Legumes and legume-based soups such as this bruine bonensoep and snert (green split pea soup, here), are a real Dutch dietary winter staple. Bruine bonensoep, simply meaning brown bean soup, is made with, well, you guessed it: ‘brown beans’, a typical Dutch variety of common beans (phaseolus vulgaris). If you can’t find these particular beans, however, you can use any other small to medium sized bean such as pinto beans, or white beans even (though the latter would technically make it white bean soup then). This soup, made with pork, pork sausage, and lots of winter vegetables, is nutritious, very filling, easy to make (though it takes a lot of time on the stove, which you can use to do other things) and usually result in enough food to feed a whole family for a couple of days or to be put in boxes in the freezer for meal-prepping folks.
Considered to be ‘peasant food’ in the past, the inexpensive brown beans themselves were grown in The Netherlands quite a lot, but their popularity has decreased slightly over the years. I have to be honest and admit that this was indeed not my favourite meal when I was a child either and I don’t think I was alone in my dislike for the slightly mushy brown beans.
Ik bid nie veur bruune boon’n!Anne de Vries, Bartje (1935)
Dutch writer Anne de Vries famously lets the protagonist of his novel Bartje (1935), exclaim: “Ik bid nie veur bruune boon’n” (in modern Dutch: Ik bid niet voor bruine bonen, meaning: I don’t say grace for brown beans), when his mother is about to serve him and his many siblings some brown beans for the umpteenth time that week. In the novel, young Bartje grows up in a poor farmer’s family and both in the novel and in real life, brown beans (perhaps with a bit of spek) were a common winter staple seen on the dinner table of these large, religious, rural families – obviously to young Bartje’s dismay, whom really doesn’t like them and stubbornly refuses to eat them.
Bartje’s judgement is a tad unfair to the little brown beans perhaps. While I agree that brown beans and brown bean soup in particular might not look very appealing and I also didn’t appreciate them very much when I was little, I have actually really grown to love bruine bonensoep now that I am older. This thick soup full of vegetables, sausage, lardons and pork is actually very delicious and comforting on a cold winter’s day, so don’t let Bartje’s famous words and the dish’s beige-ness negatively influence you!
Note: this soup is usually made with pork trotter or pork shank and/or procureur – pork neck. A few smoked lardons or gerookte spekreepjes are usually also added. If you are not a fan of pork, however, beef shank or oxtail can be used instead, though you would really miss out on the smokiness of both the sausage and the spek should you leave those out.
Dutch Brown Bean Soup with Sausage / Bruine Bonensoep met Worst
- 500g dried brown beans, soak in cold water overnight
- 750g pork shank (or pork neck, or half shank half neck)
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 2 twigs of savory (herb), or a pinch of dried savory
- 1 winter carrot (about 250g)
- 350g leek, white parts and light green parts only
- 350g celeriac root
- 2 big yellow onions
- 250g smoked lardons
- Small bunch of leaf celery, finely chopped
- 1 smoked pork sausage / Dutch rookworst (around 350g)
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- salt, to taste
MethodNote: start prepping this soup a day ahead of cooking by soaking the dried beans overnight.
- Add pork shank, soaked beans, bay leaves, cloves and savory to a large stock pot and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Cover ingredients with 2 litres of cold water and bring to a simmer. Leave to simmer on low heat, partially covered with a lid, for 2 hours until the beans are tender. Skim off the foam when necessary.
- In the meantime, peel the carrot, onions and celeriac and dice. Wash the leek and cut into thin rings.
- After 2 hours of simmering, remove pork shank from the pot (and discard spices, if you can find them) onto a plate. Cut or tear meat into small pieces and discard the bone(s).
- With a potato masher or wooden spoon, mash about half of the beans in the pot. Alternatively use an immersion blender for a smoother soup.
- Add the diced carrot, onions, celeriac and leek to the pot with the beans*. Add the smoked lardons and pieces of pork shank as well. Allow soup to come back to a simmer and leave to simmer for 1 - 1.5 hour more, until the vegetables have turned soft and the soup reaches the preferred (thick) consistency.
- About 15 minutes before the soup is ready, add finely chopped leaf celery and the Dutch smoked sausage (whole) and allow to heat through. Remove sausage from the soup once it's cooked and cut into slices and return to the soup.
- Season soup with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
*It might look like the vegetables won’t fit or are not properly submerged, but they will shrink whilst cooking, so it should be fine. If really necessary, however, add a little bit more water as well, though keep in mind that this should be a thickish soup, so be careful not to add too much (no more than a cup).