This post comes to us courtesy of chef and writer Anne Brown.
Children are often picky eaters, and while household rules didn’t allow me to be exceptionally picky, like most children I had little interest in eating and a propensity for all things plain.
All of that changed in my early teens with a visit to a local restaurant and a taste of its black bean soup. I didn’t order it; it may have been my Mom that gave me a taste of hers. But it was her upon-first-taste comment that sparked the curiosity in delicious I still have today. When I heard, “Ooohhh, this is so good, you have to try it,” I was sunk, hook, line and sinker.
It was the stick to your bones kind of soup that we Midwestern folks always ache for in the cold winter months. And it was far from plain. It was the perfect combination of pureed to left-whole ingredients, rich and smoky and different than anything my bored palate had ever encountered.
And while excellent on its own, it still would not have been memorable if it weren’t for the sprinkling of colorful vegetable crunch gently resting on its surface, waiting to be spooned up little by little with each bite. My aversion to raw vegetables ended then and there.
When it came time for our family’s next dinner out, I asked to go to back to that restaurant. I wanted my own bowl of black bean soup. My fascination with food started there. It was one of my first food memories and it’s why I cook.
I cook because once I try something that leaves an impression, I have to know how to make it myself. I was too young to wrap my brain around it then, but as I got older my obsession with keeping my food memories alive and being able to recreate them in my own kitchen drove me to culinary school. It’s the most exciting, soul-fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. My education gave me the skills and ability to taste something, study it and then make it myself.
Now my passion and motivation for cooking is a little less selfish than its origin. I cook to keep my own food memories alive, but I live to cook for others to keep their food memories alive too. I cook because I want to inspire the, “Ooooh this is so good you have to try it,” comments at my own table.
And it all started with the soup.
Black Bean Soup
4 cups dried black beans*, or 8 (16-ounce) cans black beans
1 pound bacon, diced
½ pound Canadian bacon, diced
2 cups yellow onion, small dice
1 cup celery, small dice
1 cup carrots, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups chicken stock (Use less if you prefer a thicker consistency, you can always add more later)
1 Tbs. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
A couple of splashes of angostura bitters (I’d like to call this optional, but a favorite chef in culinary school told me it’s a vital add to black bean soup. Does it make a difference? I’m not sure. Do you argue with a master chef? Never.)
Like it hot? Add:
2 jalapenos, small dice
1 tsp. cayenne pepper or 1 Tbs. sriracha
*Using dried beans means starting the process the night before you want the finished product. Rinse beans well, then place in a container with enough room to cover beans with water rising two inches over the top of beans. Drain before cooking.
In an 8-quart or larger stock pot, cook bacon on medium high heat until browned and fat is rendered, but not until crispy. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Sauté until onions become translucent. Now is also the time to add the jalapeno if you choose to go spicy.
Add chili powder and cumin. Heat seekers: add the cayenne pepper and/or sriracha. Stir.
Add black beans, Canadian bacon and stock. Cook at a low rolling boil, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes if you are using canned beans or at least two hours if you are using dried beans.
Puree soup until it reaches your preferred consistency. I prefer an 80% pureed, 20% non-pureed result. The easiest and most mess-free way to puree soup is with a stick blender.
Top soup with Jalapeno Cilantro Lime Crema and Confetti Salsa (see recipes below).
Jalapeno Cilantro Lime Crema
2 medium jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves
Juice of one small lime
16 ounces sour cream
Pinch of sea salt
Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree.
¼ cup red pepper, brunoise*
¼ cup green pepper, brunoise
¼ cup yellow pepper, brunoise
¼ cup red onion, brunoise
¼ cup green onions, brunoise
¼ cup Roma tomato, brunoise
¼ cup avocado, brunoise
*Brunoise: Chopped very fine, approximate 1/8-inch x 1/8-inch.
The amounts of each ingredient don’t need to be as specific as they are defined here. If you like or dislike anything in the salsa recipe, use more of it, less of it or don’t use it all. The point is: chop everything equally tiny, stir together and pile it all on top of that bowl of soup.
Recipes serve 10 to 12.
About the author: Anne Brown, a Michigan native, is a chef and writer who lives with her patient husband and a scrappy terrier. After her obsession with getting her favorite recipes right began to haunt her dreams, she enrolled in culinary school. After culinary school, Anne realized she liked to talk about food as much as she liked cooking it. In 2010, Anne earned a journalism degree and launched Anne Brown Creative, a copywriting firm dedicated to all things culinary. While she appreciates the song and dance involved in a five-course meal, she craves a great meatloaf followed by a warm chocolate chip cookie more often.