Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't be a jerk

I've been craving black bean soup like crazy as the temperatures have started dropping to serious winterlike levels, so the other day I started soaking a couple cups of dry black beans. The next day I drained them and started simmering them with a spoonful of ground cumin and ginger (which I had heard helps to reduce the gas these delicious legumes are known to produce) in a fresh batch of water. I drained my softened beans, got out a lime and some more ground cumin, and because I could not for the life of me recall what all else I needed, I called the woman who makes some of the best black bean soup I've had in my life: my mom.

She graciously unearthed the index card, handwritten copy of the recipe that I've been enjoying since middle school, and dictated it to me over the phone. I was surprised at how simple it was: 2 cans of black beans, water, a lime, and Jamaican jerk spice. That's it. Delicious. But I was scandalized. "Jamaican jerk spice?? What about cumin? Cilantro? Chili? At least an onion, right??" Nope. All the flavor comes from the jerk seasoning. What's in that, anyway?

I did just finish a series of FoodPrints lessons teaching 3rd graders to be avid readers of ingredient labels, after all. Yep, it was as I suspected: lots of salt. I could do better than this, I decided. Plus, it was awfully cold outside and I wanted to avoid a trip to the store to purchase my single missing ingredient. I would work with what I had around the kitchen.... The result was delicious (though it will never quite replace my mom's recipe and its plethora of fond memories).

Black Bean Soup (from scratch)
Makes 4-6 servings, depending on how hungry you are


  • 2 cups dry black beans, soaked overnight, simmered until soft, then drained
    (you can use 3-4 cans of beans, but they're pricier and less nutritious -- just sayin')*
  • 6 cups vegetable stock (make your own!)
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/2 - 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeds removed then finely minced
  • 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 tsp dried)
  • a sprinkle (1/4 tsp?) cayenne
  • a sprinkle of ground nutmeg
  • a sprinkle of ground cinnamon
  • a pinch or two of ground allspice
  • 1-2 tsp tamari (or soy sauce, but I swear tamari is better)
  • juice from 1 lime (2 TBSP, roughly)
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • plain greek yogurt (optional), for garnish
  • fresh cilantro (optional), for garnish
  • additional lime wedges, for garnish

  1. Heat a medium pot with a few glugs of olive oil, then stir in onions and cook over low heat until soft, stirring occasionally so things don't stick too much (5-10 minutes).
  2. Stir in the shallots, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  3. Turn up the heat as you stir in the cumin, thyme, cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and tamari,
  4. When these have sizzled for about a minute, stir in most of the beans (I set aside about 1/2 cup) and all of the broth. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, puree the soup, then stir in the remaining beans and the lime juice. Taste, then season with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves, along with a lime wedge for folks to squeeze in just before eating. I also made some cheddar jalapeno corn muffins because, hey, what is black bean soup without cornbread?
*Check out this previous post for some tips on cooking dry bean.

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