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Best winter soups: Black bean. December 12, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, featured a variety of black bean soup recipes this morning. (Check them out in the “Life” section at www.mcall.com.) I’m sure they’re good, but I don’t plan to stray from my gold-standard recipe anytime soon. It’s thick, rich and delicious, perfect winter food. I like to serve it with homemade cornbread and a crunchy salad. Yum!

Mind you, this is a savory black bean soup, with plenty of onions, garlic and cumin, so you don’t want to serve a sweet yellow cornbread; mine is a white cornbread with no sweetener, perfect with this soup. A crusty baguette, hot buttered ciabatta rolls, or a slice of warm focaccia would be excellent alternatives. On occasion, we also serve it with (or on) brown rice. (Our friend Ben likes his soup over the rice, while I prefer rice as a side.) A baked potato or roasted sweet potato would also be a good option.

On to the recipe. Enjoy!

                     The Best Black Bean Soup

4 medium or 2 large sweet onions, diced 

3 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced

1 green bell pepper, cored and diced

4 T. extra-virgin olive oil for sauteeing

3 small (15.5-ounce) cans black beans or 1 large (40.5-ounce) can

1 large can crushed tomatoes (or 2 cans Ro-Tel tomatoes if you’d like to add some heat, or 1/2 bottle tomato juice)

1 T. whole cumin seed, or to taste

1 T. dried oregano, or to taste

1 t. dry mustard (such as Coleman’s)

2 t. salt (we like Real Salt) or Trocamare, or to taste

veggie stock or broth

juice of 1 lemon

sour cream

Saute the onion, garlic, green pepper, herbs, spices, and seasonings in olive oil until the onions clarify. (I don’t measure the olive oil, just pour it into a heavy-bottomed soup, stock or other deep-sided pot until it coats the bottom. The more oil, the better, I think. I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this.) I keep a box of veggie broth on hand (any brand is fine) and add a splash as needed to keep the onions, etc. from sticking.

Once the onions have clarified, add the beans and tomatoes or tomato juice, stirring well to blend. (You can also add diced paste tomatoes or any tomatoes you have on hand, but be sure to add some canned tomatoes or tomato juice for more concentrated flavor.) Use a potato masher to mash the beans and thicken the soup. (You won’t be able to mash them all, but do your best.) Turn the heat down to a simmer, and stir frequently to prevent sticking. If you need to, add splashes of the veggie broth to prevent sticking.

While the soup’s flavor matures, make your cornbread or rice and salad. (If you want to bake potatoes, you should start them before you begin to make the soup.) Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings if needed. Your goal is a rich, thick, silky soup, with no liquid and lots of body. (By “no liquid” I don’t mean a dry mass of mashed beans, but rather, a moist mashed-potato consistency, rather than random beans floating in fluid. Not as dry as refried beans, more stew-like.)

Before serving, add the juice of a lemon, stirring well to blend. Serve in individual bowls topped with dollops of sour cream. For a more elaborate effect, top with shredded sharp white cheddar, sour cream, and fresh salsa. But this is at heart a simple and satisfying soup. I hope you love it as much as we do, and that it warms heart and soul during the cold months!

Note: By adding as large a quantity of crushed tomatoes or tomato juice as I do, this soup isn’t black; it will be a reddish-brown. But I think it’s worth it for the added flavor. If you’d like a black black bean soup, add just one small can of crushed tomatoes or a cup of tomato juice, and make up the rest with veggie broth.

              ‘Til next time,


Winter rescues: black bean soup. February 15, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Ack, winter. Silence Dogood here, with an old friend’s heartfelt cry of “I can’t remember the last time snow just kept piling up here and never melting!” in my mind, my poor little car trapped in the parking square by an ice floe, and the wind howling around the house, promising more bitter cold weather. Ow! Winter, go away, please.

What’s the best way to keep the cold and wintry thoughts at bay? Soup. Thick, rich, hot soup on a cold, miserable day (or worse, night) is the perfect antidote to winter. Here at Hawk’s Haven, our favorite cold-weather soup is black bean soup. But not just any black bean soup will do. It has to be thick, rich, and warming, as opposed to watery and unsatisfying or, like the black bean soup I ate yesterday at a local coffee shop, thick but only thanks to the food processor, with no body or flavor. Good black bean soup has real body, real flavor, enough to sustain body and soul in this bitter weather.

That doesn’t mean it has to be hard to make, though. Try my own simple favorite and see what you think! I love to eat my black bean soup with hot-from-the-oven cornbread or rice and, of course, a big, crunchy salad, but feel free to serve it any way you want. I’ll guarantee this much: You’ll be glad you did!

Here’s a caveat: The color of your black bean soup will be determined by the ratio of black beans to crushed tomatoes or tomato juice. Add more beans for a darker color, fewer for a redder color. Either way, the soup tastes great!

As you’ll see from the recipe, the amount of each ingredient can be increased to suit your tastes or to accomodate what you have on hand. (I’ve used two green peppers when I had some I needed to use up, and I’ve substituted a sliced jalapeno for the hot sauce when I had a fresh one on hand.) For years, I used tomato juice to make this soup, but I’ve recently begun using a big can of crushed tomatoes instead and loved the result. Point being, like most soups, this one is very forgiving and will be delicious however you mix and match ingredients. 

                     Best Black Bean Soup

1 large (40.5 oz.) or 3 small (15.5 oz.) cans black beans, or more to taste

1 large (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes or 1/2 large bottle tomato juice

2 large sweet onions, or more to taste, diced

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3 large cloves garlic, or more to taste, minced

extra-virgin olive oil for sauteeing

vegetable stock (any boxed brand is fine)

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 tablespoon whole black mustardseeds or 1 teaspoon dry mustard

splash hot sauce (we like Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa)

1/3 to 1/2 cup lemon juice (we like Key Lemon) or juice from 1 lemon

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

lemon pepper or ground black pepper to taste

sour cream

1 bunch scallions (green onions), chopped

Pour enough olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven (I love my LeCreuset enameled cast iron) or stock pot to completely cover the bottom. Add the vegetables and seasonings (except for the lemon juice) and saute until the onion clarifies. Add splashes of veggie stock as needed to keep the veggies from sticking to the pot. Once the onions have clarified, add the black beans, mashing them with a heavy potato masher. Then add the crushed tomatoes or tomato juice, stirring well to mix. If you’d prefer a darker color, add another can of beans and mash again, then stir.

Cook on low heat, stirring as needed, until the soup is heated through and thick, almost the consistency of refried beans. Stir in the lemon juice just before serving, and top each bowl with a scoop of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of scallions.

See how easy it is? Of course, you can use dried black beans, pour boiling water over them, and soak them overnight if you’d prefer. But with cans of beans selling for 59 cents at my local Giant, I’d rather go for the convenience. Once I’ve made the soup and it’s cooking down, I make my cornbread or rice, and while that’s cooking I make the salad, set the table, and pour the wine. At which point it’s time to eat!

I’ll never be one of those “let it snow” people: I hate the shoveling, traffic hazards, and potential power outages that come with winter storms. And I hate cold weather almost as much as summer heat and humidity. But a bowl of thick, hot black bean soup and a hunk of buttered cornbread or a side of rice can go a long way towards making winter bearable.

              ‘Til next time,


Does anybody cook like me? March 15, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. My dear friend Huma just forwarded a black bean soup recipe from today’s New York Times that incorporates two packages of fresh spinach into the soup. She thought it sounded really good.

I’ll admit, I was intrigued as well. I love cooked spinach on its own with some balsamic vinegar and salt, but am less enamored of it in soups or dishes like lasagna, where it just seems stringy and pointless. But because black bean soup is so thick and rich, I thought it could probably accomodate all that spinach and add a dollop of healthy greens without ruining the flavor or texture.

But then I started thinking. Okay, I like the idea of incorporating greens. But wouldn’t baby arugula, with its spicy flavor, add more to black bean soup than spinach? And what about doubling or tripling the wimpy amount of cilantro in the recipe? Black bean soup is so rich it can stand up to a lot in the way of flavoring. How about adding fresh basil leaves for a hit of anise? Or, better yet, cinnamon basil leaves?

I like my own black bean soup recipe (search for it in the search bar at the upper right) way better than the New York Times version, but I’m ready and willing to add greens to mine as they did to theirs. Great idea! I’d even consider adding shredded lettuce with sour cream, grated white Cheddar, and hot sauce on top. Why not make it the best it can be? Yum, now I want to make it for dinner tonight!!!

So okay, I’m flexible. In fact, I’m really flexible. I can never see a recipe without wondering what I could do to make it better. It doesn’t take long for a bunch of ideas to occur to me. What about you? Are you by-the-book cooks, or are you like me, brazen adventurers?

          ‘Til next time,


This Could Be YOUR Home October 5, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were driving along the scenic backroads of Berks County, Pennsylvania, on Friday night, conveying a steaming Dutch oven of Silence’s warming and wonderful black bean soup and a big, festive salad to the Friday Night Supper Club. (See our earlier post, “The Friday Night Supper Club,” for more on this great way to kick off the weekend.) We were enjoying the pumpkinfields and all the other scenic sights of the onset of autumn when our friend Ben suddenly saw something I’d never seen before.

We were just passing a down-at-heels trailer park when our friend Ben saw a sign prominently placed in front of the most decrepit of the trailers: “This Could Be YOUR Home.” Of course, Silence and I loved this. Since there was no phone number, no “For Sale” sign, no nothing, we decided to take it as a morality tale: Straighten up, stop spending like there’s no tomorrow, act responsibly, or This Could Be YOUR Home. Talk about a wake-up call!

Silence and I have talked about putting a similar sign in front of our own battered but beloved cottage, Hawk’s Haven, in an attempt to provoke people to value what they have. But we live on a very dangerous curve on a curbless road, and we don’t want to distract drivers as they whip around the bend at 1,000 mph. Our attempt at consciousness-raising will have to remain a fantasy, but it’s one that cheers us up immensely as we tack bubble wrap over our more vulnerable windows in an attempt to cut down on drafts and reduce fuel costs this winter.

Here’s a warming tip I can share with you, one that will heat you up for literal pennies: Silence’s rich, thick, flavorful black bean soup and cornbread. (Silence didn’t make cornbread for the Supper Club because another member was already making a hot-from-the-oven loaf of bread, yummo, but when we eat this soup at home, we always have it with hot buttered cornbread and salad, and we urge you to do the same.) Silence swears it’s one of the easiest meals she makes. She does use canned black beans instead of soaking and cooking dried beans to save time, but tells me that you can find black beans for 35 cents a can if you shop the store brands and keep an eye peeled, something at which she’s an expert. (She’s also adept at finding sour cream for a third the cost of national brands, and, though our peppers and onions come from our CSA, she swears you can find incredible bargains on green peppers especially, and they’ll turn orange-red if you want to let them sweeten. Silence’s shopping motto is “Seek and ye shall find.”)

Our friend Ben tracked down Silence in the greenhouse this morning, where she’s furiously puttering, bringing in and winterizing various deck plants and the earthworm composter, and extracted the directions for both the black bean soup and the cornbread.

Silence says that, since the soup has so much body, you should eat it with a salad that can stand up to it—this is not the time for limp, wimpy spring greens. She recommends a full-bodied mix of arugula, Romaine, and sorrel leaves or watercress (if you can find them), with plenty of green onion, red or orange bell pepper, and carrots or radishes.

Geez, now I’m getting really hungry. I suppose it’s too much to hope that she’d make black bean soup again just two days later! Please forgive our friend Ben for the style of these recipes; they’re in paragraph form because I was frantically copying down Silence’s running commentary. Silence stressed to me that the black bean soup is very forgiving, so you can vary the quantities of the ingredients to suit your own taste. Of course, as with all baking, better stick to the recipe for the cornbread.

Silence’s Supreme Black Bean Soup

Sautee 2-3 large diced onions and anywhere from 3 cloves to an entire head of minced garlic, depending on how much you love garlic, in an ample amount of extra-virgin olive oil until the onions clarify. Add a heaping tablespoon each of dried oregano, basil, thyme, whole cumin seeds, salt (we like Real Salt), and black mustardseeds (if you have them), and a generous splash of hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa and Tabasco Chipotle, but use your favorite). You can also add a generous sprinkling of Trocamare or Herbamare if you have some on hand. Next, add 2 large diced green bell peppers or 1 large green and 1 large red bell pepper. Add enough vegetable stock (Silence uses the boxed veggie stock from the grocery soup aisle, and says that every brand she’s tried so far is good) to prevent sticking. You can also add chopped fresh tomatoes if you have some you want to use up. Now it’s time to add the black beans. Silence adds 3-4 cans, stirring them in and then using a heavy potato masher to mash them for a thicker soup. After stirring the mashed beans thoroughly into the mixture, add enough tomato juice to make it “soupy”—maybe a third of a big bottle—and then cook it down until it’s the texture you desire. Silence and I prefer a very thick, almost stewlike texture, but of course you can serve it as a soupier soup if you prefer that. (Note: because of the tomato juice, this soup will be reddish rather than the traditional black most people associate with black bean soup. No worries.) Just before serving, stir a generous splash of lemon juice into the soup. Top each bowl with a big dollop of sour cream. 

Silence’s Super Southern Cornbread

Melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a 10-inch round baking pan in a 425-degree oven; Silence likes glass for this. (If you insist on using unsalted butter, add 1 teaspoon salt to the next part of the recipe.) Combine 1 1/2 cups white cornmeal, 3 tablespoons unbleached flour, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. Beat an egg and add it to the dry ingredients along with 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, and the melted butter; mix well. Pour into the hot, pre-greased pan (the melted butter will take care of this step for you), and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Cut in pie slices, split them, and insert butter; eat hot. Silence warns that because this cornbread is rich, it doesn’t keep well, so if you have leftovers, warm and eat them in the first two days after baking it. (Um, leftovers?!!)

Come and get it: cornbread and black bean soup April 4, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here, ready to spill the beans (so to speak) on a couple of favorite recipes. Our friend Ben asked me to share my treasured family recipe for cornbread after writing yesterday’s post, “Ben Picks Ten: Southern comfort foods.” We absolutely love this cornbread, and so does everyone we’ve ever fed it to. In fact, you simply can’t stop eating it, which is actually a good thing, because here’s a fact about cornbread: Like biscuits, it just doesn’t keep. Hot biscuits or cornbread right from the oven are as good as food gets, but even by the next meal, it’s all over. Talk about a case where you’d better “get it while it’s hot!”

Now, our friend Ben and I are Luddites (which is not some kind of obscure religious sect, it just means we try to live simply and avoid unnecessary technology; see one of our early posts, “What is a Luddite, anyway?” for more on this). So we don’t have a microwave oven. If you do, you might experiment with reheating cornbread and biscuits in that to see if it restores them to luscious, light, and moist rather than hard and dry, or whether it just makes them gummy. Please let us know!

Good cornbread is a thing of beauty: crusty and crunchy on the sides and bottom, warmly golden on top, and tender and succulent inside. To get it to this state of perfection, I’m sure you’ve heard again and again that you need to use a seasoned cast-iron skillet. And it’s true that a cast-iron skillet will do a great job, but our friend Ben and I aren’t fond of the slight iron flavor that it imparts to the cornbread, and are still less fond of the work it takes to maintain cast iron. (Rust never sleeps.) Besides, it’s just not true that the only way to get cornbread this good is to bake it in cast iron. I’m here to tell you that glass works just as well.

Being a big fan of thrift-store shopping, I’ve found marvelous old glassware in my local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. These old Corning, Pyrex, and Anchor Hocking classics are made of thick glass, they’re deep, and they tend to have big “ears” on the sides for easy lifting from a hot oven without fear of the dish dropping out of one’s clumsy mitts. And you can almost always find them for less than two dollars. Check it out! Some have beautiful crimped edges, too, and some are tinted glass—I have one that’s a lovely, very subtle light blue.

I use the 8-inch cake pan size for cornbread, rather than a 9-inch pie plate, because I think the depth of the 8-inch pan (pie plates tend to be shallower) makes a better cornbread. I also think the thickness of the older glass pans helps to form that wonderful crust. But the other secret to a crusty cornbread in a glass pan is to melt the butter for the recipe right in the pan, give it a good swirl all around before you pour it into the batter, and leave a generous amount in the pan. Of course, the super-hot oven helps, too.

Now, all this may make cornbread-making sound arcane, but it couldn’t be simpler or faster. You can throw it together and have it in the oven faster than you can read this post. I’m serious! So let’s stop talking and start cooking.

                  Dogood Family Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons salted butter

heaping 1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup milk

Melt butter in a deep 8-inch glass cake pan or 9-inch-square glass baking pan or cast-iron skillet in a preheated 425-degree F oven. Combine cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add milk, egg, sour cream, and melted butter to the combined dry ingredients and stir vigorously to mix. Pour batter into the hot pan or skillet and bake at 425 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot with butter (salted, please) and enjoy!

Cornbread hot from the oven is good anytime. We like it with a fresh green salad and a wedge of aged Cheddar as a simple but satisfying lunch. But one of our favorite ways to eat it is with a steaming bowl of black bean soup for dinner, so I’m going to pass that recipe along to you as well. Try them together and see for yourself!

When you read the black bean soup recipe, you’ll notice that the ingredients are flexible. This is soup, not science, people, and this particular soup is very forgiving. I’ve made it every which way and it’s always good. The main difference is in the color of the soup: If you add two cans of beans and a lot of tomato juice, sauce, or what have you, the soup will be a beautiful deep terracotta color; if you add three cans of beans and cut back on the tomato juice, sauce, etc., it will be a rich dark brown. Both look and taste great! (And yes, we do use canned beans. If you soak your own dried beans, make sure you cook them until they’re good and soft before you start making this recipe.)

                Silence’s Super Black Bean Soup    

 2 or 3 cans black beans

1 large bottle tomato juice or 1 large can tomato sauce or 1 large can crushed tomatoes

1 large box vegetable stock, or homemade 

2 large or 4 medium sweet onions, diced (‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Vidalia’ type)

1 large green pepper, diced

1 large or several small fresh tomatoes, diced (optional)

3 cloves garlic, minced

chopped fresh cilantro to taste, if desired; reserve some for garnish 

1 heaping tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 heaping tablespoon cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano (I try to use Greek or Mexican oregano)

1 heaping teaspoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle, or more to taste

juice of one lemon or 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

extra-virgin olive oil

sour cream

Pour a generous amount of  olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot. Add salt, black mustardseed, cumin, and oregano and saute in oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until clarified. Add green pepper, fresh tomato (if using), cilantro (if using), and hot sauce. If veggies start to dry out, add vegetable stock as needed to prevent burning.

Once the veggies are nicely cooked, add black beans and either half a large bottle of tomato juice or a large can of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (all work fine). Continue to cook, adding more tomato juice or veggie stock as needed. After about 15 minutes, take a potato masher and mash the black beans. You don’t have to mash them all, the idea is simply to make a rich, thick soup.

Stir well after mashing and continue cooking, adding a little veggie stock or tomato juice as needed, until the soup has reached the consistency of an incredibly thick, delicious pasta sauce. You want it to be very thick on the spoon, not runny at all, but not as condensed as good refried beans, either. When the soup is thick enough, pour a ring of lemon juice around the top and stir briefly to combine. Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream on the top of each bowlful, and a spray of fresh cilantro if available. Yum!!!