Chances are if you drop by there would be a soup simmering in a copper pot at the back of the stove in my kitchen, its fragrance wafting throughout the house. ‘Tis the season as they say. Fall is a perfect time for a bowl of warm, steamy soup. I love making soups and they make a lovely and satisfying simple meal at the end of the day with good bread and maybe a crisp salad. In the summer of course it’s chilled soups: cold beet soup, cucumber-yogurt, chilled avocado-lime, cherry soup as an appetizer in a small glass or of course the classic gazpacho. But not now. Now it’s heartier fare of soups with vegetabes, legumes, noodles and grains. To be honest, and I have said it before, I seldom make a soup exactly the same twice. They are basically the same but not identical. It’s just not how I cook. Soup is very forgiving and will likely turn out well if you have a sense for what can go into it and how each of the ingredients cooks.
Today I was trying to clear the pantry a little (shhh) and decided that the can of black beans in the corner is going into a soup. I sometimes use canned organic beans in different dishes to simplify the process so I tend to have a can or two of something in the pantry. I also have canned tomatoes (San Marzano) so between these two canned products and the rest of the fresh ingredients, I made a good black bean soup (and cornbread to serve with it) that I thought was good enough to share with you. One more thing about soups: it’s easy to get carried away and make a huge amount of soup that you never seem to finish. I like variety and don’t want to eat the same soup for a whole week. So now that I am cooking for two most of the time I started to be really disciplined in the quantities I cook (do I hear my friends laughing out there?). I start with a smaller pot so I cannot put too much in it and stick with it. If you do make a large quantity of soup my suggestion is to store it in mason jars in the fridge. It keeps well and you can pull out a jar, empty it into a pot to reheat and voila, a quick supper.
The question with soup is whether or not to use stock. Some say that the stock makes the soup and that’s fine, it can be true depending on the soup. I once (years ago) made an almond soup with homemade veal stock from a book by Roger Verger (French culinary genious) and it was incredible and completely depended on the stock for flavour and texture. However, I think that if you use beautiful fresh vegetables to make a soup, using a stock can mask and overpower their flavour and sometimes just water would be the best. In any event, feel free to use whatever you’d like for the liquid, or combine stock with water. If you don’t make your own stocks at home and rely on boxed ones then for sure I would recommend that you use half stock and half water. The flavour of the boxed stocks is very strong. If you can, try to buy stock from specialty shops that make their own or buy them from reputable chefs. Stocks keep nicely in the freezer ready to be pulled out and used in a soup when needed.
In terms of equipment, I like having an immersion blender that you can lower into the hot soup and blend it, partially or completely. You can use a standing blender but it’s so much more messy and inconvenient. Unless I need to get a really silky puree, for which I use either a good blender or a chinois sieve, I use an immersion blender to perfectly acceptable results (for me).
One thing I like to have in the fridge is soup toppings. By toppings I mean various pistou (like pesto), flavoured bread crumbs, special oils and spice or herb mixtures etc. that can be drizzled or sprinkled over the soup just before serving. These add to the flavour and look beautiful on top of the soup. When I was in Penticton a few weeks ago I had a chilled gazpacho from Brodo Kitchen that was served with cornbread croutons. The soup was delicious and the croutons like the icing on the cake. I was impressed. I may crisp some of the cornbread I made and serve it as topping for this soup, I think it will go well.
There are wonderful books about soups. One of the best and most comprehensive is James Peterson’s Splendid Soups. I have had the book for years and it was one of the first books I repurchased when I started to restock my cookbook library. Another book I no longer have is the Time Life the Good Cook series Soup book. The series was published back in the 80′s and edited by the iconoclast Richard Olney, an American who lived in Provence in the South of France and was an influential figure in the birth of American “new” way of cooking. James Beard was a mentor and Alice Waters one of his “desciples”. You can still buy the books through Amazon. As I am rebuilding a cookbook library I would appreciate any information on books that you think are special and worth having, soup or other topics.
Now to the recipe.
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1-2 jalapenos, seeded, white veins removed, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
1/4 cup prepared salsa
1/2 cup cilcantro or flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 small avocado, cut into cubes
Queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled
Sour cream or crème fraiche
Heat oil an a 3-4 quart soup pot.
Add onion and cook until soft and transparent, about 8-10 minutes or so on medium heat. Don’t let it burn or brown.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
Add chopped jalapeno and cook another 3-4 minutes.
Add the chili powder, beans, corn and stock and bring to a boil. Keep the extra cup of water to add if needed.
Once boiling reduce heat to a simmer, add the cilantro and salsa and continue cooking at a simmer, partially covered for about 30 minutes.
Taste and add salt, depending on the salt in the stock and salsa you used.
You can serve the souop as is or puree it partially with an immersion blender. I left it as is this time.
Spoon into soup bowls and top with some of the garnishes suggested above.
Serve with cornbread, tortilla chips or rolled up warm corn tortillas.