mixed bean soup

kidney (beans), how great thou art ::::


Recently, there has has been a lot of talk about kidneys in our family. We all are healthy.

So why discuss kidneys if we are healthy? Because one of them is going to someone who isn’t so healthy. My twin brother is becoming a living, altruistic kidney donor in a week. His donation technique of coordination is called a “chain” donation, where a needed recipient has a willing donor but they are not immunologically compatible (HLA), so they trade with someone else. The recipient’s donor promises to donate to a person that needs a kidney that matches their blood type and compatibility if another person donates to their loved one. That, in turn, can set off a chain of donations. In my brother’s kidney donation kick-off, it has.

So, why is he doing this? Just because. Because he can. Because he wants to.


It’s not that I have a problem with the donation, the selflessness of it, the magnitude of the life-giving effect it will have on numerous people, the chain of donations that it will create, but it’s just that that kidney is removed forever from my brother’s body, and live inside someone else’s.  It’s a little weird. It’s not like his ungrateful, appendix, all riled up and angry a few years ago. Who cares about that useless little wiggle of tissue that the surgeon removed in a slippery snip, easily tossed into the medical waste bin.

But who thinks about the kidneys, only when in dire straits, hooked up to dialysis, or cursing a impossibly painful kidney stone, or a curled up in a fetal position from a raging bladder infection? Or, when someone is going to take it out of your brother’s body. On purpose. To give to a complete stranger. While our immediate family is supportive of his decision to undergo this life-giving process, we do worry about the one kidney left behind. The kidney, this dense, pink bean-like silent workhorse, will be removed, leaving its twin alone in his body to work on its own. There’s no kidney twin to pick up the slack. There’s no kidney bretheren with whom to speak kidney-tongue. Hey! having a little trouble with the GFR on this side. A little help, LEFT kidney? Hey, where’d you go?


So I thought, what better to help in his recovery and also honor generous act but to honor the kidney itself. Nourishing food, healthy drink. Recovery after surgery. Steak and kidney pie first crossed my mind for a recipe to try but that was quickly hit down. One, my brother does not eat beef, and Two, cooking up those urinary little organ meats for a person who just gave up one of them might be a little too much.

And so I thought about the simple, the often underappreciated kidney bean. And other colored beany friends. And a wonderful ham bone from a friend. A soup was born.

My brother will recover for about six weeks after the surgery, my parents coming into town to help. The first hint of family that my brother will see after his surgery will be undoubtedly my parents and my little entourage of well-wishers. Time to get cuddly with the aorta, strike up a new friendship with the liver, and get used to working  a little harder, Right Kidney. It’ll all work out.


mixed bean soup
Recipe type: soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 20 ounces of dried mixed beans
  • 1 large ham bone
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Sort and wash beans. Place rinsed beans in pot and cover with water overnight.
  2. The next day, drain, and add 2 quarts of water, add ham bone, bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 2½ hours to 3 hours (depending on the size of your beans, altitude, and water hardness).
  3. Meanwhile, place a pan on high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. Sear onions to brown, then immediately turn down heat, stirring onions so they don't blacken too much. Throw in the garlic, cover, and allow to cook at medium-low heat to translucency. Set aside.
  4. Add onion, garlic, tomatoes, cayenne, chili powder, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Cook for about 30 more minutes, making sure beans are not too mushy. Serve hot with fresh, crusty bread.



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