I was young and you know what they say - "youth is wasted on the young" - yup, pretty much! I quickly glanced through the book and with its 35 descriptions of fresh and dried chillies, I heard that 'swoosh' as it all went over my head! At least I had the good sense to pack it with me as I left for university and it has since then, followed me from continent to continent through education and careers.
Finally, when I landed on the shores of the United States of America, it was restored to the esteemed position that it deserves - on my kitchen counter top! It hasn't moved since (except when we've moved and the umpteen number of times I refer to it) and has become one of my 'go-to-books' when it comes to understanding American southwestern cuisines as well as South American and Mexican flavors, which have greatly influenced Chef Miller's cooking.
He narrates a fascinating story about his Black Bean Soup. It was on his first visit to Guatemala that he acquired a taste for black beans. Back in Berkeley at the Fourth Street Grill, he began developing his own recipes for black beans and this recipe is one of them (incidentally, Mark Miller studied anthropology and Chinese art history at U.C. Berkeley)
The first month this soup was served, James Beard walked in, really liked it, asked for the recipe and published it in his nationally syndicated column.
I have decided to follow his recipe to the letter with 2 exceptions (sorry, can't help it) - I cannot for the life of me cook 1 lb of beans in 24 cups of water so I am going to use 7 and I cannot use 2 jalapeno peppers (with younglings and all) so I am reducing it down to 1. Other than that, it's Mark Miller's Black Bean Soup alright!
The recipe calls for dry roasting Mexican oregano, cumin and coriander seeds together.
Cook's Note - Do this on low-medium heat. Once the coriander seeds look golden brown and the spices release a heady scent, the spices are roasted.
Transfer into a coffee grinder and grind for a few seconds till very fine.
Using a cheesecloth create a bouquet garni of sliced onion, jalapeno pepper, roasted spices, crushed garlic cloves, dried thyme, bay leaves, whole peppercorns and a large bundle of cilantro.
Cook' Note - Use a large piece of cheesecloth that has been folded over a few times so it isn't porous like a sieve. I used trussing twine to tie mine together to make a bundle.
Fill a stock pot with 7 cups water.
Cook's Note - Remember you can always add some more water during the cooking process if you think it needs it - much harder to take water away.
Drop the bouquet garni into the water and simmer on medium heat till it has infused the water to create a beautiful 'herbal tea'
Cook's Note - This is where I have deviated from the original recipe with regard to the amount of water used from 24 cups to 7 and reducing the jalapeno peppers to 1.
Wash and rinse the black beans (do not use canned black beans). Drain the water and add to the 'herbal tea'.
Also add the tomato puree. Stir. Bring to boil and cover with a tight lid. Simmer on low heat for 4 to 4-1/2 hours on low heat. Stir occasionally.
The beans must be completely soft and just start falling apart.
Cook's Note - After an hour or so I added 1/2 tsp baking soda. It is a trick used in preparing dals in Indian cooking. It helps the beans and lentils cook faster with no effect on the flavor. I absolutely needed the beans to be on the table in 3 1/2 hours so this helped.
Once the black beans have cooked, remove and discard bouquet garni. Using a potato masher mash half the beans so the soup thickens.
Cook's Note - In our family, we like a thick soup so I had to simmer the soup on medium-high heat for 15-20 minutes till some of the liquid had evaporated.
Taste and adjust seasonings. I served the soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of cilantro.
The soup had a delicate flavor. The aroma from the spices infused the soup and was a treat to the senses. We even ate the beans with the rice which was delicious. When
the soup is eaten the day it is prepared, it has a '
slight-chilly-hot' undertone which was fine for Mr. Hubby and me but the
next day and the day after, it was perfect (similar to Chili, isn't it?).
The flavors are unbelievable as it's allowed to mature. I have got to say - there are very few things that are infused with such heady earthy flavors and I urge you to give it a try.
Especially, don't forget to serve it with the Brazilian style Pork tenderloin, Marinated in Feijoada Spices & Roasted with an Orange-Serrano Chile Glaze
Well what a great meal this turned out to be, especially considering it was the result of a pantry raid!
MARK MILLER'S BLACK BEAN SOUP
Preparation time - 10 minutes
Cooking time - about 3-1/2 - 4-1/2 hours
1 lb raw black beans
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1-1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 yellow onion
4 garlic cloves
1/2-1 jalapeno chiles
2 bay leaves, crushed
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1-1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1/2 cup tomato puree
2-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda (optional)
Onion - Peel and cut into 1/2 " thick slices
Garlic - Peel and crush
Cilantro - Wash and cut off stems at the base. Bunch leaves together.
Jalapeno chile - Wash and cut into big round circles.
Spices - On low-medium heat, dry roast the Mexican oregano, cumin and coriander seeds together. Transfer into a coffee grinder and grind for a few seconds till very fine.
Bouquet garni - Using a cheesecloth create a bouquet garni of sliced onion, jalapeno pepper, roasted spices, crushed garlic cloves, dried thyme, bay leaves, whole peppercorns and a large bundle of cilantro. Tie together with trussing twine or kitchen thread to make a bundle.
Black beans - Wash, rinse, drain. Set aside.
In a stock pot, add the water and drop in the bouquet garni . Simmer on medium heat till it has infused the water to create a beautiful 'herbal tea'
Add the black beans and tomato puree to the 'herbal tea'. Stir.
Bring to boil and cover with a tight lid.
Simmer for 4 to 4-1/2 hours on low heat. Stir every half hour or so.
Cook's Note - Add the baking soda after 1 hour if using. This will drop the cooking time so check in approx 3- 1/2 hours to see if beans are completely soft and just starting to fall apart.
Once the black beans have cooked, remove and discard bouquet garni. Using a potato masher, mash half the beans so the soup thickens. If you prefer a thick soup, simmer for 15-20
minutes on medium-high heat till soup has reached desired consistency.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and cilantro.