I'd gotten everything on my list, but the woman in front of me was blocking my way. She grabbed a couple cans of tomatoes. A bag of pasta. Polenta. At the end of the aisle she stopped completely and bent way down, looking for something in the far recesses of the bottom shelf. She only took 2-1/2 seconds, but it seemed like forever because I was nearing the free sample table and it looked like they were giving out something good.
When she stood up, she wore a satisfied smile and tossed her find into her cart.
At this point, of course, I was curious. I mean, what could be so special that it'd force someone to a complete halt and cause her to dig around like that with such intensity? Low rise jeans are no longer in vogue or it would have been embarrassing.
Maybe she found gold, I thought, or buried treasure.
She found a bag of beans.
Now, I don't buy a lot of prepackaged stuff. Sure, my rice comes in bags and my milk in cartons, but mixes rarely make it into my kitchen. These little beans, though, were different. They offered whimsical colors (yellow! red! speckled! green!) and a friendly price point ($1.69). Plus, if some lady was willing to rummage around for 10 hours on the bottom of a supermarket shelf just to find them, they must have been pretty special.
And they were.
I feel like a broken record, but the beans came from Trader Joe's, and I know not all of you have access to this market. No problem. Here's what's inside:
baby lima beans, black turtle beans, black-eyed peas, dark red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, green lentils, green split peas, large lima beans, light red kidney beans, navy beans, pink white beans, yellow split peas, pearl barley
I see no reason, truly, why you can't go to your favorite natural foods store and mix up your own bean medley. Just choose very small beans to ensure relatively quick and even cooking, and make sure to wear a belt in case the bulk bins are set way down low.
Recipe for Smoky Vegetarian Bean Soup
Smoked paprika lifts this soup out of the ordinary, just as it did with the roasted garlic-eggplant dip I made a few months ago. But the real secret is in the mix of little beans. Use Trader Joe's 17 Bean & Barley Mix if you can find it, or use 1 pound of small, mixed beans if you can't. Be sure to soak them overnight for faster cooking and best results. This recipe is my adaptation of the recipe on the back of the TJ's bag.
16 ounces small, mixed, dried beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup each diced onion, celery, and carrot (or 1 container Trader Joe's Mirepoix)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
5-1/4 cups vegetable broth
2-1/2 cups cold water
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Soak the beans in cold water to cover in a large pot overnight. Rinse, drain, and rinse again. Let them hang out for a minute in the colander.
Wipe out the pot, add the oil, and heat it over a medium-low flame. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and smoked paprika and saute, stirring frequently, for a few minutes or until vegetables are softened and fragrant, but not browned.
Add the beans back to the same pot along with the vegetable broth, water, bay leaf, and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The soup is even better after a day or two, but it's wonderful immediately as well.