Well, we’ve made it here once again, friends. Tomorrow is the official start of fall. Happy, happy! Joy, joy! Now I can fling comfort food recipes around as much as I want! I want to kick fall off in grand style with a giant vessel of soup or stew. What’s your favourite thing-that-holds-soup? I love those mug-slash-bowl jobbies! You can wrap your hand around it and slurp if the urge strikes or lay it on the plate and plunge a spoon into the contents if you’re feeling more genteel. Either way, a bowl full of warmth is exactly the way fall should begin.
This recipe I’m sharing today is my version (influenced by my little sister, Jessamine) of an old favourite from the original Moosewood Cookbook. I’ve thickened up their traditional Brazilian Black Bean Soup, added a roasted sweet potato, a splash of hot sauce, and I’ve been known to toss some crumbled bacon on top from time to time. It’s hearty, thick, and eminently spoonable. Soft black beans, fragrant garlic, sweet bell peppers, and tiny tender cubes of roasted sweet potato, all are suspended in a thick broth with tomatoes and a surprisingly perfect undertone of orange. It’s what fall demands.
Hang on, hang on, hang on… I’ve written ONE AND A HALF paragraphs in thirty minutes, and I feel compelled to tell you why. My beloved Evil Genius is sitting five feet away from me interrupting me every time I get my train of thought going with questions like:
- “Is there a reason -a legitimate one- that someone would have a long pinky fingernail? I work with a guy with a long pinky fingernail.”
- “Oh good! You’re on the computer! Would you look up the radar?”
- “Is this yogurt pre-sweetened? It says plain, but it tastes sweetened to me.”
- “Look. Here comes that dark cloud, I bet that rain is going to start any minute.”
- “Can you look up whether there’s such a thing as a food-grade caulking gun?”
- “Why do you figure dogs like sweet potatoes so much? What is it about them?”
I looked at him lovingly and said, “If you keep asking me silly things, I’m going to backspace through everything I’ve written and write down what you’re asking me instead.” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh good. Please do. Maybe someone else will know about the pinky nail!” Then he went on to sing, “I think the rain’s-a-comin’… Coming ’round the bend…” to the tune of ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.
I. Just. Can’t.
I’m abandoning the talk about beans and soups and stews and bowl-mugs and fall and all that to put this recipe up here for you and go spend some time with my weird, fabulous husband.
One quick parting word about using dried beans
Yes. This stew uses dried beans. Don’t worry… it’s not as scary as you might think it is. For this recipe, you soak them first. While research has proven that you don’t NEED to soak beans first, it makes the results of this particular soup more predictable. I like food to behave predictably. Besides this, the texture and flavour of beans that you’ve cooked yourself are so infinitely superior to the ones in cans. Cans are a-okay in a pinch, but take the plunge here and use dried ones! It only takes an hour and change to cook the stew, so don’t worry about it being a huge time investment. Most of it is hands-off, so you can spend the time playing research librarian on Google or calling up radar images for your dear ones.
- 2 cups dried black beans, rinsed and picked over, then covered by at least double the height of water to soak. *See Notes
- 5 cups water
- 3 teaspoons salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large sweet potato, scrubbed, peeled, and diced into ⅛ to ¼-inch cubes
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 cups chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and minced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed, and diced
- 1½ cups fresh orange juice (or unsweetened orange juice)
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced, or 1 small can of diced tomatoes
- the zest of one orange
- Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
- fresh cilantro
- hot sauce of choice
- avocado cubes
- crumbled crispy bacon
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Drain and rinse your soaked beans, then add them to a large soup pot with 4 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, stir in 2 teaspoons of the salt, cover tightly, lower heat and simmer until the beans are very, very tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes or so.
- While the beans are simmering, toss the sweet potato cubes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and a goodly amount of freshly grated black pepper. Roast on a small rimmed baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring every so often, or until the cubes are tender, caramelized on the outside, and lightly charred in just a few places. Set aside.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan and swirl to coat. Toss the onions, carrots, half of the garlic, the cumin, cayenne, and a pinch of additional salt into the oil and saute over medium heat until the carrot is tender. Stir in the diced bell pepper and the rest of the garlic and saute until all of the vegetables are almost meltingly tender, about 10 minutes.
- Scrape the cooked vegetables along with the tomatoes into the finished black beans. Add the orange juice and final cup of water to the pan used to cook the vegetables and swirl it to get all the good bits from it. Pour this into the beans as well. Use a stick blender to puree the stew ever so slightly. You still want a lot of texture in the stew! If you don't have a stick blender, you can scoop 2 cups into a blender and pulse to break it up before returning it to the rest of the stew.
- After you've pureed, stir the roasted sweet potato cubes into the stew and simmer for another 8-10 minutes. Taste the stew, adjust seasonings if you wish, and serve with any or all of the optional toppings!