Monday, August 25, 2008

Black Bean Soup

Don't be misled. This image isn't a shrine commemorating aromatics, but rather a sure way to chop and dice with no tears. Light a votive candle and place it close to the action! I keep mine right on the cutting board. It works.

The assortment of onions, shallots, peppers and garlic pictured above was the prep for a little sofrito used to flavor a pot of simmering black beans.

Cuban black bean soup is a favorite comfort food. Easy to prepare and especially flavorful, particularly if you plan ahead and make the soup with dried beans. But often in a hurry, I've been pleased with the results of using canned beans. The secret is to infuse the cooked black beans and rich broth with sofrito, a combination of onions, bell peppers and garlic.

The aromatics used for soup bases varies slightly from one ethnic version to another. The French use mirepoix, a combination of carrots, celery and onion. The Cajun holy trinity is onion, celery and bell pepper and the Spanish influence is sofrito, onions, garlic, peppers.

Each combination of aromatics provides the complex flavors needed to change water into a rich, tantalizing pot liquor boosting the earthy flavor of the cooked beans. Use one of these combinations as the starter for almost any soup, particularly those featuring beans: white, black, pinto, etc.

Make a big pot of this luscious vegetarian soup on a day when you're home doing other chores. Once the beans and water are in the pot and brought to a simmer, they take care of themselves with an occasional stir from the cook. Allow 2 1/2 to 3 hours for this soup, if using dried beans. The sofrito can be made ahead of time, ready to pop in the pot when the beans are almost cooked.

In a big stockpot, bring one pound of black beans, 12 cups of filtered or spring water and a couple of bay leaves to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring frequently for 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to keep the beans covered as they cook.

(If using canned beans, heat thoroughly then proceed with instructions).

Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan, heat 1/2 cup of good olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the following aromatics: 2 red or green bell peppers, diced; 2 medium yellow onions, diced; 2 large shallots, sliced. Cook, stirring frequently for 8 - 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Then stir in 1 tablespoon of cumin, 2 tablespoons of oregano and 8-10 cloves of coarsely chopped cloves of garlic. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Purée in food processor or blender.

When the beans are almost done, remove the bay leaves, then stir in the purée, 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper (do this to taste - adding a little at a time). Continue cooking for another 15 - 20 minutes.

This soup is delicious served with rice and/or chopped onions and sour cream. Another highly nutritious, very inexpensive taste treat.

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