Those who think weather is just weather probably think soup is just soup. If, on the other hand, the weather of the past week made you cringe and take notice, then you're ready for real soup -- aromatic, hearty soup made from dried beans, lentils or dried peas.

When soaked to their plump state, and cooked until tender, these dried ingredients known collectively as pulses (derived from the Latin puls, a porridge-like dish) are the basis of many time-honored soups.

Essentially, pulses are plant seeds that develop in pods, and are left there to dry until they are shelled. Then, these beans (such as black beans, adzuki, kidney, great northern white, pink, navy, and red) and peas (such as black-eyed peas, chickpeas and split peas) must be presoaked to a swelled, plump state (lentils need not be soaked). The soaking water actually enters the bean only through the place where it formerly was attached to the pod, so the soaking stage is an overnight event.

All of the pulses have full, rounded tastes and meaty, sometimes mealy textures, and it is those qualities that make them highly suitable as a star ingredient in soups. Soups, even more so than ambitiously constructed casseroles, bring forth the full flavor of the pulses -- the nutty taste of the chickpea, the soft mild but earthy taste of lentils and navy beans.

When dried beans, lentils and peas are purchased, they should look fresh (even though they are dried) and mold-free. Generally, most pulses are processed in even-sized lots, but if they are not, you should bypass any packages with a wide assortment of size. (Legumes of uneven size will not presoak or cook properly.) And, if they are very old, dried beans and peas will dry up, harden into tough pellets and never soak to a succulent state.

For successful soup making, pick over all legumes before soaking or incorporating into liquid; tiny stones, odd little pieces of pods and other weird bits sometimes include themselves with the pulses. Scatter the legumes on a countertop and remove anything that doesn't look like a bean, or lentil, or pea.

For beans and peas to swell to almost three times their bulk, as they should, they must be soaked for about 12 hours in a lot of water. Long soaking vastly improves the taste of the finished soup, although you can speed up the soaking process.

To do so, bring a large kettle of water to a boil, add the picked-over beans or peas, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Let stand for 10 minutes. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil, uncover and boil slowly for 1 minute. Cover and let stand for 1 1/2 hours, or until expanded and plump. Drain the peas or beans and use them as the recipe instructs.

The basic soup base for dried beans, peas and lentils is created by briefly saute'ing root vegetables in butter to soften, adding flavorings such as salt pork or ham, then such other ingredients as tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and garlic for color and additional flavor. Salt pork, a meaty ham bone or a small piece of smoked pork butt, when used, make a harmonious addition to some soups based on legumes. The salt pork may be blanched, though blanching quiets the flavor of the pork a degree. But, if you can't find either salt pork or a smoked pork butt, and can't put your hands on a meaty ham bone, use good bacon, which should be blanched in boiling water to remove some of the smoky taste.

On soup-making day, following a preliminary soaking of legumes as necessary, haul out your heaviest soup pot. A heavy kettle cooks the soup at a steady simmer, which allows the beans to cook evenly and thoroughly without breaking down into a big, soppy mess.

When working with any type of legume, it is very important to bring the soup to a boil and continue the boil for 5 to 7 minutes; boiling the soup dispels any digestive enzyme inhibitor that, left intact, could cause stomach aches.

While the soup is simmering, partially cover the pot, leaving a scant third of the pot uncovered. The soup develops its flavor when it is not cooking in an airtight vacuum. If your finished soup seems a bit watery, and you are serving it right away, remove the lid completely for a final 10 to 12 minutes of reheating, and that will condense it quickly.

The following soups are marvelous to have on hand, either in the refrigerator or freezer, to warm up at the last minute. Most can be expanded by adding to them grilled sausages, chunks or a slab of smoked meat (such as thinly sliced and browned smoked pork chops), frankfurters and the like, making for a tasty and spontaneous dinner for hungry family and friends. WINTER GARDEN WHITE BEAN SOUP (8 servings)

A wholesome soup, one that collects a mess of vegetables and a substantial amount of a legume -- the great northern white bean. This is a festive looking soup, speckled with colors and very good when accompanied by a loaf of crusty, chewy, multigrain bread.

1/2 pound great northern white beans

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 small carrots, diced

4 ribs celery, diced

2 waxy, "boiling" potatoes, peeled, diced, and soaked in ice water to cover for 10 minutes, then drained thoroughly

10-ounce can pear-shaped plum tomatoes, with their juice, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon minced thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

8 cups chicken broth

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Salt to taste

1/3 pound green beans, trimmed, and cut into inch-long pieces

Freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

The night before you plan to make the soup, pick over the white beans, discarding any stones or other stray bits. Rinse the beans in cool water, drain, pour into a bowl, and cover with plenty of cold water. Let the beans stand in a cool place (but not the refrigerator) overnight to plump.

The next day, drain the beans, rinse under cool water and drain again; set aside.

In a soup pot, stir together the olive oil and onions. Place the pot over low heat and cook until the onions have softened a bit, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in the carrots and cook 1 minute; stir in the celery and cook 1 minute. Pour in the plum tomatoes with their juices and bring the contents of the pot to a rapid simmer. Stir in the parsley, thyme, drained white beans and chicken broth. Season with freshly ground pepper. Bring the soup to a slow boil, stirring occasionally, and cook the soup, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until the beans are tender and the flavors have melded. Season the soup with salt to taste.

The soup may be prepared in advance up to this point, cooled and refrigerated or frozen. To finish the soup, bring it to a slow boil. Add the green beans and cook at a rapid simmer for about 6 to 7 minutes or until just tender.

Serve the soup from warmed bowls. Pass a dish of freshly grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top of the soup.

If you are freezing the soup, it will be necessary to thin it somewhat when it is reheated. Thin with a little extra broth or water before adding the green beans. THREE ONION BLACK BEAN SOUP (8 servings)

Three kinds of onions find their way into this soup -- plain cooking onions, leeks and shallots -- and they do uplift and gently spice the beans. Some sort of pork product is always featured in black bean soup, be it a ham hock, a smoked pork butt or small slab of salt pork; pork brings out the earthy flavor of the black beans and lends a meaty flavor to the soup.

1 pound dried black beans

1/4 pound lean salt pork, diced

2 onions, finely chopped

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well to remove dirt, thinly sliced

6 shallots, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, diced

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 small bay leaf, preferably imported

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

10 cups chicken broth

Salt to taste, as needed

Dry sherry for serving

Chopped onions for serving

Thin lemon slices for serving

The night before you plan to make the soup, pick over the dried beans, discarding any stones. Rinse the beans in cool water, pour into a bowl and cover with plenty of cold water. Let stand overnight, uncovered, in a cool place.

The next day, drain the beans, rinse in cool water and drain again; set aside. In a large soup pot, cook the diced pork over moderate heat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until lightly golden and the pork gives off some fat. Add the onions and cook over low heat for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions soften a bit.

Stir in the leeks and shallots, and stir-cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery and stir-cook for 1 minute. Blend in the cloves, add the bay leaf and season with a good amount of ground pepper. Stir in the beans and chicken broth. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil over moderately high heat, then adjust the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer the soup for about 2 hours, or until the beans are thoroughly tender.

Remove the bay leaf and discard. Ladle out about 3 cups of beans and soup and pour into a bowl; mash the beans with the back of a spoon and return the soupy mixture to the soup pot. Stir well. Season the soup with salt to taste.

Serve the soup piping hot from warmed, deep soup bowls. Just before serving, splash a little sherry, sprinkle a few chopped onions and place a lemon slice atop each portion of soup.

This soup freezes well but gets thicker when defrosted. Just add a little broth or water to thin the soup a bit when reheating. SPICED LENTIL SOUP (8 servings)

This version of lentil soup is made fragrant with cumin, coriander and cinnamon; the herb and spice additions give the soup its tantalizing flavor. There's something very reassuring about having a pot of the lentil soup simmering on the back burner of the stove, or stored in the freezer for a last-minute soup supper.

12 ounces ( 3/4 pound) brown or gray lentils

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 small onions, finely chopped

1 carrot, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 small bay leaf, preferably imported

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

8 cups beef or chicken broth

Salt to taste

1/4 cup fresh coriander leaves (approximately), or 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves for serving

Pick over the lentils, removing any stones or odd bits that do not look like lentils. Rinse the lentils quickly in cool water, and drain them in a colander; set aside.

In a soup pot, melt the butter over low heat; stir in the onions and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and celery and stir-cook for 1 minute. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and paprika. Cook the spices with the root vegetables, stirring, for 1/2 minute. Add the bay leaf and pour in the lentils. Season with freshly ground pepper. Pour in the broth and stir well.

Bring the contents of the soup pot to a low boil, then partially cover the pot and simmer for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the lentils are very tender. Discard the bay leaf and season the soup with salt to taste.

Ladle the soup into deep, hot bowls and scatter a few leaves of coriander over the top of each bowl of soup (alternatively, sprinkle chopped parsley over each serving of soup).

Lentil soup may be frozen for future use: To thaw and serve, add a little additional broth or water on reheating to restore the soup to its original consistency. CHICKPEA AND PASTA SOUP (8 servings)

The soul of this soup is the chickpeas, which build the body of the soup in two ways: whole, and pure'ed. Once the peas have simmered enough in the broth and flavorings to render them yielding and softened, a good portion is pure'ed and added back to the soup.

1/2 pound chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped

2 ribs celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

3 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves (if fresh basil is not available, omit it, and add an extra tablespoon of finely chopped parsley)

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 cups chicken broth

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Salt to taste

1/4 pound tubular dried durum wheat pasta, such as tiny elbows, or ditalini

Freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

The night before you plan to make the soup, rinse the chickpeas in cool water, drain, pour into a bowl and cover with plenty of water. Let the beans stand overnight in a cool spot (but not in the refrigerator).

The next day, drain the beans, refresh them in cool water and drain again; set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil, stir in the onions and cook them slowly, stirring, until they are soft and a pale golden color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery and carrot and cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, add the parsley, basil (if you have it), and garlic; stir-cook for 1 minute. Pour in the broth and stir in the beans. Season the soup with freshly ground pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer, cover completely and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the chickpeas are thoroughly tender. Season the soup with salt.

Remove about 1 cup of the chickpeas with some of the liquid and pure'e in a blender or food processor. Return the pure'e to the soup and stir it in. Check the seasoning of the soup, adding more pepper as necessary. The soup may be prepared up to this point, cooled and refrigerated or frozen for future use.

To finish: While the soup reheats, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt and add the pasta. Stir in the pasta, then boil until just tender. Drain the pasta in a colander, then stir into the soup. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and pass a bowl of grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling over each serving.

Note: Purists treat chickpeas in the following way: After the chickpeas are cooked in water or broth, the outer skins, which are paperlike, are removed. The skins, which sometimes flake off, are not tough, but they give the soup a rough appearance that many people do not favor. I view this soup as rustic, and I am personally not offended by the skins.

This soup freezes well (without the pasta addition). To reheat, it may be necessary to add a little extra broth or water, as the soup tends to thicken when prepared ahead. HEARTY SPLIT PEA SOUP (8 servings)

This full-bodied split pea soup revives and soothes, and a pot of it is a most welcome sight during bone-chilling winter. It is infused with small bits of lean salt pork, or smoked pork, which lends character and substance.

3/4 pound dried split peas

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 pound lean salt pork, coarsely chopped, or the equivalent of smoked pork (buy pork from the butt end), shredded

Freshly ground pepper to taste

8 cups chicken broth

1 small bay leaf, preferably imported

Salt to taste, if needed

The night before you plan to make the soup, pick over the split peas and soak them in a bowl in cold water to cover. Let them stand in a cool place (but not in the refrigerator) overnight.

The next day, drain the peas well, rinse them in cool water and drain again; set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over low heat; stir in the onions and cook them slowly until they soften, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, celery and thyme and stir-cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the pork, season with freshly ground pepper, and cook for 5 minutes over moderately low heat. Stir in the chicken broth, the drained split peas and the bay leaf. Bring to a slow boil, stirring occasionally, then simmer the soup, partially covered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peas are very tender. Ladle out about 3 cups of the soup, pour into a bowl and mash the peas with the back of a wooden spoon; return to the pot. Season the soup with salt to taste. Discard the bay leaf.

Serve the soup piping hot, from warmed soup bowls. This soup may be frozen successfully, but tends to thicken after freezer storage; when reheating, simply thin with a little extra broth or water. NAVY BEAN SOUP (8 servings)

This soup is richly flavored with lots of onions softened in butter, flecks of rosemary, and a few chopped tomatoes. A spoon of tomato paste gentles the other flavors and, in a subtle way, picks up the taste of the chopped tomatoes. Serve the soup with toasted and buttered rounds of french bread, or sourdough bread.

12 ounces navy beans

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 onions, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, diced

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, or 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

Freshly ground pepper to taste

8 cups chicken broth

1/2 small bay leaf, preferably imported

Salt to taste

Coarsely grated fontina cheese for serving

The night before you plan to make the soup, rinse the navy beans in cool water, pour into a bowl and cover with plenty of cold water. Let the beans soak overnight in a cool place (but not in the refrigerator).

The next day, drain the beans, refresh in cool water and drain again; set aside.

In a soup pot, heat the oil and butter over a low flame until the butter melts; stir in the onions and continue to cook over low heat until they have softened completely, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the celery and cook for 1 minute; stir in the garlic, parsley and rosemary and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and plum tomatoes and season with pepper; cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and stir in the drained navy beans. Add the bay leaf.

Bring the contents of the pot to a low boil over moderate heat, partially cover the pot and simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the beans are very tender. Discard the bay leaf. Season the soup with salt to taste.

The soup may be prepared up to this point, cooled, then refrigerated or frozen. If refrigerated or frozen, it will be necessary to thin the soup with a little extra broth (or water) because the soup thickens as it stands.

Serve the soup, piping hot, from warmed bowls. Pass a bowl of grated fontina cheese for sprinkling over the top. When melted, the cheese will form a lovely, soft and stringy topping.