A few years ago, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I was introduced by a friend to what has since become one of my favorite and most-used recipes, for a blended black bean soup (I’ve never been a big fan of thin, liquidy soups or too-chunky ones). The best part is, he completely improvised it. One Super Bowl Sunday, as he toiled over the stove in the Park Slope apartment I shared with a friend, preparing to feed a hungry bunch of passive football fans who were more interested in his menu than the game, I observed from behind, frantically scribbling a list of ingredients and steps that went into making this amazing soup, which he’d made for us on one prior occasion. The directions are at some points difficult to read and frequently imprecise–there are no measuring cups or spoons, no units of weight to worry about–but that’s one of the things I love most about it. Sometimes, it turns out nice and mild. Other batches have left me teary-eyed and begging for the nearest cold beverage.
That recipe has traveled with me through three moves (including one from Brooklyn to Boston), tucked inside the front of my favorite cookbook. I’ve copied it down, e-mailed it, and made it over and over again for friends and family, and it’s always received with the same enthusiasm. It’s even become a Christmas Day lunch tradition with my family.
Naturally, when I learned that we’d be spending this weekend barricaded indoors by record-setting snowfall, I thought it the perfect occasion to make a pot of this glorious soup for my bf and me. I was right. After I finished making it, I let it sit on the stove for a bit as we bundled up and went outside to shovel snow and take a walk around our neighborhood. We came back home cold and wet, but a couple of bowls of black bean soup later and we were snug as bugs, watching the snow through our windows. I’m already looking forward to having leftovers today for lunch.
*A few notes about this soup: it’s 100% vegetarian (the original recipe called for chicken broth, but I use vegetable broth and it’s absolutely delicious). The recipe also calls for half and half, but you can omit it to make the soup vegan. Last but not least, it’s gluten free when you swap in corn tortillas instead of flour ones. As for serving suggestions, a squeeze of lime or some diced avocado are superb accoutrements.
I hope you’ll try it, and I hope it becomes a favorite for you, too. Enjoy!
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
Celery, chopped to equal onion and pepper piles
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded (keep seeds and/or use 2 jalapenos for more heat)
1 Serrano pepper, chopped (and seeded, if desired; using the seeds adds more heat)
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Orange juice (no pulp)
1 carton of vegetable broth (or chicken broth if you prefer it)
1 package corn or flour tortillas
Canola oil (for frying)
Extra virgin olive oil
Sour cream (or fat-free plain Greek yogurt), for garnish
Heavy cream or Half & Half
Large soup pot
To make soup:
Coat the bottom of a large soup pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add chopped vegetables and garlic and sautee on medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until veggies turn translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once vegetables are translucent, add enough orange juice to cover the bottom of the pot (don’t cover/submerge the vegetables), and stir. Add 3/4 of the black beans, then turn heat to high and add the entire carton of vegetable or chicken broth. Bring to a boil. When mixture boils, turn heat down, cover pot, and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes. After 90 minutes, remove lid, and blend contents of pot with immersion blender until soup is smooth. Add remaining 1/4 of black beans, and 1/2 or 1 cup of heavy cream or Half & Half. Stir.
To make tortilla strips:
(The number of tortillas you use is based on your preference. Any leftovers that don’t get eaten with the soup make great snacks later!) Stack tortillas and cut into uniform 1/2-inch strips. Fill a large skillet with about 1/2 inch of canola oil and turn heat to medium high or high. Once oil is hot, drop 5 or 6 tortilla strips in at a time, frying for a minute on each side, or until the strips are golden brown and become crispy. Use tongs to transfer strips onto a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle with salt. Garnish each serving of soup with as many strips as you’d like.