Cooking Beans at High Altitude, French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup

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by JL Fields on January 13, 2013

My friend Lee, who blogs at The Vegan Version, recently offered to send me her pressure cooker. You see, she ordered one because I talk (and blog) incessantly about mine. She didn’t fall in love. I appreciated her kind gesture but, truthfully, I just gave a pressure cooker to a friend and I still have three (don’t judge).

Then I had an idea. What if Lee created a recipe, stovetop, that I made in the pressure cooker? This way people who prefer stovetop cooking can get what they need from Lee and I could provide the instructions here for pressure cooking the recipe. I should add that this was a big deal for me because I have been struggling with cooking beans at high altitude since moving to Colorado.

Lee was game and created a French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup. Her stovetop version, start to finish, was a two-day process.  Mine was about an hour and a half.

JL’s Pressure Cooker Instructions for The Vegan Version’s French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup 

  1. Rinse and drain beans.
  2. Heat olive oil in an uncovered pressure cooker on medium-high.
  3. Saute the onion and garlic for 4 minutes.
  4. Add bay leaves and red pepper and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes. The onions should be soft and translucent.  (Pressure cookers heat hotter than a skillet, which is why the onions will seem to “caramelize” in a rather short period of time.)
  5. Add vegetable stock (I used home-made, just as Lee did; you can make home-made veggie stock in the pressure cooker in no time!).
  6. Add beans.
  7. Lock the pressure cooker lid into place and bring to pressure (this took 8 minutes).
  8. Cook at pressure for 45 minutes*.
  9. Allow for a natural release (this took 18 minutes).
  10. Once pressure is released, remove the lid, away from you.
  11. Taste beans to determine if they are done. If not completely cooked to your satisfaction, simmer in the uncovered pressure cooker until desired doneness (I simmered mine for five minutes).
  12. Add salt** and pepper.

Once the soup was done, I followed the rest of Lee’s instructions – though I baked it for 10 minutes instead of 5, as that’s when it got bubbly.

Total preparation time: 1 hour and 30 minutes.***

Beans and onions!

French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup out of the pressure cooker

Ready for the oven.

French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup ready for the oven

Ready to eat!

French Onion Style Thirteen Bean Soup, pressure cooker, out of the oven

The soup is fantastic!

The great thing about using a pressure cooker is that you can use one pot and it really allows each ingredients to absorb the spices and seasonings. For instance, since the onions were nearly caramelized in the pressure cooker, then cooked with the beans, the soup was subtly sweet – which was a perfect match with the hearty bread and jalapeno and garlic flavored cheese!

Instruction notes:

*I’m not cooking at sea level these days – I’m at 6,200 feet in Colorado Springs – which means I have to increase my cooking time, even in the pressure cooker. If at sea-level, I suggest you cook the beans at pressure for 30 minutes, allow for a natural release and then test for doneness. You can either bring the beans back up to pressure, or simply simmer, uncovered until done. Alternatively, you can soak overnight and follow your recipe cooker instruction manual, or favorite pressure cooker cookbook, for soaked bean pressure cooking time, which is always less than unsoaked beans.

**When cooking beans in a pressure cooker, use salt at the end of cooking as the salt can harden the skin of the beans and have a negative impact on cooking time.

***Remember, I cooked at a high elevation, I suspect total prep time at sea level would be closer to one hour.

Whether you use a pressure cooker or stovetop, make this soup! And enter Lee’s pressure cooker giveaway!


Speaking of pressure cookers, I’m delighted that my Portobello Mushroom Barley Soup is featured  on Pressure Cooking Today! It’s one of my favorite recipes and it’s a great “first” recipe in the pressure cooker. In fact, this is what a reader had to say abou it:

What readers are saying about the Portobello Mushroom and Barley Soup

My thanks to Barbara of Pressure Cooking Today for including me on her terrific site!

  • Barbara Schieving

    It does sound like a must try soup. Thanks for the shout out and allowing me to feature your soup.

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