I’ll be honest: when I first became a vegetarian, I missed meat.
Hamburgers, pork chops, steaks and bacon I could do without.
What I missed the most were Salt Works hotdogs and sausage.
Usually most recipes can be easily adapted to be vegetarian without any major loss of, shall we say, recipe integrity. Collard greens? Use olive oil and skip the fatback. Hash brown casserole? Leave out the bacon and add extra cheese. Split pea soup? You won’t miss the ham.
The problem is when meat is one of the main components of the recipe, like say, a meatloaf. Or this soup.
Let me tell you the main ingredients: sausage. Potatoes. Chickpeas. This soup is a three-legged stool—take one of the legs away and it won’t stand up.
I’m sure I could’ve used some type of soysage to replace it, but I never could make myself buy it because of the price and also I read the ingredients once and it creeped me out.
The slow undoing of my vegetarian-ness was, I’m ashamed to say, my cheapness. I was serving in Americorps, making near-poverty wages and at least once a week some nice group of church ladies would bring a passel of food in to feed the volunteers lunch. Most often this was sandwiches or pizza or hot dogs, but there were also home-cooked feasts every so often. Chicken pot pies, lasagna, fried chicken, spaghetti in meat sauce, meatloaf and potatoes, chili…etc.
In the interest of politeness (and cheapness because, hey, free lunch!) I would eat what was served. And because there were often leftovers I would sometimes end up taking them home because, hey, free dinner!
And thus it came to pass that I started eating meat again.
I called myself a ‘free-a-tarian,’ as in, if it was free, I would eat it, but I wouldn’t buy meat or order it in a restaurant.
Which left me still unable to make this soup, since no one was going to make a bunch of sausage for lunch.
We were befriended by a woman who worked at a grocery store, and she started bringing in their day-olds and their ‘about-to-expire’s—mostly cakes and donuts and cookies, but one day, inexplicably, there was sausage.
The recipe comes from the 1979 edition of Canopy Roads, The Junior League of Tallahassee’s cookbook.
The fact that my mom still has it, and still cooks from it, should tell you all you need to know.
Officially, the recipe is named ‘Lee’s Spanish Bean Soup,’ but it was not, in fact, contributed by a person with the first or last name of Lee, and they don’t care to elaborate on the matter, or on why they call it ‘Spanish Bean’ instead of ‘chickpea’ or ‘garbanzo.’ I’ll just go ahead and assume that it was so long ago that no one knew what a garbanzo bean was so they just called it ‘that Spanish bean.’
The recipe calls simply for ‘thickening’ which my parents have interpreted as cornstarch plus water, and that’s worked for 30+ years, so that’s what I’m going with.
It also calls for simply boiling all the ingredients together, but I like to fry my sausage first and then sauté the onions in the sausage fat because, why not?
Also, you may be wondering why this soup is just so red. Have I mentioned that I’m dating a guy of (dubiously) Hungarian descent, and he uses paprika by the handful, so keep that in mind, that yours won’t be as red unless you use way more paprika than the recipe calls for.Lee’s Spanish Bean Soup adapted from Canopy Roads 1 pound hot sausage (the kind in a ‘roll’ or in bulk, not in casings) 1 large onion, chopped 4 large potatoes, cubed 4-6 cloves garlic, crushed 2 quarts water or broth 1 teaspoon paprika salt and pepper to taste 2 cans (about 4 cups) garbanzo beans, drained 2-4 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with equal amounts of soup liquid
Drop sausage by the spoonful (bite-sized) into a large pot over medium heat. Fry the sausage, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides. Add onions and cook until beginning to soften. Add potatoes, garlic, broth or water, paprika and garbanzo beans and turn heat to high. Add additional broth or water if needed to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with equal parts soup liquid (i.e., 2 Tablespoons cornstarch needs 2 Tablespoons liquid) and stir into the soup. Add more as needed to reach desired consistency.