What’s for Dinner? Smoked Turkey Bean Soup

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This soup came together as a result of a need to use up some tired vegetables.

I had a bunch of past-their-prime veggies in the crisper drawer, but not enough of any one to create a dish. An onion, a few carrots, a stalks or two of celery, some wilted herbs, a handful of kale … vegetable soup suggested itself, and then I recalled a smoked turkey breast bone that I had frozen after a dinner party. We had enjoyed the meat for dinner, and it seemed wasteful to toss the bones given how much flavor and nutrition is in them.

I pulled out the frozen carcass, and it formed the base of a delicious, rich soup that warmed and fed us for days.

I had a bag of dried pinto beans in the cupboard, which I soaked and cooked in the soup. It was time consuming, but the beans absorbed a wonderful flavor and held up well. Canned beans are a perfectly good second choice, but they won’t pull in the flavor in the same way, and they may break down if they cook for a long time in the liquid.

And any beans would work fine — lentils, garbanzos, Great Northern, black, etc. If you use lentils or split peas, you can skip the soaking step and reduce the cooking time; for larger beans, soaking helps accelerate the cooking time, but they will still need several hours.

We enjoyed this with some purchased whole grain sourdough bread that we toasted and spread with a variety of toppings. It was a simple, homey meal and was a hit with everyone.

Smoked Turkey Bean and Vegetable Soup

Makes about 1 gallon, and freezes well

If you wish to make this vegan, you can use vegetable broth instead of water to add flavor, and omit the turkey. Another option is to add vegan “bacon” or sausage and/or some robustly flavored vegetables, such as dried chipotles, fresh or dried mushrooms or sundried or fire-roasted tomatoes in place of the smoked turkey bones.

Smoked Turkey Bean and Vegetable Soup
Smoked Turkey Bean and Vegetable Soup (Photo by Keri White)
  • 1 pound dried beans and boiling water to soak
  • Smoked turkey bones (I used the carcass left from a whole breast, but any combo of smoked turkey necks, wings, etc., would work)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups kale, torn into small pieces

Place the beans in a large bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let it sit for an hour.

Heat the oil in a large pot, and sauté the onions, carrots, garlic, celery, salt and pepper for about 15 minutes. Place the turkey bones in the pot and sauté to coat.

Fill the pot containing the turkey and vegetables with water. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer. This will create a flavorful, smoky broth.

When the beans have soaked for an hour, drain and rinse them. Pour them into the soup, bring it to a boil again, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for at least 2 hours — the longer the better.

When the beans are soft, remove the bones from the soup. Add the kale and stir; cook for another 20 minutes or so until the kale is cooked through. If there is meat on the bones, pick it off and toss it in the soup. Adjust for seasonings — it may need salt and pepper — and serve.

Toasts and Toppings

You can be as creative as you like with these.

Avacado toast
Avacado toast (Photo by Keri White)

If you are serving a vegetarian version of the soup, consider a melted cheese topping or cream cheese or Greek yogurt sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs; for the turkey-based version, these pareve options are just the ticket:

For avocado toast: Slice ripe avocados and sprinkle them with lemon juice, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes, or sprinkle it with truffle salt or your favorite seasoning blend.

For garlic/dill toast: Slather the toast with toum or aioli. If you don’t have these condiments on hand, try a DIY version of ½ cup olive oil whipped in a blender with a clove of garlic, a spritz of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

For an even simpler cheater version, mix ⅓ cup mayonnaise with a crushed clove of garlic stirred in. Spread the mixture on the toast, and top it with chopped fresh dill or the herb of your choice.

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