Surviving the Winter with Black Bean Soup

The winter doldrums have officially set in. My tiny apartment chills to freezing due to my inability to invest in insulated curtains for the many large window panes surrounding the living room. I spend my days off from work shivering on the couch, clothed in thermals and wrapped up in a blanket. Someday, I swear, I’m going to get curtains. The Chicago cold finds its way into every nook, every conceivable crevice, every chattering bone; which is why firing up the stove and cooking up a pot of hot, simmering soup is almost a necessity.

I grew up in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, Arizona, the parched desert, the valley of the sun, a place devoid of humidity and perpetually sunny.
I absolutely hated it.
The summers would be so arid and sweltering that I would almost collapse from heat exhaustion on the way to the mailbox and back. During college I moved to the high mountains, where snow fell in abundance during the winter months but quickly melted with the ever present sun. My time in the snowy mountains, however, did not prepare me for the kind of cold found in the Midwest. The cold here is unwavering, blistering, unforgiving. It’s a good thing I know a thing or two about soup. The cold here requires a body to rigorously heat from within just to maintain homeostasis. Soup to the rescue!

I prefer a spicy soup to get my blood flowing and clear out the nasal passages. My time in the Southwest has certainly influenced my tastebuds. I love and miss the robust flavors of Sonora, chili, lime, garlic, cilantro. One of my best friends, Maribel, used to bring me plates of her mother’s delectable tamales steamed in banana leaves. I still crave the zippy, salty-sour Mexican candies flavored with tamarind and chilies.

In the dead of the Midwest winter, this soup whisks me back to a sunnier, warmer time that makes the gray of winter a little more tolerable.

Southwest Black Bean Soup with Fried Plantains
4 cups black beans (equiv. to about two cans, I cook the beans from dried in a pressure cooker)
Approx. 10-12 cups stock (I always wing it and add stock until the soup is the right consistency)
1-2 Tbsp
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 carrots, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1-2 poblano peppers (scorch the skins and peel before dicing)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno (leave the seeds in for kick)
1-2 heaping tblsp of chili powder

2-3 plantains
Plantains are related to bananas, but are starchy and savory. You can add them directly to the soup and cook them as potatoes.
I like frying them and serving on the side. They have a faint banana flavor and crisp up nicely.

In a large soup pot, saute the vegetables in the oil with the chili powder until slightly browned. Add the black beans, stock and lime juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and then simmer for 45mins to an hour. About ten minutes before serving, add the cilantro.

When the soup is ready, peel and slice the plantains at an angle. Plantains are more starchy when unripe, so buy them when green for this dish. I don’t like to deep fry foods, so I add just a tablespoon of safflower oil to a pan and cook over medium high heat until the plantains are crispy and brown.


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