How to Make Calico Bean and Other Bean Soups

This bean mix was too pretty with its kaleidoscope of colors.  There were red beans and blackeye peas, navy beans and baby limas.  There were splashes of color from red lentils and green lentils, yellow split peas and green split peas.  It was the prettiest soup blend we had ever found.  And it made great, fun-to-make soups.

The secret to making great soups with this or similar blends is simply to cook them long enough.  There is no starch added as a thickener.  The peas and lentils cook down, come apart, and give body and thickening to the soup.

My mother used to make a split pea and ham soup and cook the soup until the spit peas came apart making a smooth soup with just a hint of lumps from the peas.  My favorite professional chef manual says that to make split pea soup, run the cooked peas through a food mill (your blender will work too but its slower).  You can’t do that with a bean blend but that’s okay; once the beans are nice and soft, the split peas and lentils will have cooked apart.

Many recipes tell you to soak your beans overnight.  We mortals—at least this mortal—don’t always plan that far in advance.  You can cut your soak down to a little over an hour using the quick soak method.  During the soak time, you can assemble the ingredients and prep the vegetables.

The Quick Soak Method

  1. Put the beans in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.  There should be two inches of water above the beans.
  2. Bring to a boil.  Boil rapidly for two minutes.
  3. Remove the beans from the heat, cover them with a lid, and let them soak for an hour.  Drain off the excess water.

The Recipes

We made three calico soups.  The first is a bean and vegetable soup.  The second and third soups are a chicken bean soup and a Tex-Mex soup made with sausage.  By altering the spices and using Italian sausage, you can convert the Tex-Mex soup to an Italian soup.  All three of these soups are very good, perfect soups when the weather starts to chill.

Each of these recipes makes large batches.  Cut the amounts in half for smaller batches.  Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen.

Classic Calico Soup

1 2/3 cups calico soup blend
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons dry thyme
1/2 teaspoon dry sage leaves
2 teaspoons dry basil
2 bay leaves
1 medium zucchini, cut into pieces
2 cups tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Rinse the calico soup blend and soak overnight or use the quick soak method.
  2. In a large pot, sauté the celery, onion, garlic and carrots in oil until they are soft.
  3. Add the beans to the pot along with the stock, sage, basil, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 Hours. Add more water if necessary.
  4. When beans are quite soft, add the tomatoes, corn, and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm with fresh baked bread.

Calico Brunswick Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons oil
6 cups chicken stock
1 16 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 2/3 cups (dry) calico bean mix or other bean mix with lentils or split peas
1 can corn, drained (optional)
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast cooked and diced
1 medium zucchini cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

  1. Rinse the calico soup blend and soak overnight or use the quick soak method.
  2. In a large pot, sauté the onion in butter until it is soft.
  3. Add the beans to the pot along with the stock and the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 Hours. Add more water if necessary.
  4. When beans are quite soft, add the tomato sauce, corn, chicken, and zucchini. Cook for 10 minutes and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm with fresh baked bread.

Tex Mex Bean and Sausage Soup

1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil
1 small can mild green chilies, drained
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
1 large can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 2/3 cups (dry) calico bean mix or other bean mix with lentils or split peas
1 can corn, drained
1 1/2 pounds chorizo sausage, cooked and drained
pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste

  1. Rinse the calico soup blend and soak overnight or use the quick soak method.
  2. In a large pot, sauté the garlic and onion in butter until the onion is soft.
  3. Add the beans to the pot along with the stock, chilies, chili powder, cumin, bay leaf, and coriander. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 Hours. Add more water if necessary.
  4. When beans are quite soft, add the tomatoes, corn, and sausage. Cook for 10 minutes and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm with fresh baked bread.