Monday, February 16, 2009

Having Fun with Black Bean Soup

The other day I had lunch with Brent Evans of the Personal Chef Network at Rippington's, one of my favorite lunch spots in Waxhaw, NC. He reminded me that we hadn't had lunch since last September, so we had a lot of catching up to do, exchanging industry news and info, sharing our favorite cookbooks, and family news.

I had my usual Reuben sandwich (which is just so delicious that I always get it), and Brent ordered a cup of black bean soup as a precursor to his bacon-Swiss burger. Our server brought Brent his cup of soup and that was the first thing I've tasted at this restaurant that was disappointing. Great flavor, but it wasn't soup. It was completely puréed and so thick that it was more like a black bean hummus and would have been great served with pita chips. There was no garnish, either, just a cup full of dark mush.

That got me thinking about black bean soups I've made in the past. I usually just throw things together (that's called "dump" cooking) but of course I want to give you some concrete measurements so that you end up with a good product since this is the first time you'll be trying this recipe. In fact, it is irritating to me that TV "chefs" these days never seem to measure anything. I think that's the new "make it look easy" gimmick, but when you are trying a new recipe it's important to measure accurately. You can always adjust seasonings later.

Just as important as the soup here is the garnish. You'll have a bowl of deliciousness, but it will all be one color. The garnish will add color, but also flavor, and will make each bite more interesting. Some things that I suggest (in any combination) are diced avocado, diced red onion, diced hard boiled egg, cilantro leaves, whole kernel corn, diced seeded tomato, sour cream, a lime wedge (for squeezing over) and a drizzle of dark rum. Maybe you can think up some about tortilla chips? Shredded lettuce? The possibilities just might be endless! Have fun playing with your food!

Cumin-Spiced Black Bean Soup
from The Bon Appetit Cookbook

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 c. chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, peeled & chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
3 (15-oz.) cans black beans, drained (reserve 1 c. liquid)
3 1/2 c. (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2teaspoons hot pepper sauce

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and thyme; saute until onion is golden, about 8 minutes. Add beans, reserved 1 cup bean liquid, 3 1/2 cups broth, tomatoes with juice, cumin, and hot pepper sauce. Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until flavors blend and soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

Working in 2 batches, puree 2 1/2 cups soup in blender until smooth. Mix puree back into soup pot. Bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with garnishes.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

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