“When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!” — Sir Joseph, .M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan
No idea why they call these little white beans “Navy Beans.” Anyone have a guess? These small white Great Northern beans, also called “pea beans,” got the name “Navy Beans” because they were a popular staple for the U.S. Navy in the 20th Century.
That doesn’t stop me from singing Gilbert and Sullivan while making my Navy Bean Soup!!
One little trick in preparing these beans (or any beans for that matter) is that I use a bit of kombu seaweed in the bottom of the pot while cooking the beans. Kombu adds minerals which help you digest the beans without an unintended “musical accompaniment” to your chorus.
Lest you think that kombu seaweed is only Japanese, let me remind you that kombu grows in cold Atlantic waters too and seaweed was used to wrap and eat pickled herring in the northern British Isles. Blimey!
The Queen’s Navee Bean Soup
(Makes One Gallon – eat some, freeze some)
- 2 cups of white navy beans, soaked in spring water
- 1/2 cup of pearled barley also soaked in spring water (you can put both the beans and the barley in the same soaking water after they’re washed, of course)
- 1 4-inch piece of kombu seaweed
- 1 large diced onion
- 2 large diced carrots
- 3 diced ribs of celery
- 1 cup of diced mushrooms
- sea salt
- black pepper
What you need to know for this soup is basic bean preparation from dried beans:
First sort through the dried beans and barley and take out any stones or mysterious pieces of stuff. It’s so tempting to skip this step but much better to take the time now than to go to the dentist after someone has chipped a tooth on a small stone left in your soup. At the very least, stones are painful to bite down on.
Thoroughly wash the beans and barley in cold water. Do this by putting the beans and barley in a big bowl and filling with water. Use your hands to swish the beans around and pour off the dirty water. I don’t recommend a colander or sieve because they don’t allow the dirt to float away efficiently. Do this at least twice until the water comes out clean.
Soak the kombu, beans and barley in spring water for at least 2-3 hours or as long as overnight.
Place the kombu in the bottom of a large soup pot and layer the beans and barley over it. Cover with spring water and bring it to a simmer.
Do not add any salt at this point. If you add salt now while the beans are uncooked, they will not soften. Salt is added when the beans are almost done. At that point the salt will help finish the beans and sweeten the dish. (Yes I said “sweeten.” That is what good sea salt, properly used will do!)
Continue cooking the beans in this layered fashion without stirring. When the water cooks down, add more cold water to cover again. Do this as often as needed but only when the water has cooked down to almost gone. Adding the cold water to the hot beans will drive the heat into the beans and help them get cooked inside. The result is fully cooked beans that are not mushy.
The beans should soften up in an hour or so but there are no rules about this. You just have to see when they’re done. When the beans are about 2/3 done, add the diced onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms and cook them in until tender.
NOW add sea salt – about 1/2 teaspoon or more if your taste demands it. NOW you can also stir the soup up. [Note: I almost never take the kombu seaweed out. It cooks into the soup and usually breaks down into bits. Or, you can remove it and cut it up and put it back in. No point in wasting this fabulous source of plant-based minerals and trace minerals!]
When the beans are fully cooked, add more water to make the right consistency for soup. Season with pepper and garnish with parsley.,
Serve with greens or a salad and some crusty bread. I sometimes will mix in sauerkraut (Yes! Try It!) or serve pickled vegetables or a semi-pickled pressed salad with a hearty soup like this. It’s a meal to keep anyone’s Navy hard at work and soon they’ll be calling you, “Sir.”
Navy Bean and Barley Soup, Lightly Boiled Kale with Toasted Sesame Salt (Gomasio), Pressed Salad Pickles and Ye Olde Crusty Bread