The weather has been awful here for the last week or so—cold, cloudy, and damp. It seems the June Gloom has come a few weeks early. It’s perfect soup weather, though, and Henning came back from the Talbot workshop at the end of March claiming to have enjoyed a black bean soup. Amazing, for a man who “doesn’t like” beans. He said that one of the virtues of the soup was its smooth texture, rather than chunky beanyness. I had most of the ingredients for a simple black bean soup laying around, so I decided to have a go at it.
For some reason, I thought Rancho Gordo‘s Vaquero beans were black beans. Maybe it was their black spots, or the text on the Rancho Gordo site singing the praises of their black pot liquor. As they were cooking, I noticed the black fading to brown, and when I pureed the soup, it had a telltale brownish color. I tasted it and worried that Henning wouldn’t like it, because it was indeed quite beany. But when I had him taste it, he gave it the green light! I think that instead of not liking beans in general, he really just doesn’t like nasty refried beans at Mexican restaurants—and who’s going to blame him for that?
At any rate, the soup was delicious and used up lots of bits and pieces in my fridge, plus the guajillo chiles I got from Grand Central Market over the weekend. Alongside, we ate chips with a salsa that I’ve been making regularly since the mangoes have started looking good—a simple mango-avocado salsa. The fresh, fruity flavors provide a great contrast to the hearty bean soup. The salsa is also extremely flexible. We’ve had it as a dip and as a topping for cheese quesadillas, and I can imagine that it would be delicious atop grilled fish or pork chops.
Black Bean Soup
For a smooth, elegant finish, puree the soup very finely—it makes for a wonderful texture. For a vegetarian version, leave out the bacon and use vegetable stock rather than chicken stock.
1 lb dried black beans
2 dried guajillo chiles*
4 thick strips of bacon (optional)
1 tbs olive oil
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 red peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, peeled
8 cups good-quality chicken stock (for vegetarian, sub vegetable stock)
1 tsp freshly ground cumin
1 bay leaf
juice of 2 limes, plus extra lime wedges for garnish
*Guajillo chiles can be found at Mexican markets and specialty stores. If you can’t find them, substitute two dried ancho chiles, or two chipotles en adobo from a can, but of course skip the toast-and-soak steps.
Soak the beans in water to cover by two inches for four to six hours.
Cut the stems from the chiles and use scissors to cut them open lenghwise. Remove the seeds. Toast the chiles in a dry pan over medium-high heat, pressing them down until a faint wisp of smoke appears. Turn and toast the other side. Put the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling-hot water. Soak for 20 minutes.
Put the bacon in a large pot over medium heat and fry, turning frequently, until browned and crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. When cool, crumble the bacon. Remove all but 1 tsp of bacon fat from the pan, and add the olive oil, onion, shallots, red pepper, cumin seeds, black pepper, and oregano. Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables have softened and browned slightly.
Put the chiles and 1/2 cup of their soaking water in a blender or mini food processor. Add the garlic cloves and blend until finely pureed.
Drain the beans and add them to the pot with the vegetables, along with the chicken stock, ground cumin, bay leaf, and chile-garlic puree. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the beans are cooked through, about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on your beans. When the beans are nearly soft, taste the broth and add salt as needed.
Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup with either an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor or blender. Add the juice of the two limes and taste the soup. Add salt if it needs it. Ladle the soup into wide, shallow bowls and drizzle decoratively with yogurt. Sprinkle with cilantro and crumbled bacon. Serve with lime wedges.
This extremely versatile salsa is just as at home atop grilled fish or roasted pork as it is scooped out of a bowl with crispy tortilla chips.
2 medium mangoes, peeled, flesh cut from pit and diced
2 medium avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 jalopeno or serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
juice of 1 juicy or 2 not so juicy limes
a large fistful of cilantro leaves, chopped
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Serve immediately.
Makes about 3 cups.