Thursday, 16 January 2014

Black Bean Soup with Yogourt & Spicy Salsa

In the winter, if your goal is to cook what is in season and fresh, (and if your goal is to cook more economically when fresh vegetables can be quite pricey) it can be challenging to stray from the root vegetable category. One way to broaden your scope is to include dried beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils in your home cooking. They are nourishing, they keep a very, very long time, and they are extremely inexpensive, if you work with them from their dried state.

Beans are loaded with fibre, a characteristic that is associated with lowering the risk of diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. They are a source of protein, and in great part due to this & due to the astonishing amount of fibre they contain, you digest them very slowly so you feel full longer... they give you energy for longer, releasing it slowly, helping to level out spikes in blood sugar. They lower cholesterol. They're loaded with protective antioxidants, phytochemicals and vitamins. In short, they're a super food! (And right up there in the 150 Healthiest Foods On Earth). To read up on all of the fascinating health benefits, and believe me, the evidence presented is astounding!) read more in that book.

Do not be intimidated by dried beans. It is super easy to prepare them at home, and by not relying on the canned beans at the grocery store you are doing a few good things:
  1. Your beans have a far better texture and are not mushy in your prepared dishes.
  2. There is not as much environmental waste (the tins that you throw out), and their weight, transported in a tinned state, is far greater than their dry weight when it comes to the space & fuel used in trucking them to your local grocery store over long distances.
  3. You reduce your sodium intake (it's used as a preservative in the tinned beans and you can eliminate that entirely on the home front).
  4. You create more storage in your pantry shelf at home.
  5. You are saving yourself money (dried beans cost a few pennies... I know the penny doesn't exist anymore, but dried beans are one of the few food items in the pantry that can be that cheap!).
Look at the price tags... for almost 1lb bags!
One of the best places to buy dried beans, peas and lentils is at an Indian grocery store. Go along 34th Ave., east of Calgary Trail, and you'll find plenty of local shops there. You can buy beans in large kilo bags (or even larger, if you'd like). Spices are often a tremendous deal there too... stock your pantry with spices like cumin, coriander, black pepper, different coloured salts (white, black, pink), cayenne, turmeric, and peppercorns. They're a fraction of the price there that you'd pay in your local grocery store. If you cook a lot from scratch, it's an excellent bargain. (I like the grocery store attached to the Zaika restaurant on 91 Street, one block south of the Henday).

Black Bean Soup with yogurt & spicy salsa
Here is a simple recipe, full of excellent nutrition, great texture & surprisingly good taste that uses black beans. It's from one of my favourite cookbook author's... Canadian, Bonnie Stern. Don't scrimp on the jalepeños in this recipe... the long cooking time brings their spicy heat down tremendously and you need them to help flavour the beans, which otherwise are very plain.

This would look even better with the cilantro in it!
If you like more heat, substitute red chiles or the smaller Thai chillies, for the jalepeños, especially in the fresh salsa. Contrary to popular belief, jalepeños are really not spicy at all, being the least spicy of all the hot peppers available on the market.

The salsa makes this soup, so don't leave it out! There's something about the hot & the cold (the soup & the salsa/yogurt), the smooth (yogurt & soup) & the crunch (onions & peppers), the creamy (soup & yogurt) & the tart & tangy (the lime salsa) that work so well in this recipe. On their own, the two parts of this soup are average at best... but together they're wonderful.

Makes 10 servings

1 lb. (500g) dried black beans
2 t. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I leave these out)
1 T. cumin
1 T. paprika
½ t. cayenne
8 c. vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
3 jalepeños, seeded & chopped (or spicier chilies)
salt to taste

2 T. very finely chopped red onion
2 tomatoes, diced (4-6 camparis)
1 jalepeño, seeded & chopped (or spicier chillies)
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
juice of a lime

½ c. unflavoured low-fat yogourt

In the morning, cover the beans with 3 times the volume of water and soak for a few hours at room temperature or soak them overnight until you are ready to use them in the fridge. Rinse & drain.

An hour and a half before you plan to eat the soup, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion & garlic (if using) and cook gently for a few minutes, or until fragrant. Add the cumin, paprika & cayenne. Cook for about 30 seconds. Add stock, jalepeños and beans & bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat & simmer for 1½ hours until the beans are very tender. Purée the soup in a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste to adjust the seasonings, adding salt if necessary.

To prepare the salsa, combine the onion, tomato, jalepeño, cilantro & lime juice. To serve, ladle hot soup into shallow bowls. Spoon a little cold yogourt on each serving & top with a generous spoonful of fresh salsa.

To make this soup absolutely divine, coarsely chop a pound of mushrooms (Portobellos & creminis, for eg.) and thinly wedge a red onion. Sauté in a pat of butter & a splash of olive oil & a few grinds of a pepper mill. When the liquid starts to come out of the mushrooms & the volume decreases, add about 1/2 c. red wine & simmer slowly until all of the liquid is absorbed. Heap a mound of mushrooms in the bottom of each soup bowl. Ladle in soup to cover & top as usual with salsa & yogurt. It is divine!

Nutritional info from The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.
Recipe adapted slightly from The Best of HeartSmart Cooking, by Bonnie Stern, p. 101
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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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