spoony sundays #2: black bean and hot & sour

Gooooood evening and welcome to the second edition of Spoony Sundays, where we forsake forks and knives for that most graceful of utensils. This week our tastebuds will be given quite a runaround. First, we’ll dip our spoons into the smoky-spicy soup pots of the south and then lift bowls overflowing with lip-puckering eastern infusions.

The first black bean soup I made was off the label on a can of (you guessed it) black beans. It was one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made— beans, corn, salsa, lime juice and some cumin. In spite of its delicate simplicity though, I eventually had to face the hard fact that my “I just moved out on my own” bean soup was lacking a little something something.

The kind of soup I was after is hearty and rugged, dark and a little bit dangerous. The kind I picture cowboys and frontiersmen rigging up over campfires and eating out of dented tin pots. I couldn’t find any recipes in the latest issue of American Cowboy, so I turned in the opposite direction: Food and Wine. (Like I always say, when the guys in boots let you down try the ones in kitchen clogs.)

F&W’s Mexican Black Bean Soup got an 8 out of 10 out of me. I’m beginning to see how you really need hefty meat stocks for true depth of flavour, but I just didn’t have a ham hock laying around for that kind of recipe. The blob of green on garnishing the soup is my improvised a cilantro-cream.

My second guest tonight is Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup from the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook. By the way, if you have trouble coming up with menu plans for parties and special occasions, this is a great book. I can’t wait to try their chocolate-filled calimyrna figs (when such a specific craving next overtakes me).

But before I proceed with extolling the joys of recreating a slightly foreign favourite, I just have to introduce you to the woodear mushroom, or auricularia auricula-judae for short. There he is, making his debut appearance on my blog and in my life. Good to have you, auricula. You were a delight to work with, so slippery in my hands and on my little Asian spoon.

My first attempt at Hot and Sour soup — something I’ve only had the pleasure of enjoying at a Chinese restaurant — was gratifying even if for that reason alone. I also don’t own a mandoline, so julienned carrots came about via a slightly longer, zen-like process (old-fashioned chopping). I still ended up with some pretty nice looking carrot matchsticks — an evocative technical term if I ever heard one. The woodears and bamboo shoots came from our local Asian market.

Both of these soups are thick, simple to prepare, and use affordable ingredients. Both can be made vegetarian or even vegan, and both respond well to flashes of creativity and flourishes of genius. As some of you already have, please let me know if you try these out and how they work for you.

Mexican Black Bean Soup with Sausage

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 chipotle chile, seeded and finely chopped (I used 2 Tbsp Wegman’s chipotle salsa)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
three 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
3 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
3/4 pound smoky cooked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, thinly sliced (I used the rest of the chorizo from the quiche)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons very finely chopped cilantro

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring randomly until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, chipotle, cumin and oregano. Cook and stir until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the black beans and chicken stock and simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender (the soup maker’s best friend) puree some or all of the soup.
  2. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage to the beans together with the lime juice and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for 2 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with some or all of the following: green onions, fresh cilantro, sour cream, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips.

adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Mandarin Hot and Sour Soup

4 or 5 dried Chinese black mushrooms, rinsed (Wikipedia later informed me that these are actually just shitakes, but I used the woodears for texture and authenticity)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil (or canola oil will do)
1 cup thinly sliced white onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup julienned carrot (1 medium)
4 cups vegetable stock
3 Tbsp high-quality soy sauce, like Kikkoman
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup unseasoned (no added salt or sugar) rice vinegar
1/3 cake firm tofu (for a seafood version, use baby shrimp, crab, etc.)
1/2 cup julienned bamboo shoots (cans say “stripped” in water)
black pepper
3 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp cold water
1 egg, beaten (optional)

  1. Soak mushrooms in boiling water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid
  2. Warm oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and salt, sautee for 10 minutes until translucent. Add the carrots, toss well, cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
  3. Pour in water or stock, cover and bring to a boil. Add soy sauce, vinegars, and 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid. Reduce to low.
  4. Remove and discard stems from mushrooms and thinly slice the caps. Cut tofu into tiny cubes or matchsticks. Add mushrooms, tofu, bamboo strips, and pepper to pot and return to a boil. Reduce and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and cold water to form a paste. (The more of this paste you create, the thicker your soup will be. I used a 4/4 ratio, and would probably use even more next time!)
  6. Ladle 1/4 cup of the hot soup broth into the bowl, whisk, and then gradually add the whole cornstarch mixture to the rest of the soup. Cook for 3 minutes until thickened. Beat the egg and drizzle it slowly into the soup. Stir gently and cook another 2 minutes.
  7. Garnish with dark or toasted sesame oil and minced scallions.  Serve with fortune cookies!

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates: Festive Meals for Holidays and Special Occasions, by the Moosewood Collective.

4 thoughts on “spoony sundays #2: black bean and hot & sour

  1. March 6, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Your photography is beautiful Jen. It really contributes a lot to what you write.
    :)

  2. Sheri
    February 4, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I had this yummy soup this afternoon at Illa’s. She made it for our book club gathering and everyone raved about it!!
    love,
    Mom

  3. February 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Oh yes…..it was delicious. I was the only one greedy enough to have two bowls full…..and believe me, I felt No shame about that……

  4. Illa
    February 8, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Well I guess the above comments say it all….almost….I was nervous about trying this soup (first time, and for guests) but felt exhilarated with the outcome! Thanks for the suggestion and the recipe!
    Your other Mom