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Black bean soup to welcome fall on Meatless Monday

No one's saying you

have

to go meatless just because it's Monday -- but as an incentive to join the growing Meatless Monday movement, we're featuring an animal-free recipe each week.

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Fall is in the air, which puts us in the mood for some thick, hearty soup. This black bean-based recipe is simple and delicious, with the smoky-sweet flavor of Brazilian feijoada but without any of the smoked meat.

You will need:

4-6 cups water 2 cups dried black beans, soaked at least four hours but preferably overnight -- OR -- three 16-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained 2-3 tablespoons olive oil 3 onions, chopped 1 carrot, diced 1 red bell pepper, diced 1 cup orange juice 1 cup strong lapsang souchong tea 1 tablespoon cumin 1 teaspoon salt Cayenne and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

1. Canned beans aren't very expensive, but you can make this recipe even more wallet-friendly by soaking and cooking dried beans yourself. If you're going that route, cover the dried beans with plenty of water and leave them for at least four hours (and preferably overnight). Drain the beans, then place in a large pot with six cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, partially cover and turn down the heat to medium-low. Give the beans about an hour and a half to cook -- taste them to ensure they're done or very close before you start the next step.

If you're using canned beans, rinse and drain them before placing them in a large pot with four to six cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and partially cover; let the beans simmer while you saute the onion and carrot.

2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, diced carrot, cumin and salt; saute for about ten minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion and carrot are tender. Lookin' good. 3. Add the red bell pepper and saute for another seven to eight minutes, stirring frequently, until the bell pepper is also tender. 4. While the bell pepper is cooking and the beans are simmering, brew a cup (eight ounces) of strong lapsang souchong. This very smoky tea is the secret ingredient to kick up the smoked-meat flavoring in the soup -- sans the meat, of course. 5. The other secret ingredient is orange juice. Measure it out so you have both liquids ready for the next step. 6. Once the veggies are done, add them to the simmering beans. Pour the cup of tea into the skillet and use the liquid to knock loose the residue that's sticking to the pan, then add the mixture to the black beans, too, along with the orange juice. It should smell smoky and tangy-sweet. Now it's time to add the spice. 7. Crack in some pepper and add cayenne to taste. Go easy to start with (it's much simpler to add heat and flavor than to remove it), and make sure to taste as you go so the results are to your liking. (Obviously, we like it hot.)

Simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, until the soup's flavors have melded and it's reached a thick consistency.

This recipe makes enough to satisfy six to eight people. Serve with or over rice, or just enjoy a bowl on its own. A spoonful of sour cream mixed in is divine; other topping options include shredded cheese, fresh cilantro or chopped tomato.

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