Black Bean Soup

These have been hard times, these last few weeks. Writing up a recipe has seemed so trivial, when others are crying out. There is a heaviness that seems heavier than COVID-19 ever did. Minneapolis and the tragic death of George Floyd brought injustice into sharp relief. Things are not going to be the same again, but they shouldn’t be. There seems to be progress happening. One can only hope that America gets it right this time.

Life carries on, and we still eat. Comfort food sounds appealing now, and something easy to prepare sounds good, too. This simple black bean soup is satisfying, and true to Mexican seasoning. Curiously, we never see bean soup on menus here. Beef vegetable soup, chicken vegetable soup, and tortilla soup, but not bean soup, even though Diana Kennedy includes a few in her books. This recipe can be made with any bean you have. Here in our part of Mexico, black beans, creamy peruano, and azafran beans are common. But you could use white beans, pinto beans, even kidney beans.

I’m not on the recent sourdough bandwagon, but I have been making a whole wheat version of Jim Leahey’s no-knead bread, a good soup accompaniment. Its overnight rise gives depth to the flavor.

Black Bean Soup

  • 2 cups/450 grams/1 lb. dry black beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoons sauce from canned chipotle chile en adobo
  1. For a quick soak of dry beans, cover beans with water in sauce pan, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and boil for one minutes. Cover and let sit for 1 hour.
  2. Drain, cover with fresh water, add onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoons salt, and cook until tender, checking to maintain water level.
  3. When beans are tender, puree with immersion blender or standard blender until roughly smooth, not pureed. Add more water if needed to thin to soup consistency.
  4. Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and crema, Mexican sour cream.

Notes:

~ If cooking dry beans seems daunting, use 4 15-oz. cans of cooked beans.

~ After years of cooking beans in an olla de barro, a clay bean pot, I switched to a pressure cooker. Using a clay pot is muy mexicana, but takes so much longer. The bean pots are now used to hold kitchen utensils.

~ Chipotle chiles are large, dried smoked jalapeños. They are commonly canned in adobo, a sauce of onion, vinegar and tomato.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

New World Chocolate Cake

It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate or chile. We can thank the New World for giving us cocao pods, from which chocolate is made, as well as chiles of all kinds. This cake, so easy to make that even a baking novice would have success, is rich with chocolate and flavored with a subtle kick of ancho chile powder.

Ancho chiles are the dried form of fresh poblano chiles, the large, mild chile commonly used for chiles rellenos and chiles en nogada. Once dried, they take on a deep burgundy color and a complex, fruity flavor. I have become so enamored with ancho chile powder lately, that I’m adding it to to my morning cup of Pero, Russ’es glass of whipped dalgona coffee (which is having its moment), and a cream sauce tinted with light peach hues from the chile powder.

I know not everyone is a fan of chiles’ heat, but take my word that the pairing of chocolate and chile is a natural. If you are one of those who can’t handle chile, this still makes an excellent chocolate cake with the chile omitted, albeit, in my opinion, not the cake it would be with chile.

Use a very good quality cocoa powder. It makes a difference, as I finally learned when I gave Hershey’s the heave-ho after reading it was made with cocao beans harvested by child slave labor. Cocoa powder and other chocolate products labeled organic or fair trade indicate child slave labor was not used. Cocoa products so labeled are also a better quality, delivering a richer chocolate flavor. La Comer and Mega supermarkets in Mexico offer a good selection of organic products, including organic cocoa powder produced in Mexico.

New World Chocolate Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups/180 grams whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup/50 grams cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 2/3 cup/145 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup room temperature coffee, or water
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil, or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F/180C. Grease and flour sides of 9″/22 cm round cake pan. Line bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Sift or whisk dry ingredients in large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together wet ingredients.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry, and quickly stir until no lumps remain.
  5. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The top should spring back when lightly pressed. If the gently pressure of your finger in the center leaves an indentation, bake a few minutes more.
  6. Cool in pan until slightly warm. Run a thin knife around sides of pan, and invert cake onto a plate, then invert again right side up on serving plate.
  7. Serve when completely cool with lightly sweetened whipped cream dusted with cinnamon, ice cream, or crème fraîche (aka crema in Mexico).

Notes ~

For a coconut version, omit the chile powder and cinnamon. Generously coat the inside of the cake pan with coconut oil or butter, then coat the pan with dry, unsweetened coconut. Add 1/2 cup dry, unsweetened coconut to cake batter.

To slice cleanly, use the thinnest knife you have, sawing it slightly as you slice through the cake.

So what’s the deal with all the variations of how to spell chile? Chili is the bean and meat concoction, sometimes spelled chilli. Chile with an “e” is how the fruit (yes, botanically it’s a fruit) is spelled in the Spanish language, and since it originated in Latin America, that’s the accepted spelling.

Variations of this recipe have existed at least since WWII, when bakers made do with what was available. Without eggs and butter, this cake is vegan.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Wild guacamole and pantry salsa for cinco de mayo

Cinco de Mayo, the low key holiday in Mexico, is barely celebrated, unless you are in the U.S., where it is one of the best days for tequila and beer sales. On May 5, 1862, invading French forces were defeated at the battle of Puebla, Mexico. You would think this victory would be a celebrated throughout Mexico, but only Puebla commemorates the day with speeches and parades. Canada and a handful of other countries mark the day, some with more imagination than others, with an air guitar competition on the Cayman Islands, and a sky diving event in Vancouver, BC.

During these days (now months) of quarantine, we aren’t always stocked up with the usual items for making fiesta fare. No fresh roma tomatoes or ciliantro, not even a chile, are in our cocina today. But guacamole and salsa can still make an appearance to help us celebrate this almost non-existent holiday.

I found a few wild tomato plants growing on our property, and luckily, wild tomato season is happening during quarantine season. Tomatoes originated in the New World, and I like to think that these are close to the original tomato. The size of blueberries, and very flavorful, they add a pop to our salads. But there aren’t a lot, so a small amount was set aside for guacalmole, and canned tomatoes had to make do for salsa.

Russ gave both guacamole and salsa his seal of approval, pronouncing them “very good”, even with canned tomatoes, parsely from the garden taking the place of cilantro, and bottled hot sauce and garlic adding zip in the absence of chiles. These days, substitutions are in order, and have become the hallmark of a quarantine kitchen. Viva México!

Wild Guacamole

  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • handful of wild tomatoes, or one roma tomato, diced
  • handful of chopped cilantro, or parsely if you don’t have cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 small lime
  • hot sauce, or minced serrano or jalapeño chile to taste
  1. Cut avocado in half, remove seed, scoop out flesh, and mash with a fork.
  2. Mix in remaining ingredients. Salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.

Pantry Salsa

  • 1 15-oz./411 grams can cubed or crushed tomato
  • 1/2 medium onion chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • a handful of chopped parsely or cilantro
  • bottled hot sauce to taste, or 1-2 minced serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeded or not, depending on heat level
  • a squeeeze of lime juice
  1. Blend tomatoes, if cubed, in food processor until roughly chopped.
  2. Spoon tomatoes into a bowl, and add remaining ingredients. Salt to taste.
  3. Serve with tortilla chips.

New World black bean brownies

It seems like every baker has joined the effort to turn out more bread, cookies, and muffins during these days of quarantine, and I’m doing my part. Black bean brownies had been on the horizon for some time. Beans? I was skeptical. I finally made them, and now I’m a believer. They are so good that I don’t see any reason to make traditional brownies any more.

Maybe it’s the richness and meatiness of black beans. Maybe it’s just the dark color. But they blend well with the chocolate. So well, they become lost in the mix, and can no longer be detected. My Chief Taster couldn’t tell the secret ingredient, and he can generally detect any flavor I throw at him.

Continuing the New World theme (see the recent recipe for New World Truffles), I added ancho chile powder and ground cinnamon. Black beans, cocoa powder and vanilla have their origins in the New World, as well. If you don’t like a little kick in your brownies, omit the chile. They will still be as rich and chocolatey as any brownie, plus they are gluten-free. If you can’t get black beans or ancho chile powder, see the substitution suggestions under notes at the end.

NEW WORLD BLACK BEAN BROWNIES

  • 1 15-oz./425 grams can of black beans, or 1 1/2 cups cooked beans, drained
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoon/40 grams melted coconut oil, or other mild tasting vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cups/75 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup/115 grams sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if using unsalted beans)
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F/176 C. Oil 8″/23 cm square baking pan, and cut parchment paper to fit bottom of pan.
  2. Puree beans in a food processor until smooth. Add eggs, oil, and vanilla, and blend until smooth.
  3. Combine dry ingredients in small bowl. Add to wet ingredients in food processor and blend well. The batter will be very thick.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle chopped nuts over top, pressing nuts lightly into batter.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes, or until brownies test dry with a toothpick. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan and cutting into squares.

Notes ~

Substitutions: if black beans aren’t in your part of the world, try dark kidney beans instead. Even a lighter colored bean would be OK, if you didn’t mind lighter colored brownies. Substitute any chile powder for ancho chile powder. Use less than called for if you are using cayenne. For a chile flavor without the heat, try paprika.

Ancho chiles are dried poblano chiles, and one of the most commonly used dried chile in Mexico. A little fruity and sweet, they impart mild, flavorful heat.

When purchasing cocoa powder, look for the labels Fair Trade or Organic to be assured that child slave labor was not used in harvesting the cocao pods. The ubiquitous Hershey’s cocoa powder does not have these labels, and Hershey’s will not say they don’t use child slave labor.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Quesadillas any way you want them

Cleaning out the fridge used to mean a soup day. Recently, it has become a quesadilla day. As long as the two basic elements of quesadillas are present — tortillas and cheese — you have free reign to add any leftovers taking up fridge space. What to do with the little piece of roast chicken that is hardly enough to make a sandwich? Or the piece of fresh panela cheese that needs to be used up because fresh cheese just does’t stay fresh for long?

Our fridge was harboring small dishes of leftover chicken and rice with mushrooms; quinoa with spinach; Russ’es deconstructed golumpki casserole of cabbage, mushrooms, bulgar, and ground beef held together with tomato sauce; and a small dish of pinto beans. Sure, I could stick little dishes and packages in the freezer, but they tend to languish there for too long.

We had the foresight to stock up on whole wheat tortillas last month when we did the biggest ($$$) grocery shopping of our marital history. The headlines were already on the horizon. We knew it was time to fill the pantry and freezer, and lie low. And by good fortune, we had a surprising variety of cheese on hand. Tillamook sharp cheddar, goat cheese, fresh panela, Oaxaca string cheese, gruyere and gorgonzola, the latter two gifts from a friend when she cleaned out her Mascota kitchen to return to Chicago. Never in our marital history have we had such a cheese abundance.

I got all the leftovers lined up, took stock of which cheese would pair best with which leftover, and started heating the griddle.

Quinoa with spinach was paired with Oaxaca string cheese, the chicken, mushrooms and rice with cheddar; gruyere topped the golumpki casserole leftovers; and panela was matched with the roast chicken bits and sauteed mushrooms.

Fifteen minutes later, we were eating quesadillas topped with a little bit of leftover salsa for lunch. With a side of salad or soup, ideally leftover soup, this would be substantial enough for dinner. If you make too many, they keep well in the fridge for several days, but then leftovers become a concern again.

Apple quesadillas, one with goat cheese, the other with gorgonzola, made a wonderful dessert. Almost any fresh fruit can be used. Mango with brie is exceptional. Someday I would like to try a ripe pear with camembert.

Other fillings I’m thinking about are bacon, avocado and tomato, a riff on BLT. Cook the bacon first, of course. And potato with cheddar. Russ would want me to add saurerkraut to that one. The possibilities are endless.

After Easter, we had leftover lamb and roasted vegetables. Why not? They made excellent quesadillas with manchego cheese.

Russ likes to say, “I bet no one else is eating this”. Nope, most likely no one else was eating golumpki casserole and gruyere quesadillas. At least not today.

CLEAN OUT THE FRIDGE QUESADILLAS

  • Whole wheat, white, or corn tortillas; 2 tortillas per quesadilla
  • Cheese, thinly sliced or grated, about 1/2 cup per quesadilla
  • Tasty leftovers from the fridge
  • Salsa, optional
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced, to make 2 dessert quesadillas

Spread as many tortillas as will fit on your griddle, or in a large skillet, in one layer. Top with cheese, leftovers, then cheese again. (The two layers of melted cheese serve as the “glue” holding everything together.) Top with a second tortilla for each quesadilla. Cook over medium heat until the underside has browned. Cook about 5 more minutes until the cheese is melty and the new underside has brown speckles. Remove from griddle and cut into quarters. Serve with salsa if you wish.

Notes ~

Whole wheat tortillas are much more flavorful than white tortillas, and fortunately Pepe’s, our local grocery store in Mascota, stocks them. They freeze well, and thaw quickly.

Quesadillas, literally “little cheesey things”, originated in central and northern Mexico, and were traditionally made with corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are more commonly used in northern Mexico. If you think my fillings are outlandish, there is even a pizzadilla, made with pizza toppings.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED