Black Bean Soup

Around this time of year I always get the same ambition. No matter how many times I’ve failed in the past, the sunshine (we do get it sometimes!), warmer weather, and my antsy-ness from being trapped at a desk all winter always leads to the same thought: this year I’m definitely going to be a runner. Now before you get any crazy ideas, let me clarify what I consider to be “a runner”: for me it means someone who runs on a weekly basis, for at least 30 minutes at a time total (this means running + walking), without feeling like they are on death’s door after every session. Pretty low standards, right? I think so. My body doesn’t agree.

This season in particular I got a stronger urge than normal. I think it’s because this time around – for the first time in about 5 years – I have to actually WORK at working out. No laughing, I’m serious! In the past, my hobbies had the (wonderful) added bonus of exercise: climbing, kayaking, biking, being on my feet all day in Japan or in a Vermont coffee shop… I just never had to worry about fitting exercise into my routine. Unfortunately, everything I do these days is in front of a computer screen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my studies and am really looking forward to having a summer free of classes to focus on my research, but I’m very quickly realizing I’m going to have to actually make an *ahem* effort to stay healthy now. Can you hear me whimpering?

So, full of naive ambition and covered in sunscreen (some of us only burn), I set out yesterday for my first run of the season. What started off so well quickly deteriorated and it always begins with the “stuff”: having exercise-induced asthma, my puffer is always with me. Then I carry my phone both for safety and for music. Next, I have to find room for a 4″x2″ laminated building keycard with attached apartment key. I settled on stuffing my 4″ puffer into the tiny pocket in my leggings, forcing my phone into my old iPod armband, and sliding the keycard under my waistband…only my puffer kept popping out, my armband kept slipping down (not made for the weight of the iPhone), and I gave myself an uncomfortable blister where the keycard rubbed against my upper thigh.

As I was jogging and juggling objects – more juggling than jogging – my left earbud also refused to stay in. Then the wind picked up (it IS Nova Scotia after all) and, believe it or not, kept blowing the headphones cord into my mouth every few minutes. If you had passed me on the street that day you would have seen a gal puffing her way down the avenue with her left hand on her ear, her right hand holding the cord while simultaneously trying to pull up her armband, a brass key flapping from the front of her pants, and a bulge sticking out the back like a little tail. Oh, and my face was bright purple. Of course.

In the end I gave up, turned around, and just walked home. I couldn’t have been out there more than 20 minutes and I feel like I honestly get a better workout just following my pilates or yoga DVDs in my living room…but those won’t get my outside and into the sunlight. I think I’m going to give running at least a few more shots and am brainstorming ways to make the experience at least more manageable if not less painful. I’ll run my headphones cord through my shirtsleeve next time to – hopefully – keep it out of my mouth. I’ll only run when Brad is home so I won’t have to take the cumbersome keys. I could just hold the phone, although I’m always afraid of dropping it…

How about you? Are you a runner at all? Were you one of the dozens of folks who so effortlessly bounded past me the other day – hands free and head high? haha. Tell me your tricks! My lazy bum may never get used to going more than 3 mph, but I’d at least like to feel able. We’ll see.

Black Bean Soup

(slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Soups & Stews 2010)

Ingredients:

For the Beans…

1   lb.   dried black beans, picked over and rinsed (~2 C)

2   bay leaves

5   C   water

1/8   t    baking soda

1   t   salt

For the Soup…

3   T   olive oil

2   large onions, chopped fine (~3 C)

1   large carrot, peeled, chopped fine (~½ C)

3   celery stalks, chopped fine (~1 C)

½   t   salt

6   garlic cloves, minced (~2 T)

½   t   red pepper flakes

1½   T   ground cumin

4   C   low-sodium vegetable broth

2   T   cornstarch

2   T   water

2   T   fresh lime juice from 1 or 2 limes

For Garnishes…

lime wedges

chopped fresh cilantro leaves

finely diced red onion

diced avocado

plain, non-fat greek yogurt or sour cream

* Note: While the recipe calls for using the liquid the beans are cooked in, you don’t have to be that afraid of…shall we say…the “side effects”. The test kitchen chef explained that the added baking soda not only helps in keeping the beans an attractive black color, but also aids in reducing the bloat beans can cause. Hurray!

Procedure:

1) For the beans: place beans, bay leaves, water, and baking soda in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over Medium-high heat and skim foam from the service as needed. Once boiling, stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beans are tender – 1¼ to 1½ hours. If necessary, add an additional Cup of water and continue to simmer until beans are tender. Do not drain!* Once beans are done, remove bay leaves and set aside in remaining water.

2) For the soup: heat oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stockpot over Medium-high heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook – stirring occasionally – until vegetables are soft and lightly browned – about 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to Medium-low and add the garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin and cook – stirring constantly – for a few minutes or until fragrant.

3) Stir in all but 2 Cups of the beans w/ their liquid and all of the vegetable broth. If you want a perfectly creamy soup with no chunks of beans, add all the beans at this step. Increase heat to Medium-high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and let it simmer uncovered for about half an hour – stirring occasionally. This will blend the flavors and reduce the stock.

4) To finish, use an immersion blender to puree the soup until creamy or, alternatively, blend the soup in batches in an upright blender or food processor. Once blended, stir in the reserved whole beans (if saved). In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and water until all lumps have dissolved and then gradually add about half of the mixture into the soup. Return the soup to a boil over Medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, to fully thicken. If you’d prefer you soup to be thicker once it’s boiling, add in the remaining half of the cornstarch slurry (you may have to whisk it a bit to recombine it before adding to soup) and allow soup to boil for a few minutes to thicken further. Remove from heat.

5) Off the heat, stir fresh lime juice into soup until fully incorporated. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately with preferred garnishes. Be prepared for meat-loving friends/family to love this Mexican-themed, vegetarian soup. 😉

Beezer’s Notes:

I am really surprised how much Brad and I both liked this soup! This was supposed to be just another healthy meal to add to the repertoire (I adapted it to be vegetarian and used greek yogurt instead of sour cream). In particular, I was waiting to hear complaints about the lack of meat and giant dollops of yogurt – he did refuse to eat it until I confessed it’s true nature – but…BUT…he liked it! WE liked it. The generous amount of cumin gave the soup an unidentifiable richness and the red pepper flakes produced just a slight heat, satisfying without making you sweat. The beans were filling enough to make this soup a great stand-alone dinner (especially with toppings), but we didn’t feel weighed down like you’re apt to with other Mexican-themed meals. Finally, the source recipe suggests using chipotle chilies in adobo sauce instead of the red pepper flakes for a smokier taste. Somehow I missed that note the first time around, but I love my choptle chilies in adobo so I’m really excited to try that variation next time!

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥  

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Chicken Mole

I had heard of Chicken Mole occasionally before attempting it. I had a vague picture of a traditional Mexican dish made with spices, tomato sauce, and – shockingly – chocolate! I had never tasted Chicken Mole before, though, and still have only eaten a limited amount of Mexican food in general. Growing up and spending the majority of my adult life in New England, I have had very little exposure to food south of Pennsylvania, haha. “Taco Night” is popular in my family and we have a fairly decent burrito place down the street, but while I can talk endlessly about the joys of Asian food – Japanese in particular – I’ll freely admit I really don’t know much at all about Mexican.

 

Even with my ignorance, a Chicken Mole recipe in America’s Test Kitchen: Cooking for Two instantly caught my eye. It looked savory, spicy, and – surprisingly – easy! The introduction described how traditional mole (the Aztec word for “sauce”) is time consuming and complicated, but yields superb and exotic flavor combinations. The Test Kitchen’s goal was to create a streamlined version of Chicken Mole that could be whipped up for two in about an hour. Their photo looked convincing. I decided to give it a shot.

Chicken Mole (from America’s Test Kitchen: Cooking for Two)

Ingredients:

1     T     vegetable oil

1            small onion, minced (about 1/2 Cup)

1     T     chili powder

1     t     minced canned chipotle chile*

¼    t     ground cinnamon

pinch of cloves

½   oz.   bittersweet, semisweet, or Mexican chocolate; chopped coarse

1            garlic clove, minced

1¼  C    low-sodium chicken broth

1            tomato; cored, seeded, and chopped medium

2     T     raisins (I omitted these out of preference)

1     T     peanut butter

1     T     sesame seeds, toasted, plus extra for garnish

salt and pepper

sugar

2   12 oz.   bone-in split chicken breasts, skin removed, trimmed

*Note: I found canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce in the foreign section of the local grocery store. The source recipe specifically recommends the adobo sauce as a quick substitute for the more traditional chile mix since it adds the correct heat and smokiness without needed a complex mix of vegetables.

Procedure:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 400°F. Then, heat the oil in a 10″ skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook 3-5 minutes or until soft.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in chili powder, chile, cinnamon, cloves, and chocolate. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and chocolate has melted. Be careful in this step as it is easy to burn the mix. If you see this happening, the source recipe recommends adding a splash of water or broth to help cool it. I was especially careful, thanks to their note, and didn’t need the small cup of water I kept next to the stove just in case.
  3. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  4. Stir in broth, tomato, raisins (if you choose to use them), peanut butter, and sesame seeds. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened slightly – about 10 minutes. By this point you should have about 2 cups of sauce.
  5. Use an immersion blender or transfer the sauce to a conventional blender and process until smooth. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.
  6. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in an 8 x 8″ square baking dish and pour the sauce over the top. Turn the chicken to coat evenly, then leave them to bake skinned-side down for 20 minutes.
  7. Flip the chicken so that the skinned-side is up and return the dish to the oven for another 15 – 25 minutes or until the thickest part of each breast registers 160ºF on an instant-read thermometer.
  8. Remove the dish from the oven and loosely cover with foil. Let it rest for 5 – 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with extra sesame seeds, if desired, when plating.

Beezer’s Notes:

I shared this two-person dinner with my brother and mother alongside some Mexican rice, and we were all very satisfied. The chicken was tender and juicy (a bonus of bone-in chicken I learned from Chicken with Fennel and Tomato) and the sauce was pretty tasty. Not having ever eaten Chicken Mole before – home cooked or otherwise – I unfortunately have nothing to compare to, haha.

I did note that my sauce was a light shade of brown instead of the fiery red shown in the source recipe’s photo. My sauce also clearly tasted of peanut butter, so while I did put in exactly 1 tablespoon, I’m wondering if my organic peanut butter had more of a kick to it than a conventional brand would. Next time I will go with a teaspoon…and possibly add a bit more chocolate.

Also, I think I will add another teaspoon of the minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce the next time around. This surprises me because I’m usually fairly sensitive when it comes to spices. Either my love of curries has started building up my tolerance or else baking the sauce mellows the heat in this recipe; probably a bit of both.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥  ♥  ♥


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