Spicy Harissa Bean Soup

 Warm up with a spicy bowl of this simple, bean soup, flavored with a Middle Eastern condiment called harissa. It's the perfect way to use up random leftover bits of dry beans, which tend to accumulate in a whole foods kitchen! 
spicy harissa bean soup

No sooner than we had packed up our leftovers from Thanksgiving, we were on the road again, this time to Clemson for our annual rivalry game. Since our group of friends is scattered throughout the Southeast, the game is a great excuse to get everyone together. We rented a cabin by nearby Lake Hartwell and spent the weekend in Clemson visiting our old stomping grounds, reconnecting and eating more pizza than I care to admit.

For the most part, our group of friends is fairly health conscious. A major topic of conversation was what to cook for dinner Sunday night to “detox” from our recent indulgences. Although we joked about kale salads with nothing on it, we were all planning deliciously healthy dishes with decidedly un-Thanksgiving flavors – my raw nut meat tacos, an Asian-style tofu salad, and turkey veggie wraps.
Me? I wanted something warm to soothe my throat, sore from cheering. Something vegan, for obvious reasons. And, something spicy to give my taste buds a break from all the rich, cheesy, and sweet foods I’ve had in the past few days. So, I came up with this simple, harissa spiced mixed bean soup.
spicy mixed bean soup
Alternate title: how to use up your stockpile of almost empty mason jars of beans. Since getting my pressure cooker, which perfectly cooks dry beans in 30 minutes, I almost always purchase them from the bulk section. Of course, this means I have a constant supply of completely useless amounts of dry beans taking up space in my pantry. This recipe is the perfect way to use it up. You can use as many different types as you like in whatever quantities you like. It calls for 2 1/4 cups of beans total, but if you use a little more or a little less, that's fine. You’ll just end up with a thicker or thinner soup. 

This soup is spiced with Middle Eastern condiment called harissa. It’s a spicy paste made with roasted chilies, peppers and other spices. I purchase it store bought, but you can make your own, which I hear is ah-MAZING. The harissa adds an incredible depth of flavor to this fairly simple bean soup.  

Middle Eastern spicy bean soup

Of course, the main ingredients are most important when planning a healthy meal, but condiments are a great way to sneak in both nutrition and flavor. Harissa is a perfect example of this. Here's a look at the health benefits of harissa's main components.

CHILI PEPPERS// A substance called capsaicin gives chili peppers their heat. It also had powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, which works by inhibiting a neuropeptide involved with the inflammatory process. It's actually used as a topical pain reliever. Chili peppers even boost metabolism, making spicy food a great, add-in if you're trying to lose weight. Studies have also found chili peppers to have cardiovascular benefits and reduce the risk of diabetes.

ROASTED RED PEPPERS // Most people associate citrus with vitamin C, but red bell peppers actually contain 150% of daily needs in a 1 cup serving. Red peppers also contain some of the same sulfur-related compounds found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.

GARLIC // Garlic is one of my favorite foods for cardiovascular health. It helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides, protects blood vessel walls against oxidative stress and helps lower blood pressure. To increase the benefits, let chopped garlic sit for a little bit before using it, which allows enzymes to get to work to make the allicin compounds more available.

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL // My favorite fat! We all know by now that it's great for cholesterol and heart health. But did you know olive oil can improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of cancer (especially breast and digestive cancers), and reduce the risk of diabetes?

CORIANDER // Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, a fact I only recently learned. As a diabetes educator, coriander is a spice I tell my clients to incorporate whenever possible as it can actually help stimulate the release of insulin from the pancreas.

CUMIN // Cumin is helpful for digestive health, increasing the secretion of pancreatic digestive enzymes. Animal studies have also found cumin may protect against liver and stomach cancer, likely due to it's antioxidant properties.

spicy vegan bean soup

Running out to pick up a jar? The sauce is amazing tossed with roasted carrots or winter squash, spread on a grilled cheese sandwich, or in a chickpea and vegetable stew.


Spicy Harissa Bean Soup
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: Serves 8-10
I used a combination of baby limas, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas and a couple tablespoons of pinto beans. Feel free to use what you already have. If using lentils, add them towards the last 30 minutes of cooking. Harissa varies significantly in spice level, so you may want to start off with a couple tablespoons of paste if you're not too big on heat.
  • 2 1/4 cups mixed dried beans
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons harissa paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (BPA free)
  • Balsamic vinegar, for garnish
  1. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with plenty of water. Soak for 8-12 hours. Drain.
  2. In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper. Saute 10 minutes until onion is translucent and lightly golden. Add harissa, thyme, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and cook 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add broth, tomatoes and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 2 - 2 1/2 hours until beans are tender. Serve garnished with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.