Sunday, October 28, 2007

This Could Be Love

I wasn’t expecting this.

Oh, sure, I’ve sung the praises of spices before. I adore red crushed chile peppers. I’ve always liked cumin. Basil and I are buddies. Cinnamon adorns my cereal every day.

But coriander? We’ve barely met, and I think I’m in love.

I didn’t even own a bottle of coriander until two weeks ago when I made this soup for Matt and me. Always eager to show off my culinary prowess for this man, I splurged on coriander, a spice that I had previously deemed unnecessary in my cooking. If I tried a recipe that called for coriander, I just left it out. Hey, I’m frugal! And I’m adventurous enough in my cooking that I will change a recipe right out of the gate. None of this “try the recipe first as written without changing anything.” No, it’s my cooking and I can do anything I damn well please in my own kitchen!

But coriander, you have humbled me. One whiff and I was astonished: your scent is surprisingly floral with peppery undertones. And you took what I thought might be a quick, decent black bean soup and you made it a masterpiece of spice and savory goodness.

Coriander, I do hope we can see each other again…soon!

This black bean soup perked up a cold, drizzly end to a disappointing week. I’ll spare you the gory details of how my manuscript got skewered by a reviewer. Some tears were shed. I briefly considered quitting science to join the circus. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to be a flying trapeze artist! Science, however, is my passion, and I want to see my name in print. So now, it’s time to kick my experiments into high gear to get this project finished. It’s time to rock and roll. In that spirit, I made this delicious black bean soup to end my week on a good note, but I wasn’t expecting it to be swoon-worthy! Oh yes. This soup is hearty and spicy, packed full of black beans, savory vegetables, sweet corn, and rice. It’s so rich and flavorful that I didn’t even top it with cheese because I didn’t want anything to interfere with the soup. You, however, can top it with cheese or anything else you like. I ate my soup with fried pita chips and slices of Organic Valley Monterey Jack cheese. It was wonderful.

Black Bean Soup with Rice
Adapted from “Smoky Black Bean and Rice Stoup,” Express Lane Meals by Rachael Ray
Serves 5-7

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 celery ribs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 15-oz. cans black beans
1 tbsp. ground coriander (my love…)
½ tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
Several shakes of red crushed chile peppers (optional)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 8-oz.. can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 quart vegetable broth
1 cup white rice (I used white basmati rice here)

1) If you have a big soup pot in which you can saute, use it here. If your soup pot, like mine, is not very good for sauteeing, use a large skillet. In either case, pour the olive oil into your sauteeing pot or skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the bay leaf, celery, onions, and garlic. Cook for several minutes until the vegetables have softened and everything is nice and fragrant.
2) At this point, if you sauteed in a skillet, transfer the contents of the skillet to a big old soup pot. Add the corn and one can of black beans with their beany liquid. Add half of the other can of black beans, then mash the remaining beans in the can with a fork. Scrape the mashed beans into the soup pot.
3) Add the spices, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and stock. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings as you like with salt, pepper, or more of the spicy spices.
4) Crank up the heat underneath the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Add the rice, cover the pot, and simmer the soup for 15-20 minutes until the rice is cooked to your liking. Fish out the bay leaf if you can find it. It will probably be floating on the top of the soup.
5) Serve and swoon.

LEFTOVER NEWS BULLETIN: This soup makes delicious leftovers, but the rice will slurp up the broth! It turns this “soup” into more of a “stew.” The water absorption changes the texture of the rice (for example, my basmatic rice was so greedy that it split itself open), but I’m not that picky about the rice here. If you are and plan to eat this soup later as leftovers, you might consider cooking the soup and the rice separately and then adding a scoop or two of cooked rice to each serving. This technique will make for a brothier soup because if the rice is cooked separately, it won’t absorb any of the soup’s broth. I think it will be delicious nonetheless. If you don’t like rice at all, you could just make the soup as written and leave the rice out altogether, yielding a rich, brothy, beany soup. Yum.

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