Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hearty Bean Soup

Since we are all seeing a major increase in the cost of food I thought it might be nice to offer another recipe that is cheap to prepare and offers good nutrition. I am a huge fan of soup and of beans so what is better than a good bean soup. This recipe is originally for black beans but it works equally well with other beans like pinto(recommended) or even kidney or red beans. You don't have to have all of the garnishes listed below, but this soup really needs something to bring some more flavor elements to the table. This recipe also calls for the addition of chipotle chilies in adobo--smoked jalapeƱos packed in a seasoned tomato-vinegar sauce. This is optional but it makes this a nice spicy and smoky soup...just not your plain old bean soup. You can find these chilies in the Mexican food section of your grocery in most areas of the country. You just need the smallest can.


Needed for the beans
1 pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over( or other dried bean)
4 ounces seasoning ham or pancetta finely chopped. (You vegans can leave this part out)
2 bay leaves
5 cups water
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp kosher salt

Needed for the soup
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions , chopped fine (about 3 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
3 ribs celery , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 tsp kosher salt
5–6 medium cloves garlic , minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoon)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 Tbsp minced chipotle chiles in adobo (optional)
2 tsp adobo sauce(juice from the can) (optional)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp cornstarch (optional)
2 Tbsp water (optional)
2 Tbsp lime juice , from 1 to 2 limes

Garnishes (pick a few)
lime wedges
minced fresh cilantro leaves
minced fresh Italian parsley(flat leaf)
red onion , finely diced
avocado , diced medium
sour cream or plain yogurt
grated cheese
chopped cucumber
chopped red bell pepper

1. FOR THE BEANS: Place beans, ham/pancetta, bay leaves, water, and baking soda in large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; using large spoon, skim scum as it rises to surface. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender. This should take about an hour and a half. If necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender. Don't drain the beans. Pick out and discard the bay leaves.
Note: you can speed this part up by soaking the beans overnight in 4 quarts of water to which you have added 3 TBsp of salt. Drain this soaking water off and follow the recipe but reduce the water to 3 cups or enough to just cover the beans. They should cook tender in about an hour. Check the beans after a half hour to make sure you have enough water and add another cup if needed.

2. FOR THE SOUP: Heat oil in 8-quart Dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium-high heat until not quite smoking; add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, until you smell the garlic about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, chipotle chilies(if using), adobo sauce(if using), and broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. You can do this step while the beans simmer and set aside until the beans are done.

3. FINISHING THE SOUP: Ladle 1 1/2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid into your food processor or blender, process until smooth and return to pot. Alternatively you can use a hand blender to give the soup a few pulses. This will thicken and improve the texture. Depending on how you like your soup you can add additional body by stirring together cornstarch and water in small bowl until combined, then gradually stir in about half the cornstarch mixture. You won't see the full effect of the cornstarch until the soup comes back to the boil. If the soup is still thinner than you like once it boils then stir in the remaining cornstarch mixture and return to boil to fully thicken. Turn off the heat, stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately and allow everyone to garnish their own.

As always with the recipes offered here...nothing is cast in stone so feel free to modify as you like. I, of course, don't have to tell you this goes great with homemade cornbread (you can find a recipe by searching this blog for "cornbread") but a nice crusty Italian loaf or even tortillas work as well.

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