Thursday, January 15, 2009


I chose this highly-rated recipe from Epicurious as an appropriately noble use for my Rancho Gordo midnight black beans and my new Dutch oven. I wanted a recipe specifically designed for using dry beans, involving a long simmer with flavorful ingredients. This one struck the right balance between delicious (bacon! sour cream!) and wholesome (everything else—lots of veggies and no extra fat besides the bacon). Don’t be scared off by the long soaking and cooking times—you only have to pay undivided attention to this recipe for about 30 minutes. Sure, you won’t be whipping it up on a weeknight, but make it on the weekend and it will certainly feed you happily for the rest of the week. It fit perfectly into my Sunday schedule: I started soaking the beans right away when I got up in the morning, read the paper, went to a museum, came home and chopped the soup ingredients and got them cooking in the later afternoon, cleaned the apartment while they simmered cozily, and for once did not have to miss the beginning of the season premiere of 24 because I was hustling to get dinner on the table. The result of this day of cooking was a substantial, flavorful soup, slightly smoky from the bacon, with a delightful burst of contrasting freshness from the cilantro-lime sour cream.

I’ll admit I was prepared for this soup to rock my world and make me turn away from canned black beans once and for all, but those expectations might have been a bit high. It’s certainly worthwhile to cook with good-quality dried beans now and again (they’re more affordable and healthier, and the process is enjoyable), and if I get my hands on any more Rancho Gordo black beans, this is a treatment worthy of them. I thought this soup might blow my quickie canned-bean version right out of the water, but although the flavor was more complex and the texture was satisfyingly meatier, it wasn’t so dramatically different as to inspire me to toss away my old recipe. The moral: Both versions can coexist. Sometimes you want a quick weeknight meal with convenient ingredients, and sometimes you want a slow-cooked, old-world weekend meal. Besides, simmering something on the stovetop for hours is great on a cool winter day, but torturous on a hot one--and I live in Southern California, so canned beans will continue to have their place in my pantry. That said, I will certainly make this soup again. In the meantime, I still have leftovers to enjoy!

A few notes: I used nonfat plain yogurt instead of the sour cream, because I’m not much of a sour cream fan to begin with and knew I wouldn’t miss the extra calories. And yogurt is tasty! Instead of my usual Trader Joe’s French Village, I tried what seemed to be a new TJ’s offering, Organic European-Style Yogurt, which turned out to be a great choice for this recipe—it was smoother and creamier than ordinary yogurt but also much thinner, aptly like Mexican crema, with a nice tart flavor. I highly recommend it if you can find it. Also, the original recipe had you add the tomato and vinegar with the rest of the ingredients, but Rancho Gordo’s bean-cooking guidelines say that adding acids too early in the process can make the beans tough, so I added them about 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time and have changed the recipe below accordingly.

16 ounces (about 2½ cups) dried black beans
6 bacon slices, chopped
¾ cup finely chopped celery
¾ cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup finely chopped carrots
¾ cup finely chopped leeks
6 to 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 cup (packed) chopped fresh cilantro, divided
⅓ cup (packed) chopped fresh Italian parsley
1½ tablespoons minced garlic
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¾ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place beans in a large bowl. Add enough water to cover by 3 inches and let stand about 6 hours or overnight. Drain well.

2. Cook bacon in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until brown but still soft, about 4 minutes. Add celery, onion, carrots, and leeks, and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add beans, chicken broth, ½ cup cilantro, parsley, garlic, jalapeño, cumin, and coriander. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer soup until beans are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours. When the beans are just starting to become tender (after about 1½ hours), add the tomato and vinegar.

3. Working in batches, transfer soup to a blender a process until a slightly chunky puree forms, then return soup to pot (better yet, use an immersion blender until the soup is about half-blended). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Mix sour cream/yogurt, lemon juice, lime juice, and remaining ½ cup cilantro in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and place a dollop of sour cream mixture atop soup (if you are making leftover portions, store the sour cream mixture in a separate bowl; do not add it until soup is reheated and ready to eat).

Serves: 8
Time: About 8½ hours, but only about 30 minutes of that is active cooking
Leftover potential: High (all soups improve with age), but remember not to add the sour cream until ready to eat.

No comments: