Invariably, each year as it starts getting colder, my mind turns to soups. Leek and potato, minestrone, Julia Child's French onion, cream of asparagus, you name it. I think I could happily have soup every night for a week! Soup's loveliest attributes make it well-suited to winter: it keeps well, it is often better the next day, and it heats up so easily in the microwave or on the stove. And, of course, like a mug of hot cocoa savored after being out on the ski slopes all day, soup warms you up from the inside out.
As the temperatures drop, my husband B starts clamoring for black bean soup. He downs great bowlfuls at a time, sometimes for breakfast. (Remember how I said that soup keeps well? Eating it before noon was not what I meant.) I am the primary cook in the family, but black bean soup is one of the few recipes he brought to our relationship. It's quite a flexible recipe, easily able to adapt to what you have in your fridge (so take the words below as a guideline rather than the rule). You can make the base with a classic mirepoix, but I usually stick with just onions and eliminate the carrots and celery. I usually use canned black beans, for convenience's sake, but you can soak black beans overnight and then boil them until tender (about 45 minutes) with four parts water for every one part beans. The soup ends up being so hearty that it's actually more of a chili than a soup. It's also quick enough that it makes an easy weeknight meal, but, as with all soups, it improves with simmering.
While the soup is simmering, I usually whip up a batch of cornbread, often with a jalapeno to give it a bit of spice. B puts his slice of cornbread in the bottom of the bowl before ladling soup over, but I have mine on the side with a dab of butter to round out the meal. With a glance at the thermometer (it's currently 46 degrees outside), I'm off to the kitchen now to make a batch of black bean soup before B gets home.
B's Black Bean Soup
Serves 4, with leftovers
Time: 25 min active, 45 min total
2 onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1-2 c. tomatoes, chopped (canned or fresh)
3 15-oz cans black beans, drained
1 t. cumin
1 t. oregano
1 t. cayenne
6 c. chicken broth
1 chicken breast, sauteed and chopped (optional)
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 c. sour cream
1 avocado, chopped
1/2 c. cilantro, chopped
Heat olive oil in large pot over moderate heat. Add onions and bell pepper, and saute until onion turns translucent, approximately 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, black beans, and spices; cook for 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil; simmer for at least 10 minutes or longer to allow flavors to meld, skimming occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, you may blend half of the mixture to thicken the soup. Add chicken breast if desired. Ladle into bowls, and garnish as desired.
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 9 pieces
Time: 10 min active, 25 min total
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. cornmeal
2 1/2 t. baking powder
2 T. sugar
3/4 t. salt
1 jalapeno, with seeds, chopped (optional)
3 T. melted butter
3/4 c. milk
Preheat oven to 425. Pour liquid into dry ingredients, including jalapeno if desired. Combine with a few rapid strokes. Pour into lightly-buttered 8 inch baking dish. Bake for 15 min or until edges are lightly browned. Cut into 9 equal pieces and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe lends itself to variations. It makes a killer Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. And for a breakfast corn muffin, do not add the jalapeno, and pour the batter into muffin cups; serve with butter and strawberry jam.