When I was a kid, I couldn’t think of any food more revolting than soup. To say that I hated soup, would be a bit of an overstatement. Soup had never personally offended me. It had never kidnapped my family, insulted my mother, or called me names. I just didn’t care much for it. To an eight year old me, eating soup was about as exciting or pleasurable as spending an afternoon following my Dad around CompUSA. In other words, lame city. Bereft of other options, I might go for a can of spaghettios, but other than that, soup was not part of the short list of things that Kid Mary would eat.
Kid Mary was actually pretty darn picky. While everyone else ate garden salads I would stick to a bowl of tomato and cucumber. Ordering pizza? Plain cheese for Kid Mary. I wonder how many grown-up food lovers started out as picky children? Was it an early sign of my discerning pallet, or was I just a royal brat?
Anyway, back to soup. My contempt for soup continued on into young adulthood. I suspect that being raised as a vegetarian had something to do with it. That, and the fact that most soup I had ever encountered came out of a can. By the time I was a teenager I was known to partake in the occasional New England Clam Chowder, mostly using it as a sad substitute for the only soup I had ever truly enjoyed, that being my father’s lobster bisque.
It was Fish Head Soup, of all things, that actually opened my mind to how good soup could be. The fatty, tender neck and fin meat of butchered salmon and bonito finally made a soup-eater out of me. This “soup” was actually the first stage of the house dashi made in my first Japanese restaurant. That stock was used in countless sauces and recipes, but most often in the miso soup and clear soup that we served with every entree.
When I went to culinary school, and began making soups of my own, I really fell in love. It turns out that it wasn’t soup that I disliked so much, just bad soup. These days, soup is one of my very favorite things to make and eat. While I still find canned soup to be utterly repugnant, there is almost nothing that I enjoy more than a bowl of homemade.
Almost every week you’ll find at least one type of soup simmering in my kitchen. Sometimes it’s creamy, other times brothy. They almost always have a starchy surprise inside, like noodles, barley, or potatoes. The soups that I make most often are minestrone, butternut squash, and black bean. These are recipes that I have made so many times, that it’s almost difficult to nail down a recipe that does the real thing justice. Black Bean Soup is the first to make the transition to my satisfaction.
A word on heat: I would describe my Black Bean Soup as zesty. If you really like a spicy soup, go ahead and add in an extra chipotle pepper during step three. If you just want it to be a little hotter, you can adjust the heat at the last minute by stirring in some adobo sauce from the can of chipotles. As is, I don’t think this soup is super hot, but I prefer it this way. Any spicier, and I would find eating a monster-sized bowl uncomfortable. That would be a problem.
I like to top my Black Bean Soup with crispy tortilla strips and a tiny bit of cilantro. If you are a cheese eater, try sprinkling some queso fresco or cotija on top. If you really want to enjoy yourself, plop half of an avocado into your bowl.
Say it with me. “Oooooh yeah.”
Black Bean Soup
Serves about eight
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 white onions, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 canned chipotle pepper
- 2 28-ounce cans of diced tomato
- 4 16-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed
- 32 ounces vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- the juice from 1 lime
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- Heat the oil over medium heat inside a large pot. Once the oil is hot, add the spices. Cook the spices in the hot oil, stirring them continuously for about one minute. This lets the spices open up, becoming more fragrant and intense.
- Add the onions and garlic to the pot, stirring to combine them with the oil and spice. Saute for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
- At this point the onions should be mostly clear. Add the tomato, and chipotle pepper. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer for another ten minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock and black beans. Using an immersion blender (also called a stick blender), puree the mixture until it is totally smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can do this in a regular blender or in a food processor, but be careful. You may need to let the mixture cool down before processing.
- After the soup has been pureed, turn the heat up to medium, and bring it to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low again, and let it cook for another ten minutes, stirring now and then. While it’s cooking, taste the soup. Is it a little too acidic? Is there a metallic taste from the canned tomato? If so, add a teaspoon of sugar to the pot.
- Turn off the heat, and add the lime juice. Stir it well, then taste. If it tastes a little dull, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a little black pepper. Stir, then taste again, and add more salt and pepper as needed. At this point you can also make it spicier by adding a little adobo sauce from the chipotle can.
- Garnish the soup with avocado, tortilla chips, cilantro, and cheese, as you like.