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White bean soup with chard, tomatoes, ham and herbs. A sprinkling of grated Parmesan brings all the flavors together. Serve with a crusty bread.

I like beans — all kinds of them — including navy, pinto, white, black, garbanzos (chickpeas) and many heirloom varieties. But I don’t know why it’s taken me so many years to actually make them part of my regular diet. Beans taste great and they can be transformed into chilis, dips, spreads, salads, stews and all sorts of nourishing meals. So my new mantra is “beans rule!”

If there’s one thing that sets beans apart from just about any vegetable, it’s their high protein content. Beans are legumes, and this plant group is especially good as part of a healthful diet. While I do not want to belabor this point, I will say that there is excellent medical evidence that shows beans and lentils can reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and promote healthy gut bacteria.

Although canned beans are a great convenience, they can sometimes be mushy. This is less of a problem with garbanzo beans, but cooking dried beans gives you total control of the beans’ texture. The method I use is a quick 2-minute boil in lightly salted water followed by a rest period of a couple of hours. After draining off the water, the beans get their final cooking in the soup. Simple and quick and very little work on your part. And no, the salt will not make the beans tough.

Chard is a great vegetable to cook with beans because its leaves stand up to a long simmer and their taste blends beautifully with beans. I chose white cannellini beans for this soup for a contrast in colors, but use whatever dried bean you like.

To learn more about beans and legumes, check out this website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthiest-beans-legumes.

White bean soup with chard, tomatoes and ham

Makes 6 servings.

1 ½ cups cannellini or navy beans or other dry beans

1 teaspoon salt

1 bunch chard

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced chard stems

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

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½ teaspoon dried sage

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cups chicken broth, preferably organic

2 cups crushed tomatoes in their own juice

8 ounces diced (½-inch) ham steak

½ chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 ½ to 2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

Grated Parmesan cheese, about 1 cup

1. Put the beans into a 5-quart heavy pot and add the 1 teaspoon salt and cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring the beans to a full rolling boil over high heat and keep at a boil for 2 full minutes. Skim off any scum as it floats to the surface. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave the beans alone for 2 to 4 hours. Drain in a colander, and the beans are ready to add to the recipe. The beans may be cooked to this point and drained a day ahead. When cool, store in a covered contained in the fridge.

2. For the chard, remove the stems and cut them into ½-inch pieces. Wash and drain in a sieve. Measure 1 cup for the recipe. Swirl the leaves in a large bowl of cool tap water to remove any grit. Lift the leaves from the water and put them into the same pot you used for the beans. Add an inch or two of fresh water. Cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes until leaves are tender. Drain in a colander and run cold tap water over the leaves to stop the cooking. Squeeze some, but not all, of the water from the chard. The leaves should feel wet. Chop coarsely and set chard aside.

3. That bean pot gets put to work yet a third time to make the final soup. Heat the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, with a wooden spoon about 2 minutes. Add the chard stems and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stems are tender. Add the garlic and toss it around with the wooden spoon for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook and stir 2 minutes to develop the paste’s color and flavor.

4. Add the chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, ham, parsley, salt, pepper and Sriracha. Stir well. Bring soup to the simmer, and cook, partially covered, until the beans are completely tender, about 30 minutes. Taste carefully and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed. (The soup may be made ahead to this point and reheated before serving).

5. Ladle the soup into heated bowls, sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.

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Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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