Black Bean Soup

I’ve been on a Mexican food kick since before Cinco de Mayo. I have always loved Mexican food, and at times it’s been a little difficult to come by.  Several years ago we lived in Herrenburg, Germany, located on the border of the Black Forest.  There actually was a Mexican restaurant in our small town.  It was called Los Zapatos, translated to “the shoes.”  However, when I discovered their idea of salsa was ketchup, and the entrees really did taste like shoes, it was back to my own kitchen for my Mexican food fix.  Now that I live in Montana, I still have not managed to find a Mexican restaurant that I really like. Once again I’m relying on my cookbooks and cooking skills for the Mexican food I love. 

Black bean soup is not strictly Mexican, as it’s popular all over Latin America. I’ve been making it for years, and not just when I lived in Latin America.  It was a frequent request from friends when I lived in Greece. So much so that when my best Greek friend traveled from London to Maryland to attend my wedding I served it at our rehearsal luncheon.

This black bean soup recipe takes some time, but most of it is hands off simmering.  You don’t need to soak the beans first.  Just bring them to a boil then set aside for an hour and get on with your day. I like a really smooth soup, so I use a high-speed blender to puree it.  The result is a delicious creamy soup that makes a great lunch or dinner with a green salad on the side.

Black Bean Soup

6 Servings

A delicious creamy soup for any time of the year.  Don’t forget the garnishes – cilantro, tortilla chips, hot sauce, avocado and lime wedges, especially lime wedges.  Pick one or do as I do and pile it on. Vegetarian?  No problem. Just eliminate the ham hocks.

1 pound black beans

10 cups water

2 ham hocks

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 white onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon beef or pork stock base (I used Better than Boullion)

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1/2 cup dry red wine

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lime, cut into wedges

Garnishes – sour cream, tortilla chips, hot sauce, chopped avocado, and cilantro leaves

Place beans in a large soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside for 1 hour.

Add the ham hocks, celery, garlic, onions, allspice and stock base.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the beans are completely cooked.  This will take 2-3 hours, depending on how fresh your beans are.

Remove the ham hocks from the soup.  Add the tomato sauce and the wine and stir to combine.  Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender.  Alternatively, you could use a stick blender, but it won’t be as smooth.  Remove as much of the meat from the ham hocks as possible, chop it and add it to the pureed soup.  Reheat the soup and serve with as many garnishes as you like.  

Adapted from my ancient copy of the Sunset Magazine Mexican Cookbook

Just In Time for Cinco de Mayo – Guacamole

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since my last blog post, and what a year it’s been.  A global pandemic, a retirement, a cross-country move, going back to the Department of State Office of Inspector General as a retired annuitant leading inspections of Department programs and hopefully, next year, embassies overseas.  

A lot has changed in the past year. You’ll see that Jeannine’s Cuisine has a new look that reflects some of those changes. We now live in Helena, Montana!  We had previously purchased some land here and planned to build a home.  However, when our builder wanted to charge us more than $800,000 for a pretty basic 2,600-square foot home, we decided to go a different route instead.  We found a one-story rancher with the spectacular mountain views you see in the photo at the top of this post.  We’re still working on making it home, but we’re getting there. I’m down to three boxes. Yeah!

Before I went back to work I enrolled in a food photography course taught my Kimberly Espinel, a former Saveur magazine food photographer of the year and a wonderful instructor. It was a little difficult juggling work and photography homework, but it was so worth it. You can check out Kimberly’s blog here. The photos in this blog post were my final project for the class. I think you’ll agree I learned a lot in the class.

On to the recipe – I’ve always wanted to do a post for Cinco de Mayo. When I was looking for ideas for my final project for my photography class, I decided on guacamole. It’s delicious and healthy, and it’s not just for tortilla chips anymore, although some chips and guacamole with a frosty margarita sounds like a perfect combo to me.  Serve it with tacos or anything else you are preparing for Cinco de Mayo.  Pile it on toast, an omelet, or over fresh greens for a salad.  I just love avocados and anything made with them. After doing the photographs for this post, however, and going through two of the big bags of avocados from Costco, I’m going to take a little break from eating them for a while.  

Guacamole

Yield 1 1/2 Cups

You can make this guacamole as simple or elaborate as you choose.  Some purists just mix avocado with salt and pepper and call it a day.  Don’t like tomatoes?  Skip them.  If you only have lemons instead of lime, use lemon juice instead.  I love the taste of cilantro, but some people really detest it.  You do you!  

2 avocados

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro

Juice from 1/2 lime

Chopped hot chile to taste (I like to use one serrano, but you can also use jalapeno, habanero or skip it altogether)

1/4 white onion, finely chopped

1/2 tomato, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

Remove the seed from the avocados and place the flesh in a bowl.  Smash the avocado with a fork or a potato masher.  Add salt to taste and any remaining ingredients you choose.  Mix to combine and serve immediately.  

You can extend the life of the guacamole by squeezing lime juice over the top and pressing plastic wrap on the surface to keep out the air.  Just stir the lime juice in before serving.  

Adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

A Mexican-Inspired Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

salad 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the direction I want to take this blog. Is it all about the photography? Food styling? Or is it about developing original recipes? I started the blog not only as a way to reach out to friends and family when they requested a recipe, but also as a way to work on my food photography, with the possibility of turning it into something more professional in the future. I didn’t realize just how much time it takes to post a decent blog post, but I’m not willing to cut corners. Don’t worry, Jeannine’s Cuisine is not going anywhere — not after all the work I’ve put into it. But I’ve finally accepted that, as a full-time Government employee with up to 2 hours of commuting each day, sometimes I’m just not going to be able to post as often as I would like. I read about other bloggers who also work fulltime and have been doing this for years. How can they be so prolific? Where do they find the time? As for me, I’m still working out my “blogging routine.” I guess I’ll get it down eventually, but in the meantime, I will continue to post as time allows.

Salad 2

I’ve also thought a lot about my food message. Is it gluten free? Paleo? Desserts? Quick and easy? Original recipes or adapted from other sources? I think I made the right decision when I decided to name this blog Jeannine’s Cuisine, because the food style in my blog is about all of those things. It’s the way I like to cook. Sometimes the food is healthier and at other times the food I cook is better suited to a special occasion, or when I have all kinds of time to cook. What you won’t find here is any processed food or anything labeled “fat free.” I generally change pretty much every recipe I get my hands on to some degree, and occasionally I even get an original idea and just roll with it. But I also use my ever-expanding cookbook collection for inspiration quite a bit. My goal for the future is to expand the collection of recipes on the blog, both original and adapted, to offer something for everyone. Because that’s the way I cook.

Salad 3

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, and food bloggers everywhere were hard at work, coming up with all kinds of delectable Mexican-style appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I would usually have done the same, but this year, after returning from non-stop gorging on Mexican food during a week-long trip to Arizona, Yum! I decided something a little healthier was probably in order.

Salad 4

I take a salad to work for lunch most days of the week, and it’s normally a bowl of lettuce with some salad dressing. I’m starting to get pretty bored with that and have been experimenting with making the lunchtime salads a whole lot more interesting. This salad is the answer. A delicious bacon vinaigrette (who doesn’t love bacon?) goes over a mixture of salad greens, tomato, avocado, bacon “chips” and toasted pumpkin seeds. I was trying to come up with something for Cinco de Mayo – this salad contains avocado and pepitas that are sort of Mexican ingredients, right? Don’t limit yourself to May for this salad. This is good anytime of the year.

Salad 5

A Mexican-Inspired Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

Serves 4

This recipe makes more salad dressing than you will need for the salad. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and warm to room temperature before serving.

1/4 sweet onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound bacon, cut crosswise into inch-wide pieces

4 large handfuls Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1 large tomato, cut into wedges then cut crosswise

1 avocado, halved, peeled, cut into wedges, then cut crosswise into chunks

1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted and salted

Place the onion, mustard, and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly add the olive oil a small bit at a time, whisking with each addition. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the bacon in a cold sauté pan and turn the heat on medium. Cook the bacon until crispy then turn it out onto a paper towel-lined plate. Set the pan with the bacon grease aside while you prepare the salad.

Combine the lettuce, tomato and avocado in a serving bowl. Add the vinaigrette mixture to the bacon fat in the sauté pan and whisk well to combine. The mixture may splatter if the bacon fat is still hot. Dress the salad with as much dressing as desired, top with the cooked bacon pieces, sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, and serve immediately.

Salad dressing adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins