When you've got a two-person household with both persons holding down full-time jobs, there's a lot of comfort in dishes that yield multiple meals. Especially when there's nothing scrappy about the leftovers, and an extra day's richening only improves the flavor and texture.
I first made Cajun bean soup back in Brooklyn, after becoming curious enough to take down one of those yuppie bean-medley boxes off the shelf at the QFC near Lincoln Center. One soaked the beans as directed, added a few enhancements such as onions and stewed tomatoes, stirred in the spice packet also found in the box and cooked it all up for a couple of hours. The results were not only tasty but wholesome, and high-fiber enough to set one upon the path to sainthood.
Subsequently I worked more from scratch, acquiring a considerable variety of multicolored dried beans and creating my own blend from a shelf's worth of amber pantry jars: a two-cup measuring vessel filled to the brim with black beans, pigeon peas, Indian squaw beans, little Orca-colored beans I don't remember the name of but liked the look of, some garbanzo beans for occasional crunchiness, split peas (green and yellow) and still more.
After the soaking and during the actual cooking, I also took to adding a handful of those minuscule, red-corpuscle-like lentils that effectively cooked away to nothing tangible but greatly enhanced the richness and texture of the soup broth to something more stewlike.
Vegetarians could stop there, but even that first, box-centric time, I recall that I pushed the health-food envelope by adding a few chunks of leftover ham and half of one of those boa-constrictor loops of Polish sausage.
Nowadays I sometimes have a ham meal before embarking on this soup project and reserve the hambone and some of the broth for soaking the beans.
The Polish sausage has been succeeded by a couple of the stubbier, exotic sausages glowing in the cooler at Trader Joe's - chicken andouille being an obvious choice, though the Southwest-style sausages do exert a sometimes irresistible appeal.
The recipe is wellnigh infinitely variable, including the option of adding body and fiber count via root vegetables and broccoli stems. Here's an assortment of suggestions upon which to draw:
2 C bean medley (avoid the squooshy kinds, e.g., kidney beans)
1 onion, chopped
2 (or more) cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 carrots, sliced
2 or 3 stalks celery
1 small turnip or rutabaga, diced
1 or 2 broccoli stalks, diced (remove tough outer layer)
2 medium-size sausages or 1/2 big sausage, sliced
2 (or more) 15oz cans stewed tomato
2 or 3 T Cajun seasoning ("Spicy" or non)
2 bay leaves
apple vinegar (splash)
dark molasses (drizzle)
Wash and rinse beans, then soak overnight in enough water to keep them covered.
Dump soaking water that remains. Put beans in a soupworthy pot (if you didn't already soak them in one) and add fresh water to cover, just. Add bay leaves and splash of vinegar. Bring to a boil and then cover; lower heat to very little and let beans cook for about an hour. Don't let the water steam away; replenish if necessary, or stir in some chicken broth.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown the sausage to a pleasing, caramel-y-ness. Once that's about there, toss in the onion, garlic and celery; saute for several minutes.
When the beans are getting tender (avoid either mushy or still-hard), add the sauteed veggies, the raw veggies and pretty much everything else. As for the liquids, I'd add a 15-ounce can of chicken broth or half of one of those tall wax cartons of it. Bring mélange to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for at least an hour. You may want to add yet more water and/or chicken broth, if the liquid is steaming away despite the lid.
Serve with a worthwhile, sturdy bread. We currently favor crunchy-crust Fremont sourdough.
Incidentally, for Cajun spice I use the duly labeled Cajun seasoning available from that indispensable mail-order outfit, Penzey's (www. penzeys.com); I assume other, ready-made Cajun blends also work fine. Whatever the mix, thyme should loom large in it, and cayenne.
Avoid overcooking - or over-reheating - to the point of moosh-iness. The beans should remain intact - beans, not sludge, however flavorful it might remain.
And if you don't feel like eating Cajun bean soup several dinners in a row, freeze the savory remainder for a lazy weekend lunch or another, in-a-pinch dinner a few weeks hence.