Gift baskets are inexpensive and versatile. They make great personalised gifts for pretty much any occasion, from a housewarming to a get well gift. If you’re looking for hostess gift ideas for Easter dinner, or you need to make up some custom corporate gifts for clients, don’t overlook homemade food gifts in Mason jars. The idea may seem quaint, but you can turn a plain jar of bean soup mix into a really impressive gift basket! Just use some upscale packaging materials and add a few luxurious extras to the basket. It will be sure to please the most discriminating palate!
One of my favourite gift baskets actually does start with a jar of heart healthy bean soup mix. This particular soup mix is the basis of a bean soup I’ve made many times over the years, both for family and guests. It never fails to get compliments from everyone at the table, even people who didn’t think they liked to eat beans!
At Christmastime, you can give individual jars of the bean soup mix by themselves as stocking stuffers. If you’re hosting a party and you want to give your guests a little something to go home with, a Mason jar of soup mix is one of the healthiest and most economical dinner guest gift ideas. To make gift baskets, just add the rest of the soup fixings and then fancy up each basket with some cute soup bowls or fun soup toppings. More on that below.
Learn more about why I recommend making bean soup for your gift baskets, or go straight to the recipe now.
Why Bean Soup Mix?
Legumes are really healthy but most of us haven’t grown up learning how to cook with dried beans. We might eat baked beans or pea soup from a can, and maybe we make the occasional three-bean salad in the summer. But beans intimidate many North American cooks. We aren’t sure what to do with them. We don’t know if we like them. And we’re convinced that they’re bland, and will leave us feeling bloated and gassy after the meal. So we tend to just avoid cooking with dried beans altogether.
What we miss when we think this way is that dried beans are a healthy source of complex carbohydrates and are rich in dietary fibre. Dried beans also contain between 21-25% protein by weight, which makes them a perfect meat alternative. Beans have more protein than other plant-based foods, and about the same protein content as a steak or beef brisket. But legumes are low in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol.
Nutritional & Health Benefits of Beans
Beans are rich sources of iron, potassium, folate and other B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B6. They also provide copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Some beans, like the red kidney beans in this bean soup mix, are also sources of antioxidants. And beans contain other phytochemicals like plant-based estrogen that may help prevent cancer.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) includes 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes each week. Following the guidelines of this diet can help lower blood pressure by several points, but it may also help prevent osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The gift of a jar of bean soup mix might get a friend or family member to try eating beans. Starting your gift baskets with a jar of bean soup mix is giving the gift of health. Tuck a little card with nutritional information into your gift baskets, explaining how eating beans regularly can help prevent holiday weight gain, contribute to heart health, and prevent other serious health conditions.
This recipe makes enough bean soup mix to fill 9 pint jars or 18 half-pint jars. Each half-pint jar will make a small batch of bean soup, suitable for up to 4 people. A pint jar could be used to make a larger batch of soup, enough to feed 6-8 people, or two smaller pots of soup.
2 cups each: chickpeas, red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, dried pinto beans, dried navy beans, cranberry beans (e.g. Romano or borlotti beans), white kidney beans (aka cannellini beans) or dried Lima beans, and split peas
1 cup each hulled barley and brown or green lentils
I like to layer my beans in the pint jars, just because it’s prettier that way. Start with the chickpeas on the bottom and work your way up to the barley at the top. You’ll need just under 1/4 cup each of the dried beans and the split peas, and a little less than 2 tablespoons each of lentils and barley per pint jar.
If you’re making smaller jars, the layering isn’t going to show as well. The best way to make sure each half-pint jar will have about the same proportions of the different beans is to mix the larger beans together in a bowl, and to mix the split peas with the lentils and barley. Put about 3/4 cup of the bean mixture in the bottom of each jar. Then top up the jar with the split pea-lentil-barley mix.
Assembling Your Gift Baskets
Start each gift basket with a jar of your bean soup mix. Add in one or more of the following items to create personalized Christmas gifts for each name on your gift list.
If you can your own tomatoes, add a jar to your gift baskets. Otherwise, buy cans of diced tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes, if these are not available.) Plan ahead, and you can usually by these by the case when they go on special.
Tomatoes contain vitamin C, which helps to improve the bio-availability of the non-heme iron in your bean soup. Acidic ingredients like tomato or vinegar bind to the outer coating of beans, making them harder and slowing the cooking process. Be sure you tell your gift basket recipients to add these ingredients only once the beans are fully cooked.
I used to include soup broth powder in my bean soup mix, right in the gift jars. But now that we can make or buy soup bases that have a much better flavour. If you make your own vegetable soup base, go ahead and add a jar into your gift baskets. If not, you can include a jar of homemade soup stock (make sure to keep this refrigerated unless you’ve pressure canned it.) Or you can splurge a little on jars of Better Than Bouillon soup base, which don’t need to be refrigerated until they’re opened.
Include a small packet of whole grain or specialty pasta in your gift baskets. We like to add farfalle (“bow ties”) to our bean soup. The kids also really like alphabet pasta or pastina because they’re small and you get lots of pieces in each spoonful of soup. Spinach fusilli are another good choice for soup. If you’re making gift baskets for anyone who eats a gluten-free diet, substitute brown rice instead.
Little Extras for Your Gift Baskets:
A bit of brown sugar adds to the flavour of your bean soup. It also helps the beans in the soup stand up to longer cooking times, as food scientist Shirley Corriher explains. (You may know Corriher from her appearances on Good Eats, hosted by chef Alton Brown.)
You see, cooking dissolves the pectin that holds cell walls together. But sugar dissolves some of the water in the soup and helps to slow the cooking down a bit. This means your beans will hold their shape better, and won’t turn into mush.
If you’re giving your gift baskets in person, you can include the vegetables needed to make the bean soup. My nine-bean soup recipe includes onion, celery, and mushrooms.
For more elegant hostess gifts, include some pretty soup bowls. Or pack all of your gift items into a lovely soup tureen, instead of making gift baskets.
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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