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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The "Best" Black Bean Soup

Growing up, the only person I knew who ate black bean soup was my aunt.  She always ordered it when we visited the now defunct, Casa Gallardo, in Charlotte, N.C.  It was beyond my comprehension, why anyone would go out and order a bowl of soup, when you could have a crunchy taco or an enchilada bathed in crimson sauce and oozing with cheese.  Soup, was well, just soup.  A quick snack or meal to be eaten at home, not something worthy of my time on a rare outing to the Mexican joint.  While I still love a good enchilada, my palate and appreciation have certainly warmed up to the idea of soup as a real meal.  Especially during the cold winter months.

This particular black bean soup came to be,  on one of the days in the Cancer Wellness kitchen, when Chef Nancy requested that I make black bean soup from the array of available ingredients on the counter.  I have always loved these days on the job, when I'm allowed to use my creativity and skill in creating a new dish from the ingredients on hand.  Some of these on the spot recipes are better than others, that is just the nature of the beast.  This soup turned out exceptionally well in my opinion and was even said to be, "the best black bean soup I have ever had", by one of our frequent C.W. diners.  The soup on that day was particularly spicy, and I will explain how to adjust the heat to your personal taste in the recipe below.

There is nothing like a sincere compliment to keep you motivated in the kitchen, and as I have come to learn, there is nothing like a bowl of warm homemade soup to keep you going through the winter.

The "Best" Black Bean Soup:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped red onion
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (remove ribs and seeds if you want a less spicier soup)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
4 cups cooked black beans
4 cups vegetable stock
1 14.5 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes, drained
1 can chipotle chile in adobo sauce**
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Juice of one Lime
Optional Garnish:
Crumbled Feta, Avocado, Tomato


Begin by heating the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.

Red onions saute in olive oil until translucent

Next, add the garlic,  jalapeño, salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly until garlic is fragrant.  About two minutes.
Garlic and jalapeño are added to the softened onions
Add the beans, stock, tomatoes and one chipotle pepper in adobo and oregano.  Stir to combine.

**The chipotle peppers tend to be pretty spicy, this is why I suggest starting with one and add more if needed.  Also, any additional peppers can be chopped up and served as a condiment with the finished soup if you are serving a group of people with varying spice tolerances.

Chipotles are spicy, so start with one chili and add more if desired after taste testing

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  After twenty minutes, puree the mixture in the pot with an immersion blender or allow mixture to cool slightly and puree in a blender.  Do not put hot liquid into a blender, or you will end up with a big exploding mess!
Soup is brought to a boil and then simmered for 20 minutes before being pureed into a smooth consistency

This is a good time to taste the soup and adjust the seasonings.  Add more salt and black pepper or more chipotles if desired.  Give the soup one more whiz with the immersion blender and place back on the stove over medium-low heat for another 20 minutes to allow the soup to thicken.  Stir occasionally.

Taste for seasoning one more time and stir in the juice of one lime.  Your soup is ready to serve!  Garnish with fresh avocado, tomato and feta cheese.

This is one comforting bowl of goodness that I am passionate about!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stocking Up For The Winter

Dump, drench, bubble and strain, sounds like a recipe that witches might chant over a hot cauldron.  It is in fact, a little rhyme I came up with to help people remember how to make their own vegetable stock.  When a recipe or technique is committed to memory, one is likely to make it more often. 

Today I am outlining a quick and easy method of making homemade vegetable stock that I have learned cooking in the Taste and Savor kitchen with Chef Nancy.  We make fresh stock on a weekly basis in the healthy kitchen.  A good stock is the building block for great soups and stews.  I made a black bean soup last week for a luncheon at the Cancer Wellness Center, using some of our signature vegetable stock.   I was delighted when a diner (who shall remain nameless), declared my creation to be the best black bean soup they had ever eaten.  Nothing like a sincere compliment to motivate recipe testing and sharing.  Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to work on tightening up my black bean soup recipe so that I can share it with my readers.

As I stated earlier, a good vegetable stock is the basis for a great soup.  I have no doubt that this foolproof method for making vegetable stock is part of what made my black bean soup so tasty.  The method is simple and should become second nature to you once you get into the habit of "recycling" your vegetable scraps that might otherwise have ended up in the trash.

To begin,  you will need a gallon size zip top bag.  Mark the bag with the date you start adding to it.  As you cook, save all the bits and pieces of vegetables that you would normally throw away.  This can include, but is not limited to, the following: carrot peels, pepper ribs and stem, potato peels, celery leaves, kale ribs, garlic paper and onion skin.  It is of up most importance that every stock bag you make contain some onion skin.  It makes no difference if the skin is from a red or yellow onion, you just want some type of onion skin in the mix, as it is what will add the beautiful color to the stock. Another key thing to remember is to use a variety of vegetables in your bag.  This will help to make a more flavorful and well rounded stock. Store the bag in the freezer between cooking sessions and add to it until you have a full bag.  Once the bag full, you are ready to make stock.  Here we go....


Save your vegetable scraps. Once you have filled up a one gallon zip top bag, you are ready to make stock.

Step One: DUMP the contents of your freezer bag into a large stock pot.

DUMP your vegetable scraps into a large stockpot

Step Two:  DRENCH your vegetable scraps with eight cups of water.  It is important to add just enough cold water to cover the vegetables.  This amount may vary slightly depending on how dense your particular bag of vegetables is.  Do not add an excess amount of water or your stock with be thin and not concentrated enough.
DRENCH your veggies with about 8 cups of cold water

Step Three:  BUBBLE, i.e. bring the liquid to a rolling boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least thirty minutes.
BUBBLE your vegetables for 30 minutes

In only thirty minutes, the contents of your stock pot will resemble the photograph below.  In this short amount of time, the vegetable scraps have cooked down and a beautiful stock has formed.

This is what the pot looks like after thirty minutes of bubbling away

Step Four:  STRAIN the contents of your pot through a colander and collect the broth in a large bowl.  I ended up with just about five cups of gorgeous stock.

The finished product!
Your finished stock is now ready to be used immediately, refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for later use.

Stay tuned to The Passionate Plate for my black bean soup recipe, and in the meantime, remember to make every plate something to be passionate about.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Little Bit Better in 2015

Dramatic new year's resolutions are not really my thing.  I find that starting a new chapter in life with some dramatic statement of what must be accomplished in the next 365 days, to have a negative effect on me. Something akin to asking a young child not to touch anything as you browse through the china department at Macy's.  The second you warn "Do not touch!", that small hand immediately reaches for the fragile, long stemmed wine goblet on the display table.  It usually takes just one close call in the china department, for you to make a little change in how you shop, thus ensuring a more pleasant experience in the future.  If only disastrous resolutions could be recognized and resolved so easily.

In recent years, I have chosen to not set one fantastic and most likely unattainable goal.  Rather,  I have taken on the mantra of "a little bit better".  This is a broad, yet realistic way to look at the road ahead.  We can all do a little bit better in everything we do.  How we eat. How we treat others. How we take care of our family.  The list is endless.  I go to bed each night reflecting on howI can be a little be better tomorrow and I now start each new year thinking how I can be a little bit better than I was last year.

A perfect example of one thing I did a little bit better in 2015 than I did in 2014, was how I prepared my pot of lucky black-eyed peas.  Anyone who has read my blog or tasted my food, knows that I focus on making great tasting food that is better for you.  But perhaps, you have also noticed that there are some things that I refuse to change, like my grandmother's chicken casserole or the fact that I will never be as happy with a bowl of whole wheat or veggie spaghetti in lieu of traditional pasta.  There are some things that you just can't mess with.  Another one of these things, I thought would never change, was my pot of lucky black-eyed peas.  I have been cooking my dried beans with a leftover ham bone or a ham hock or a smoked turkey wing.  This year,  I found myself with no leftover ham bone and I just could not bring myself to buy a ham hock or a turkey wing.  What I truly wanted was a meal that I could eat on all week, guilt free.   For this, I turned to a favorite kitchen staple, smoked paprika, in order to create a dish that is festive enough for New Year's day and nourishing enough for the rest of the week.

I hope you all will find a way to make 2015 a little bit better than 2014 and always remember to make every plate something to be passionate about.

Little Bit Better Black-eyed Peas:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeños, diced (remove ribs and seeds if you don't like it too spicy)
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 16oz bag dried black-eyed peas
1 bottle Lager Beer (This can be substituted with an equal amount of water of stock)
2 quarts vegetable stock, divided

Step One:
Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onions, peppers and smoked paprika.  Cook, stirring frequently, until veggies are softened, but not caramelized, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir for another minute.

Step Two:
Next add beans, beer and 6 cups of stock.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for an hour over low heat.  After the first hour, check moisture in the pot.  If beans are looking dry and remaining stock as needed.  Beans will take about 2 hours to cook through.  Check pot periodically through out cooking time and stir occasionally to make sure beans to not stick to the bottom of the pot

Serve on top of brown rice, quinoa or any other grain of choice.