For this seven dollar dinner, a hearty bean soup uses inexpensive salt pork for flavoring, and is still satisfyingly meaty. Better still, with bean soup as the main course a family of 4 can eat for about $3.20; that includes lettuce salad and a glass of milk. Rather than make exactly four servings, make a pot of soup and plan to serve it for two or three meals. When I make it, we have it for two consecutive dinners, and the rest goes for lunches.
Provisions for Bean Soup
Buy salt pork from meat vendors at farmers’ markets or dedicated butcher shops. Ask for ham hocks and be willing to accept shanks. For $1.89 I buy a single shank that weighs about a pound. (At a grocery store, the price is usually inappropriately more than $4 per pound.)
I use a mixture of several varieties of dried beans. These might include kidney, lima, pinto, red, black, garbanzo, black-eyed, navy, white, and other beans as well as split peas, and lentils. Whatever mix you create, it should total 20 ounces and include about five ounces of lentils that will thicken the soup as they cook down. For simplicity, look for a product called 15 Bean Soup from Hurst’s. I’ve found Hurst’s 15 Bean Soup for as little as $1.19 in surplus stores.
Bean Soup for Four
Bean soup isn’t fast food. It takes hours to cook, and traditionally you soak the beans overnight before you even light the stove.
1 lb smoked ham hock or shank – $1.89
20 oz mixed dried beans & lentils – $1.19
1 large onion, diced – $.33
15 oz can diced tomatoes – $.69
15 oz can sweet corn – $.69
1 tsp chili powder – $.02
1 or 2 chopped garlic cloves (optional) – $.05
Pick through the bean mix to remove shells, pebbles, or sticks. Rinse the beans, add 2 quarts of water to the pot, and leave it to soak overnight.
The next day, put 2 quarts of water in a second pot, add the ham hock, and set it to simmer, covered, on low heat. Let the hock cook slowly for three or more hours until you can pick it apart easily with a fork.
Drain the beans and measure the water from the cooked ham hock as you add it to the bean pot (withhold the hock for now); add enough more water to total eight cups. Set the bean pot on high heat until the water boils (this is a good time to dice and add the onion), then set the beans to simmer uncovered for two hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
At the end of two hours, separate the bones and fat from the meat of the ham hock, shred the meat, and add it to the bean pot. Then add the can of tomatoes, the can of corn, the chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the soup simmer for another 30 to 60 minutes while you cook rice and prepare a salad.
To serve, put a half cup of cooked rice in each bowl and ladle on about a cup of soup. With a dressed lettuce salad and a cup of 1% milk, your dinner for four costs just $3.26 and provides each diner with 630 calories, 35 grams of fat, 28 mg of cholesterol, and 17 grams of fiber.
This post originally appeared in the April 4 issue of the Daily Item, Sunbury, PA’s local newspaper. I made minor edits to adapt it for its exclusive Internet publication on The Untrained Housewife.