Monday, April 13, 2009

Black Bean Vegetable Soup

I love black bean soup. This is the first time I've ever made it. The first time I ever ate it was at a hole-in-the-wall, authentic Cuban restaurant in Tampa, FL. Of course, I cannot recall the name of the restaurant now but I have fond memories of their pressed Cuban sandwiches, and of course, this soup. I actually got it at the recommendation of the waiter and boy, was I glad. It was black beans in an inky black broth ladled over white rice. I'm sure there was more to it because the flavor, the flavor was outstanding. I never knew a vegetarian dish could be so amazing. I had this soup long before I was really cooking for myself. And I never had any desire to replicate this soup at home because I knew I wouldn't be able to...

I stumbled upon this week's featured recipe in my search for ways to utilize black beans, my new alternative protein, in something other than a rice dish. I was not trying to duplicate my previous soup experience...I had a desire to introduce some variety into my black bean repertoire. There are many, many black bean soup recipes...possibly as many as there are spaghetti sauce recipes. However, most of the available recipes have sodium contents that raise my blood pressure just by reading them. It all comes from the canned black beans, the canned tomatoes, canned chicken/veggie broth, and various other canned vegetables. This particular recipe, Black Bean Vegetable Soup, from (NAYY), is reasonably low in sodium. I decided to reduce the sodium even further by rehydrating and cooking dried black beans. Having never done this before either, I searched the internet for concise, easy instructions with photos.

Holy cow, there are lots of ways to do it. You can do it on the stove top, in a pressure cooker (neat!), and finally, in a slow cooker. There are "traditional" methods, "quick soak" methods, and so on. Most of the web-instructions are essentially the same: pick out any stones mixed in with the beans, soak them somehow, then cook 'em. Some instructions have you add various spices, some say add salt at the end. One thing I learned about adding salt...if you're gonna do it, wait until the end, otherwise those little beans will never soften up. That's not from experience...I actually read the directions before embarking on this adventure. Good for me :). I finally chose the instructions for soaking and cooking my beans...mostly because they made it sound so easy, the instructions were concise, and they gave directions for using a slow cooker. Awesome. And I'm proud to announce that my first batch of beans came out pretty darn well. They're slightly overcooked because of poor time-management on my part. I started the actual bean cooking process at like 11pm, and frankly, I was tired and wanted to go to bed pretty badly. I decided to add an extra cup of water to the slow cooker to prevent any adverse dehydration and let the appliance do its magic. I don't have any pictures of the beans themselves, but I used the beans in this week's soup as well as the black beans and rice I made for lunch this week. The black beans and rice didn't turn out very well...entirely because I forgot to buy more rice...and used diced potatoes instead. Ugh...the whole dish was too mushy. And FAR TOO STARCHY. Blech. It was edible but I'm not making that particular substitution ever again!

I made the soup the next day after work and it's pretty easy. Saute a chopped onion with minced garlic, and throw in chopped carrots. Let that cook for several minutes. Then spice things up with cumin, chili powder, a touch of salt (maybe 1/2-1 tsp), and pepper. Let that heat through and become aromatic. Add broth (or water, if you're hard core but I think low-sodium, low fat chicken broth is better). Add 1.5 cups of black beans and corn. Then take another 1.5 cups of black beans and diced tomatoes, put them in a food processor and liquefy the two. Then add them to the soup and allow everything to come to a boil. Taste and add more salt, pepper, chili powder, taste. Changes I made: 1) reduced sodium chicken bouillon cubes, reconstituted, 2) my very own cooked black beans, 3) frozen corn, 4) low sodium diced tomatoes. You could probably use diced fresh tomatoes instead. I noticed there was a lot of "scum" in the floated right to the top and I skimmed it off as needed. It was probably the extra starch cooking out of the beans. Here's a picture of my finished product...I'll confess it was the very last "bowl full" of the soup and I remembered just in time that I had to take a picture of this soup for the blog. The beans are hardly fact, most of the contents are hidden by the liquid of the broth. It's a very chunky soup and somewhat filling...eaten alone, I'd say 2.5-3 cups is a serving. With rice, a serving may be 1.5 cups. I didn't have any rice to eat it with but it was delicious none the less. This recipe gets 4 stars. I hope you try it!

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