About a month ago we were having an incredible heat wave here in New York City. We were grilling on the deck, hanging out outside all day, getting our sun tans on, and like, celebrating Presidents Day. Okay, it was a little later than that (mid-March-ish), but still unseasonably warm. So, I celebrated by going to Bed Bath and BEYOND and purchasing a fuzzy blanket and a slow cooker. Because what screams warm weather louder than cozy bedwear and a crockpot that is best used to make stews, sauces, and other heavy dishes to warm the cockles of your heart? Exactly. And so, due to the incongruous acquisition of this new piece of cookware, it sat in a box in my room for like 3 weeks until the temperature plunged back into the 40’s and the skies opened like it was Summer 2009 all over again. And since we’re already anthropomorphizing everything here, weather like that just screams black bean soup. It’s hearty but healthy, and extracts a lot of flavor from just a few ingredients.
In my book, black bean soup is also known as End of Quarter Stew, and consists of some variation of the following: sautee onions and some kind of meat, preferably bacon, add in chopped whatever other veggies happen to be sitting in the fridge (peppers, carrots, garlic and tomatoes are all especially popular), dump in equal parts canned black beans and tomato sauce, a can of beer if it’s around, and then toss in the spices (I had particularly good luck with a cumin/cinnamon combo, but I’ve yet to recreate the exact proportions). Let it cook for a while over low heat, the longer you let it go, the thicker it gets. Then, spoon it into a bowl and top with sour cream and/or shredded cheese. It’s easy, it’s tasty, and it helps you clear out your fridge before heading to the Florida Keys for Spring Break. It is best enjoyed as part of Stewfflee night, when the soup is paired with a cheese souffle made of cheeses just verging on expiration, and generally of the string variety. More on that to come…
Anyway, it was cold and rainy and I was having dual hankerings for black bean soup and playing with new kitchen gadgets. I stumbled across a Recipes for Your Slow Cooker post on Epicurious, and decided to give the soup a try. I was intrigued by the minimal ingredients that promised maximum flavor. And then I looked at the first recipe steps, and we were off to an auspicious start. Sauteed onions, bell peppers, garlic AND cumin? It’s like I should be the one writing for Bon Appetit (that was not a joke…if you know someone, I would LOVE to write for them. Mostly just because I imagine they get awesome free samples). Anyway, I followed the directions to the letter, which took all of about 7 minutes, then got to the part where I’m just supposed to let it cook for 6 hours. Now, I am familiar with loooooong cooking, braising, making ragus, failing to make short ribs, and in all of these scenarios, I never quite felt comfortable leaving the apartment while the meal was cooking. It’s either on the stove or in the oven, and there’s a certain level of logical discomfort just leaving it completely unattended. But this. Oh, this is MADE to be unattended. You plug in the slow cooker! You close the top! There’s nothing to left to do, and even Tony the Cat cannot touch it! All there is to do is go over to a friend’s house and watch baseball and movies and play Wii bowling all afternoon! And SAY that you’re cooking the whole time. And then, after a brief foray to the local Canadian bar and a stop by the grocery store to buy bread and sour cream, you come home, and a MEAL is waiting for you! Perfectly cooked and waiting to be enjoyed.
For those of you who are still questioning the infelicitous timing of my slow cooker acquisition, I have one summer friendly word for you: Carnitas. As they say in radio-dom, stay tuned.