Hearty Bean Soup
Soak between 250g and 400g of dried beans overnight in water. Drain and put in a large cooking pot. Add an onion or two, quartered, a roughly chopped carrot and a celery stalk to a litre (four cups) of cold water. Put in a ham bone or two ham hocks (a chouriço sausage can be substituted), a bay leaf, salt, pepper and some parsley, and allow to boil gently for about 90 minutes to two hours. When cool enough, remove the ham bones or hocks and put the remaining ingredients through a food mill if you have one. A blender is not really suitable so the best alternative is a potato masher. Add any seasoning required and serve hot.
This is also a meal in a dish. Chop two or three cooked beets finely and put in a large pot with a litre (four cups) of beef stock. Chop a large onion, a carrot and a celery stalk and add these to the pot, together with a tablespoon of tomato purée and a teaspoon of dill weed. Let this come to the boil and add 250g ground beef and half a small cabbage chopped into small chunks. When these have all cooked to a soft consistency, add four tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Taste for seasoning and serve with a heaped teaspoon of sour cream on each bowl.
When I was a student in Paris, I lived near Les Halles and learned to make a good simplified version of this classic soup. Chop two or three large onions and sauté them slowly in 1/2 cup (about 50g) butter. Meanwhile, rub one slice of crusty bread (at least one inch or 2 1/2 cm) per person with a cut clove of garlic. Put a slice in the bottom of each ovenproof soup bowl. Pour a litre of beef bouillon over the onion and butter mixture, add a teaspoon of parsley and boil until the onions are very soft. Pour the soup over the bread and float a tablespoon of grated gruyère cheese over the top, then place the bowls under a hot grill until the cheese just begins to brown. Serve at once.