Well, I have been busy in the kitchen, but what I made was, sadly, ugly. Not just unattractive, like you'd look at it and say, "Hmm, I wonder why anyone would bother to cook that? I'll check back tomorrow and see if she's got something better." No, I'm talking seriously ugly. If I'd put up a picture you would have reared back from your computer in horror, as if something from a Stephen King novel came to life on your screen. So ugly that my photographer refused to take a picture of it. Seriously. That ugly.
But one thing I've raised my children to know is that things that look good don't always taste good (see post about deceitful brownies) and things that taste good don't always look good. So it is with this soup. We all agreed it was tasty, possibly the best bean soup I'd ever made.
I've heard it said that the measure of a chef is not the fancy desserts he/she can create but rather the soups he/she can make. By that measure I'd fail miserably as a chef. My childhood memories are either watery broth with anemic vegetables floating in it or the "good stuff" from a can. After marriage I got the canned soup pretty well down and mastered the vegetables in broth and that was the extent of my soup repetoire. I got excited when I made Split Pea Soup, until it got shot down by the pea-haters in my family. (A person in my family, who will go unnamed, calls peas "little green dirt balls.")
So it is that I've had the cookbook, Splendid Soups by James Patterson, sitting on my shelf for years and I've never made a thing from it. My sister, an excellent cook, cooks from it copiously and raves about it, but still my copy has sat unused, gathering dust for probably a decade.
Recently I've been working on culling the older items from my freezer and trying to fit them into the menu. A ham bone had to go and the only thing a ham bone fits into, in my knowlegde, is a soup. So I bravely cracked the spine on my Splendid Soups and found a recipe for Black Bean Soup.
As I was making it I was thinking, "this is not my mother's soup." Bacon? Yum. Jalapenos? Wow. Sherry? In soup?? It's bursting with exciting flavors, has nice contrast textures, and is ugly as sin. So, I'd reccomend trying the soup. Turn the lights off and have romantic candlelight. That might help.
Black Bean Soup
Start early, as the beans need plenty of time to soak and cook.
2 cups dried black turtle beans, soaked (I used plain black beans as that's what the grocery store had.) To soak, put the beans in a 4-quart pot and cover with cold water. Let them soak for about 2 hours.
1 quart chicken or beef broth or water
1 boquet garni*
1 ham bone or 2 ham hocks
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 pound bacon, preferably slab
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 jalepeno chilies, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup dry sherry
2 Tbsp unsalted butter (optional - I didn't use it)
salt and pepper
Do not discard the soaking water. Into the pot with the beans and the soaking water add the broth, the bouquet garni, and the ham bone. Cover the pot and simmer very slowly for 30 minutes. Add the salt, then simmer for 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours more, until the beans are soft. If the water starts to run dry, add just enough water during the cooking to keep them covered.
While the beans are cooking, slice the bacon into 1/4-inch-thick slices - remove the rind if you're using slab bacon - and slice each of these into 1 by 1/4-inch trips. Cook the bacon strips in a 4-quart or larger pot over medium heat until they just start to turn crisp. Remove them with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Add the onion, garlic, and jalapenos to the bacon fat and cook until the vegetables soften and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
When the beans are finished cooking, take out the ham bone or hocks, trim and discard any rind, pull the meat away from the bones, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.
Add the cooked beans and their cooking liquid, the ham, and the sherry to the vegetables in the pot.
Bring the soup to a slow simmer and simmer for about 5 minute to cook the alchohol out of the sherry. Whisk in the cilantro and butter, if desired, just before serving. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cooked bacon strips over each bowl of soup before serving. Leave a bottle of Tabasco on the table to accomodate guests who like their black bean soup hot and spicy and pass a bowl of sour cream.
Suggestions: If the soup comes out thin, beat it for a minute or two with a whisk to break up some of the beans, which will thicken the soup. Or you may want to puree part of the beans in a blender or food processor and then add them to the rest of the soup, or you can puree all and convert this soup into a smooth puree.
This is excellent served with corn bread.
Note: the cute puppies pics are from my dear friend who breeds miniature dachsunds and corgis. If you're interested in a puppy, let me know and I'll get you her contact information.