end of the world if you forget. But it adds nice body flavor to broth. Don't skimp out on the olive oil here, it is important for the texture and body of the broth. And the soup actually freezes well, I wasn't sure if it would...but I did a de-thaw the other night, no problem!
1 pound / 450g dried Christmas Lima beans
OR equivalent cooked beans ~ 2.5 pounds / 1.2 kg*
16 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large heads of celery, preferably with leaves, trimmed then sliced into 2 cm / 3/4-inch chunks
3 bunches of scallions, green parts included
OR if spring onions are in season, I use about 12 of those, either way slice into 1/3-inch / 1cm rounds
8 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
scant 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed
fine grain sea salt
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained, rinsed, cored and roughly chopped
2 - 4 teaspoons celery salt **
5 1/2 cups water or broth -or combination)
oily black olives, seeded and roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut into 1/8ths
If you haven't already cooked the beans, do so.*
Heat 12 tablespoons / scant 2/3 cup of the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the celery, and stir until coated with olive oil. Cook for ten minutes, stirring often. Add 2/3 of the scallions, the garlic, caraway, and a couple big pinches of salt. Cook for another 10 - 15 minutes, or until everything softens and begins to caramelize a bit.
Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of the celery salt and cook for another few minutes.
Add the beans along with 5 1/2 cups liquid (I typically do 2 cups bean liquid/broth + 3 1/2 cups water), and remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
Bring to a simmer, taste, and season with more salt or celery salt if needed. Let sit for a couple minutes and serve each bowl topped with a spoonful of chopped olives and a squeeze of lemon. You might also like to serve the soup sprinkled with the remaining scallions/spring onions.
Serves 8 - 10.
Inspired and adapted from Hassan's Celery and White Bean Soup with Tomato and Caraway in Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark.
*To prepare dried beans.Drain and rinse beans after an overnight soak covered with water. Drain and place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with an inch or two of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are cooked through and tender. This can take anywhere from an hour to two hours (potentially more) depending on your beans, but do your best to avoid overcooking. Remove from heat, salt the beans (still in bean broth) - enough that the bean liquid is tasty. Let the beans sit like this for ten minutes or so before draining - reserving a couple cups of the bean broth. Set the beans aside. At this point you can use the beans, refrigerate for later use, or bag and freeze.
**To make celery salt: Pick leaves from celery stalks. Make sure they're as dry as possible if you've recently washed them. If they're damp, they'll steam rather than crisp. Bake on a baking sheet in a 250F / 120C degree oven for 15 -25 minutes. Toss once or twice along the way, until dried out. Alternately, if I don't feel like heating up the oven, I toast them in a large skillet - over low heat, tossing regularly, for 30 minutes or so, while I'm prepping the other ingredients. Either way. Crumble the dried celery leaves with equal parts flaky salt.
Prep time: 25 minutes - Cook time: 25 minutes