Friday, July 14, 2006

The black bean soup of nostalgia

I've been reminiscing about this soup I used to order at the place that fed me most days in the 'States. As my nanna would say, it was black as the ace of spades and thick and satisfying, and they served it with lime wedges and that coriander/red onion/tomato mix you could buy in tubs from the supermarket. It was good and it was heartening and I've been missing it a great deal lately, so I decided to have a crack at it.

Here is what I used all up. I've heard it help[s if you can see a neat bullet point list at the beginning of the recipe so you know what you're in for.
  • 225g dried black beans. I bought mine from one of those bean and nut stalls at the Vic Markets, which I live very, very nearby so it wasn't no hassle or nothin. I imagine it might be more of a hassle if you're not so close to that big, stinky, rather seedy mass of food and good things.
  • A bay leaf
  • Three cloves
  • A generous amount of vege stock
  • A small brown onion, chopped
  • Four (count 'em) four cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • 3 tsp(s?) fresh thyme, or one dried if you hadn't made minestrone the week before
  • Worcestershire sauce, quite a large amount (maybe 2, 3 tsp?)
  • Tabasco

What they don't tell you about black beans is they're an absolute bitch to cook. I started by soaking them overnight in a generous amount of water. I then drained them, whacked them in a pot with the bay leaf, and covered them with cold water. I then brought them to a good, honest boil, let them boil for about 2 minutes, then removed the pan from the heat, covered it and let it stand for an hour, hour and a half (the latter would be better).

After that I drained and rinsed the beans and turned the garlic and onion in the cleaned out pan with a hit of the 'ole olive oil 'til they were, well, cooked. I'm certain you've done it before, I don't need to tell you. From there I threw in the thyme, cloves and beans, added the stock (seriously, more than you think you'll need - probably around a litre, litre and a half at the beginning), Worcestershire and Tabasco, and a generous amount of fresh pepper. I brought it to the boil again, reduced the heat to a decent simmer, half covered it and walked away for two hours. Actually, I lie. I came back a few times and had a stir, maybe added a little more liquid if it was necessary. Check the beans by mashing one against the side of the pan with the spoon; if it's still chalky in the middle it's not done.

After the beans became mashable I did just that. I had a good crack at it with the potato masher 'till most of the beans were crushed. You should still have a goodly amount of liquid in the pan at this stage, so stir up the crushed beans, take the top off, reduce the heat right down and let it bubble for about 15-20 more minutes 'til it's thickened.

Now for the important bit. The soup at this stage is tasty, but you can't serve it all naked. It must be dressed. For this you'll need
  • A couple of big handfuls of fresh coriander
  • One big 'ole vine ripened tomato
  • A red onion
  • Lime wedges or, failing that, lemon juice

If I had a food processor I'd chunk the onion and tomato and whizz it with the coriander, but I don't so I chopped them all and forked them together. I then spooned the coriander/onion/tomato over the soup and hit it with lemon juice, an unmissable step.

All in all pretty damned tasty, and rather impressive looking, too.

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