Black bean soup, one of the world’s great comfort foods is also one of the easiest to make. When I was young I couldn’t stand bean soup. I would do anything I could to get out of eating it. You should have seen the shenanigans I pulled But my folks wouldn’t put up with it and I went to bed hungry many nights.
My parents were not rich people, especially when the four children were little. As we got further from payday, our meals contained less and less meat, saving my mother precious money from her household allowance. Yes, I grew up in the time when their husbands gave women allowances to buy the food and run the house. In some ways I miss those days and yet I know I could never live under that much constraint.
As it turns out, the primary reason I didn’t like bean soup wasn’t the flavor, it was the texture of the beans. I still struggle a little with dishes where the beans are served whole and much prefer refried beans to whole beans in Mexican food. One way around that aversion for me is to puree or smash the beans whenever possible. The best tools for that are the old-fashioned potato masher and an immersion blender. You can pick up a potato masher at any hardware or kitchenware store and it cannot be beaten for making mashed potatoes and whenever you want your foods left with some chunkiness to them. But if you really want a fast and efficient way to puree soups and sauces, and immersion blender is the way to. With all the attachments available on the new models, it is a very handy tool to have available for a myriad of kitchen tasks.
For a perfectly smooth puree, nothing beats a traditional blender. It has the power to create a vortex that pulls all the ingredients down into the blade repeatedly until everything is smooth. You just need to be cautious when blending hot liquids. The steam can build up and make the top explode under the pressure. The best way to avoid being burned is to loosen the top of the blender or the little plug in the center of the lid. To be safe cover the top with a kitchen towel while blending and work in batches.
Chipotle peppers are one of my favorite ingredients. They are smoked jalapeno peppers and found either dried, pickled, or in a savory sauce called adobo. If you cannot find them in adobo sauce you can reconstitute dried chipotles in boiling water until softened and supple. Discard the stem and scrape out the seeds. Then slice or dice according to recipe directions. If you like the smokiness chipotles add to foods but have people who cannot take the spiciness, you can substitute smoked paprika
Make sure you serve the cilantro on the side if any of your guests object to its flavor. Some people find it objectionable citing tastes from soapy and distasteful to down right nauseating. This variation seems to be due to predisposed genetic sensitivity to certain compounds found in its aroma. For more information, read this terrific article on NPR.com.
If beans give you the common gastric reaction, you can reduce the pain and bloating by using a product called Beano. Made from enzymes that help your body break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that your body can easily absorb. Because of the potential increase in blood sugar, anyone with diabetes should use Beano under a doctor’s supervision.
While the full-blown recipe is one of my favorites and well worth the time and effort, I do use canned black beans if my time is short. Make sure you drain and rinse them well before adding to the other ingredients to wash away any metallic flavor. If even this amount of prep is too much for you on especially hectic days, see my super duper shortcut under the Tips and Hints section below!
I love the look of a dollop of the white sour cream on the top of a bowl of the dark soup, but if you want a more professional appearance you can create a swirl. Thin the cream a little if needed to make it “pourable” and pour some into the center of the bowl. Then using a spoon or chopstick, drag it in an ever-widening circle in the bowl.
To fill out your meal and to help cushion the heat of the soup, you might want to serve something alongside such as tortillas or cornbread. The traditional accompaniments to Mexican food, guacamole and sour cream are also cooling agents that can help your guests if they are extra sensitive to spicy foods. With this soup, crunchy tortilla chips are the perfect foil. I love the textural variety and satisfaction they give and the to the soup.
I hope you enjoy making this soup using any of the methods described, and that it brings you happiness and satisfies your hunger for healthy, comforting foods!
Have a very Festive Friday and wonderful weekend!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Here is the super easy, uber fast mock version of this soup that is nearly as tasty using pre-seasoned canned goods. Combine 2 cans of Cuban-Style Black Beans and 1/3 cup prepared salsa (I like Frontera brand by Chef Rick Bayless). Stir together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. You can have this done in about 15 minutes!!
Make sure the beans, chipotles, seasonings, stock, and tortilla chips are all gluten-free.
Kitchen Skill: Chopping Cilantro
Because the stems on cilantro are so pliable and slender, you don’t have to be as careful about stripping the leaves, especially if you are pureeing the soup. The easiest way to separate a portion of the cilantro to chop is to literally shave it off the bunch with a sharp knife. Hold the bunch by the stem with the leaves downward. Slice downward with the knife blade shaving off just the amount you need.
Cilantro tends to collect sandy soil in its leaves and be gritty. Make sure you rinse it under cold running water one sprig at a time. I run each leaf through my fingers to see if there is any grit left. Pat leaves dry with paper towels before chopping or mincing. Collect into a pile and run a very sharp knife through the leaves. Put all the pieces back into a pile and chop again. Keep doing this until you have the leaves at the size you like.
Chipotle Black Bean Soup with Cilantro-Lime Cream
Adapted from a recipe in The Whole Foods Market Cookbook
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 lb dried black beans, picked through for pebbles and rinsed, or 2 [15 oz] cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
2 to 3 canned chipotle chilies en adobo, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups cold, fresh water
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 fresh lime
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
Sea salt, to taste
3/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed very well and patted dry on paper towels
Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped chives or finely minced green onions
Fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped
Fresh lime wedges
Tortilla chips, optional
Prep the Beans: Soak the black beans at room temperature at least 6 to 8 hours or overnight prior to cooking. Short cut to a long soak: Place beans in saucepan, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour. Drain thoroughly before using.
* If using canned beans, there is no need to soak them ahead. Pour into a colander, rinse very well with cold running water and drain thoroughly.
Make the Soup: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the red onion, peppers and garlic; sauté until the onion is translucent. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the oregano, cumin, sumac (if using), chipotle chilies, and tomato paste; sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cold water, stock, and soaked beans.
Bring the soup to a boil, boil for 5 minutes stirring occasionally, then lower to a simmer and cook, covered for about 3 hours, or until the beans are tender and the liquid is mostly absorbed and slightly thickened.
* If using canned beans, cook the other ingredients on their own for about 30 minutes to develop the flavors. Add the rinsed canned beans and cook an additional 30 minutes or until beans are tender and flavorful. Don’t worry if they get really soft because you are going to puree the soup.
Make the Cream: While the soup is cooking, make the cream. Combine the sour cream or crème fraîche, lime juice (start with juice of 1/2 lime), and cilantro in a food processor. Run the motor until the herbs are completely pureed and well blended. Taste and add salt and pepper. Add more lime juice or cilantro if you want a bolder, brighter flavor, but remember that flavors intensify with time.
Transfer to a bowl and store, covered, in the refrigerator while the soup finishes.
Finish the Soup: When the beans are tender and the flavors blended, stir in the cocoa powder, orange juice, cilantro, scallions, and salt; continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Keep warm on low heat until ready to serve.
If you prefer to use a traditional blender, puree the soup in 2 or 3 batches. When blending hot liquids, always leave the top slightly ajar and cover it with a kitchen towel to protect yourself from burns. Puree the first batch, pour into a large bowl and repeat until all the ingredients are smooth. Transfer back to the saucepan and reheat if needed.
Ladle into warmed serving bowls, top each with a dollop of the Cilantro Cream and garnish with a sprig of fresh cilantro or chopped chives. Sprinkle with chopped tomatoes if using. Serve with extra lime wedges and tortilla chips.
For a vegetarian main course, serve the soup over steamed brown or white rice.
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