Now that winter’s finally upon us, I’ve been struck with a frenzy of soup and stew making. Like my mother, I hate to waste left-overs, and soups and stews are so good for this. Last week, I made chicken tortilla soup using the frozen chicken stock I’d saved after making chicken salad for a bridesmaid’s luncheon in December. I just picked a recipe at random from Epicurious.com, and it turned out great. The nice thing about the Epicurious recipes is that you can read other cooks’ comments about what did or didn’t work with a recipe. Another night I made chili, using half ground chuck and half ground venison from Boomerang Boy’s deer-hunting efforts. Tonight’s efforts were the best of all, I thought. Black bean soup. Mmmm. I was trying to use up a lot of holiday left-overs, and I had this humongous ham-bone from Honey-Baked Ham. Did you know you can go to one of their stores and buy a ham-bone for five bucks? And it has tons of ham still on it, since they spiral cut their hams. Literally, enough for a week’s worth of sandwiches off one “ham-bone.” I started out using a recipe from Paula Deen’s cookbook, but then I switched it around so much, Paula would probably never recognize it. So here’s a rough description, but remember, soup-making isn’t so much a science as it is an art.
Coarsely chop 1 onion, 1 cup baby carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 2 cloves of garlic.
Saute these in approx. 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a thick-bottomed soup pot, until veggies are softened. Throw in your left-over ham, ham-bone, or any other random pork type products you have taking up room in the fridge. Rinse and drain 3 cans black beans, and add to pot. Yes, I know you could buy dried beans and soak overnight, but I never think that far ahead. I added two cartons of chicken broth, and brought it to a boil, then covered and turned the heat down and let it simmer for a couple hours. At that point I added a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles and lime and cilantro, and let it simmer another hour. Then I took my immersion blender and let it puree all the beans and veggies and ham bits. The soup was still a bit thin, so I let it simmer for another 45 minutes, and it reached a perfect consistency. Serve hot, with dollops of sour cream and chopped green onions. I usually put out some sherry which you can add to the soup at the last minute too, but tonight we had a big crowd, and anyway, the soup was perfect without it. We had a wonderful salad of chopped romaine, pink grapefruit sections, red onions and avocado with a vinaigrette dressing. Oh yes, and I used up the last of the left-over dinner rolls from New Year’s Day by making a bread pudding with bits of apple and dried cranberries. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.