The Distinct Flavor of Caraway Seeds Is the Secret Ingredient
Ever have cabbage that’s been boiled to a pulp? Yeah, me too. And a tasteless, stinky mess it is.
But cabbage that’s been lightly cooked, just until it loses its crunch? That’s a different beast. It has actual flavor! And when you marry it with white beans and potatoes? That’s a combination most people find pretty tasty.
Particularly when made into soup. Particularly when made into this soup!
Recipe: Bean and Cabbage Soup
For this recipe, you first cook the beans until they’re almost done. At that point, you add the cabbage, potatoes, and other vegetables. Why? Because a shorter cooking time allows the vegetables to retain their distinctive taste and texture. And simmering the veggies with the beans for 20 to 30 minutes gives the two just enough time to combine their flavors.
This recipe yields about 8 generous servings. Leftovers freeze well. Total cooking time is about an hour and a half. Hands-on time is about 20 minutes.
- 1 pound dried white beans, picked over and soaked overnight (either Great Northern or Navy beans work; see Notes for quick-soak method)
- 12 cups of water, vegetable stock, or poultry/meat stock (obviously, it you want to make a vegan or vegetarian version of this soup you wouldn’t use meat or poultry stock)
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced (about a cup; red onion is particularly nice in this soup)
- 2 carrots, washed, peeled, and diced
- 1 small head of cabbage or ½ large head of cabbage (about 1½ pounds; more is OK)
- 2 or 3 waxy potatoes, washed, peeled, and diced (about the same weight as the cabbage)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon caraway seeds (or to taste; see Notes)
- 1 - 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste; I often use a teaspoon; optional)
- Pick over dried white beans (to remove any dirt or stones) and soak 8 hours (or overnight) in enough water to cover by several inches. (See Notes for quick-soak method.) I usually leave the beans out on the kitchen counter overnight, but you can refrigerate them if you’re worried that they may start to ferment.
- When ready to make soup, drain beans, rinse, and place them in a large pot (6 quarts or larger)
- Add water or stock to the pot, bring to a simmer on medium heat, and skim any scum that appears.
- Let simmer for an hour.
- At the hour mark, dice onion and carrots into pieces of about ¼ inch (or a bit larger), and dice the garlic into mince.
- Clean and core the cabbage. Cut into thin strips (½ inch or less) or shred.
- Wash, peel, and cut potatoes into ½-dice or a bit smaller (you can also do this while sautéing the vegetables in the next step).
- In a frying pan, heat olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Add diced onion, carrot, and garlic. Salt and pepper to taste, and sauté vegetables until the onion is translucent but not brown (about 5 minutes).
- Add caraway seed, dried thyme, and optional red pepper if using; sauté for about a minute so the flavor of the spices and herbs infuses the oil.
- Add the onion mixture to the bean pot. Add cabbage and potatoes.
- Add a bit of water if necessary, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the beans are soft and the potatoes are cooked through.
- If you want a soup with a less chunky, more homogenized texture, you can use a stick blender at this point to blend the soup as much as you wish. (Be aware that if your stick blender has a plastic shaft, the hot liquid may crack it.)
- Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve. An optional garnish of chopped parsley is colorful and attractive.
- Quick-soak method for beans: Pick through the beans, then rinse them. Place beans in a large pot and cover with several inches of water. Bring to boil, and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for at least one hour. Then drain, rinse, and proceed with recipe.
- Beans soaked overnight have slightly better texture (when cooked) than beans that are quick-soaked, but the difference is minimal. In fact, nowadays when I use dried beans, I almost always use the quick-soak method.
- Why soak dried beans? Because they cook much quicker when you rehydrate them. A secondary benefit is that while rehydrating, the beans also release most of their flatulence-inducing sugars (oligosaccharides) into the water. When you discard the soaking water, you discard a few nutrients that have leeched into it. But you also discard the substance that causes some people to shy away from dried beans.
- This soup tastes good if made with water or a vegetable stock. But it tastes better made with a poultry stock, in my opinion. If you still have frozen stock made from your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey, that would be ideal.
- If you don’t have homemade stock, you can use commercial stock base (vegetable or meat stock that has been reduced to a paste). It’s more flavorful and much better quality than most canned stocks — and much better than bouillon cubes. For more details, see Stock Excuses. My favorite brand is “Better than Bouillon,” which many supermarkets carry (you can also order it from Amazon). I’ve heard great things about Minor’s Brand, though I haven’t used it. They sell primarily to restaurants and other commercial entities, but individuals can order through their website.
- A half teaspoon of caraway seeds gives this soup a distinct, but subdued, flavor. If you want a bolder, more in-your-face effect, you can increase the amount of caraway seeds to a teaspoon.
- I haven’t tried it, but if you want to make this an even more substantial soup, you might want to add a pound or so of a European-type sausage. A kielbasa would be ideal. (There are many Polish soup recipes that combine cabbage and kielbasa.) Just cut up the sausage into bite-size pieces, and add it when you add the cabbage and potatoes.
From Soup to Snacks
As noted in the post on Curried Cauliflower Soup, January is National Soup Month. And we’ve done it proud. In addition to this Bean and Cabbage Soup and the Curried Cauliflower Soup, we’ve also written about Split Pea Soup with Greens and Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup.
That’s a lot of soup! It’s also a pretty typical month here at Kitchen Riffs Central (at least during the cooler seasons), when we have soup 2 or 3 times a week.
But now January is drawing to a close, and it’s time to turn to something else.
Like anticipating the Super Bowl. And super snacks.
“I think this means you’re getting ready to roll out some more of your guilty pleasures recipes,” observes Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
Bullseye! (She knows me too well.)
Next week: Two of the easiest and junkiest – and most universally beloved – recipes around. I can’t wait.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup
Split Pea with Greens Soup
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Split Pea with Bacon Soup
Easy Lentil Soup
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Soup
Sweet Potato Chili with Black Beans