Dear Hallie: Affordable Bean-Free Soups

September 30th, 2013 at 6:06 am

Dear Hallie

Another installment of Dear Hallie hits the web today with a great question about affordable bean-free soups from Jennifer. She writes:

I love soups, especially beans soups of all kinds. Unfortunately, beans soups do not love me! For years I had a regular rotation of red beans and rice, black bean soups, 13 bean soup, etc.  I feed growing boys so it was a very cost effective way to fill them up. I kept thinking my body would adjust but it never did so I removed the soups from our menu. We all miss them. With cooler weather approaching, I’m looking for good cost effective soups other than chicken or beef with veggies. Do you have any ideas? Thanks. ~Jennifer

I totally see your predicament, Jennifer. And I’ve been there myself. I love beans for their affordability, but too many are hard on my stomach. When you pull beans out of the equation, you eliminate a great source of budget-friendly protein and “bulk” to give soups some substance. Beef and poultry are much more expensive options, especially when you’re talking grass-fed meat and organic poultry. So here’s my advice:

Emphasize heartier vegetables.

In your soups and stews, try to include heartier vegetables that offer more nutritional and caloric density to make up for the lack of beans. Go for potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, rutabagas, and even mushrooms. I’ve found that adding fresh or rehydrated dried mushrooms to the base of a vegetable soup not only contributes earthy flavor, but it also boosts the “meaty” factor without adding meat.

If grains are not a problem for you, you could also try working in some cooked rice, quinoa, and/or millet. Another option is to make your soup thick enough that it’s more like a stew and then serve it in bowls over a bed of the cooked grain.

Stretch your proteins.

To feed a family of 4, for example, you don’t necessarily need to use 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of meat. I often make large batches of soup or chili that serve 4-6 with only using 1/2 pound of ground beef or turkey. Simply boost the vegetables in the soup to help compensate. (Mushrooms again come in handy here.)

You can do the same thing with roasted chicken. I often pick the meat off of the roasted chicken, freeze it in several small portions, and then add just one portion to a family-size soup or stew recipe.

Get friendly with eggs.

If you can tolerate eggs, they make a fantastic inexpensive protein source. I usually buy organic pastured eggs at my co-op, which run about $4.25/dozen. While that may seem expensive, it’s still only about $0.35 per egg.

Try topping your stews with fried eggs. An example might look like this: prepare a curried vegetable stew made with carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, kale, cauliflower, curry powder, coconut milk, and any other vegetables you like. Serve the stew in bowls over quinoa or rice and top each bowl with a fried egg or two.

Try red lentils.

Perhaps you’ve already ruled them out as a no-go, but if not, you may want to try red lentils. They break down much more than beans during the cooking process, and they don’t even require soaking (although you can if you’d like to increase the digestibility). I find that I can tolerate them much easier than beans, especially when I only use 1/2 to 3/4 cup (dry) lentils in the entire batch (4-6 servings) of soup. I bulk it up with other veggies and coconut milk.

I hope that helps a little, Jennifer!

Readers, weigh in: What tips do you have for making affordable bean-free soups and stews?

Dear Hallie Questions



  1. Good Morning Hallie,
    Just wanted to share a link to a video about the cross contamination of gluten in lentils.

    After seeing this video (some time ago) my daughter and I ran to the kitchen to check our lentils, and sure enough, there were wheat grains in them. Be careful sharing about using lentils to folks who need to be 100% gluten free.
    Things we add to soups to give them bulk are kale, cubed squash, quinoa, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and spilt peas. We also make our own homemade stock, which makes soup a very affordable meal!
    Enjoy this beautiful Wisconsin day!

    • Stephanie: Great point! Lentils and most beans are often cross-contaminated, so picking over them is very important, like you say. Thanks for sharing that link. Ali and Tom know their stuff. :)

  2. Cook your beans with a bay leaf to reduce digestion problems.

  3. I have instructions somewhere that I got off the Internet on how to cook lentils properly, to make them more easily digestible. I keep forgetting about it when I cook lentils because it seems like I’m always in a hurry. But cooking them properly might be a solution for making them more digestible.

  4. These are fantastic tips and many of which I follow myself! Sadly beans, legumes, and eggs don’t agree with me but I do like stretching my proteins.

  5. Fantastic ideas Hallie! I’ve heard that cooking dried beans with kombu helps dramatically in their digestibility, but haven’t tried it myself yet.

  6. Yes, if I soak the beans overnight with raw apple cider vinegar, I do much better with them….although big beans are still a struggle.
    6 of the 8 soup recipes on my blog are bean free, easily found under the ‘soup’ tag.

    Creamy vegan soups often have nuts, and hamburger soup is favorite with an inexpensive meat!

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