Slow Cooker 17 Bean and Barley Soup

Let's preface today's recipe by saying that I love beans.  I love their subtle flavor, their versatility, their healthfulness (ooooh, all that fiber and protein in a little vegetarian package) and I love that they're cheap.  My love affair is long:  Beans kept me well-nourished and on a budget through 2 graduate programs.  And today, they allow us to eat meatless meals while still feeling satisfied.  But in the interests of full-disclosure, let's also say that D. is not so much of a fan of the bean, and so he was not a huge fan of this recipe.  He is in the "beans are OK if they're an accompaniment to other stuff" camp.  He turns up his nose at a side of black beans, or at refried beans in Mexican food.  You get the idea.

So here's my disclaimer - I think that folks who like beans will like this, as I did.  It's thick beany, veggie goodness that's even better days 2, 3, 4 . . . and I have socked some in the freezer so I can have beany goodness on demand.  Maybe when D.'s off having a steak with some men.

Slow Cooker 17 Bean and Barley Soup

2 large onions, halved and then sliced thinly
3 celery ribs, sliced thin
7 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 bag of Trader Joe's 17 Bean & Barley Soup mix (or a pound of mixed beans - you can often find these pre-packaged in your supermarket soup section, and they often come with a little flavoring package - THROW THIS AWAY, it's just gross.  You're here for the beans.)
1 bay leaf
1 (26-oz.) box chopped tomatoes (such as Pomi)
1 (16-oz.) box (or can, if you can't get a box) of French Onion Soup (look for vegan variety if you're so inclined, or just use extra veg. broth)
6 c. low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

grated Parmesan cheese to pass (optional)

Rinse and pick over the beans.  Combine all the ingredients except the cheese in a 6 qt. (or larger) slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired.  Serve with Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Serves 6.

Note:  This is super left over - try adding a squeeze of lemon to brighten and change up the flavor.  Or a dollop of basil pesto stirred in.