Well it’s been another long time in between posts, but I now have an entire semester of law school under my belt and can maybe start posting again with a little more regularity. This is a soup I made back in the beginning of October, but didn’t get to write up until now. My awesome sister gave me a cookbook for my birthday with a bunch of different soups in it, and this is kind of an amalgam of a bunch of different recipes from that, plus a little of my own imagination. It was really good this fall; the batch I made was enough to eat for dinner one night and then to bring to school for lunch for the rest of the week, and I think it would be equally delicious in these frigid winter months.
The soup is spicy and filling, with protein from black beans and a smooth base of pureed sweet potatoes and chunks of white ones. Using root vegetables and beans that can be dried and stored makes this a great seasonal dish. I don’t really remember exactly how I made this, so the following recipe is going to be more of a recreation based on the pictures I took and what I can remember of the process. Also, I don’t really remember the quantities of the ingredients, so as always, you can and should tweak them to whatever makes the most sense to you.
This brings me to a sort of tangent in the form of a conversation Christmas Eve dinner that my mom and I had with my grandparents about cooking. My grandpa was reading a recipe that my mom had printed off from the internet (I think it was a Rachel Ray one) and was commenting on the units of measure she used (all palm-fulls and good drizzles) and was asking how you could cook with such subjective and inconsistent measures. The point we made was that you just use your common sense. A good drizzle of olive oil is however much you need in a pan to saute some enough onions and garlic for what you’re making or whatever. A palm-full is a medium grab of something. If you have huge hands, then go a little easy with it. If you have tiny ones, go a little over. The thing for all of these though, and what I didn’t realize when I thought the questions were so silly is that you need to have some kind of baseline to base your common sense on. If you don’t know roughly what you’re looking for, then it’s hard to use those kind of rough measures. My mom relayed an anecdote about a friend who decided to make a batch of “camp chocolate chip cookies,” and didn’t realize until she had just an enormous amount of batter that two pounds of butter was way more than a regular recipe. Turns out, the recipe was for enough cookies for a camp.
I just thought it was interesting, because it is easy for people who cook a lot to scoff at those that print out every recipe and measure out every cup of oats and half teaspoon of salt, but everyone has to start somewhere. Okay, end tangent, on to the chowder. It’s a spicy, spiced soup that can be kind of labor intensive if you don’t have an immersion blender, but in general it’s really good and easy, and spicy and hearty enough to warm you whether it’s in the brisk Buffalo autumns or cold, windy winters.
Sweet Potato, Chipotle & Black Bean Chowder
3 or 4 sweet potatoes, chopped
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups or so broth or stock or water
2 or 3 white potatoes chopped
1 can black beans rinsed or 2 cups rehydrated and cooked dried black beans
spices (cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, bay leaves) (this is sort of like a curry powder sans turmeric, you could substitute curry powder here and it would be delicious or chili powder if you wanted a more southwestern-y tasting soup – it’s really up to your personal tastes, but those four are what I used)
First you probably want to toast up all your spices and grind them either with a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Put a little more than a teaspoon of each of those four into a dry pan and toast them over medium heat for a minute or so, just until you start to smell them and maybe the mustard seeds start to jump around and pop. Dump them into the mortar and grind them up with the pestle until it’s a powder, or else use your dedicated spice grinder or your coffee grinder to do this really quickly. By hand it will probably take a while and maybe tire your wrist out, but you should end up with a tablespoon and a half or so of spice mixture.
While you’re doing this, you can also get some oil (a good drizzle of it) going in a heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat, then throw in your onions. When they’re starting to go transparent, stir in your garlic, the chipotles, and the spices. Add a good pinch of salt and let these go a couple minutes until maybe you’re sneezing and the kitchen is starting to smell all oniony and garlicky and spicy. Then add the sweet potatoes and saute those for a couple minutes and pour in your broth.
Get the whole thing up to a boil, and then turn the heat down until the soup is just simmering. Simmer this (keep an eye on it!) until the potato chunks are fork-tender (they slide off when you pierce them). Now either break out your immersion blender and puree the whole thing or blend it in batches in a regular blender like I had to. At this point you may have to thin it out with some more stock or water. Again use your common sense to achieve the consistency that you would like in a soup.
Now, put this all back into the stock pot over medium heat and add the regular white potatoes, the black beans, and the maple syrup. Don’t go nuts with the syrup, just put in some to give the soup a hint of sweetness and cut the spice from the chipotles. Keep tasting all throughout and adjusting the salt and spices. This is really important, and is something that the cookbook that Devon gave me emphasizes. With soup or really any dish, you have to keep tasting it as you cook to get it just right. It’s also a great way to develop the intuition in a kitchen to tell you exactly how big a palm-full or how good a drizzle you need.
Anyways, simmer this whole thing now for maybe 20 minutes or so, just until the potatoes are tender enough to eat, then serve it up in bowls with a crusty wheat or sourdough bread on the side to dip and mop up the traces with.
This will make about ten or so cups of soup, depending on how thick it is and if you cool and re-heat it, it may need thinning with some more stock or water.
Music recommendation: “Radio Cure” by Wilco
Wine recommendation: I really don’t know, I’m admittedly horrible with wines. Maybe something sort of dry and red? A zinfandel? Maybe someone that reads this (ha!) can help me out with something that may pair well.
Beer recommendation: Either a pilsener or a pale ale, nothing too too bitter, but nothing too sweet or malty either. Southern Tier makes on in their “Pack of Pales,” it’s just a pale ale, not as hoppy as their IPA, that would be perfect I think. Though a crispy Stella would be just great as well.