While most people flee the scene at the mention of math, I’m one of those weird people that love numbers. I’m talking pure mathematical adoration here. Algebra, calculus, geometry, times tables, you name it, I’m there. I get numbers more than I get words. It’s just how my brain works. People are usually surprised to learn of my severe number crunching ability. My old roommate used to approach me at the end of every semester with, “hey human calculator, can you help me figure out my grades in all my classes, again?”. In my cooking class, I was known in the same way, with people yelling across the room while we scrambled to get our ingredients: “Ashley! How many teaspoons in a tablespoon?! How many tablespoons in a cup?! How tablespoons equal an ounce of butter!?”.
This way of thinking has bled into all aspects of my life. And with this soup, while it sounds totally odd, is sine and cosine waves. Some of you might have forgotten trigonometry, and while I can’t remember where I put my keys or phone, I haven’t. Let me explain. Sine and cosine flow up and down, high and low, at the same frequency. This soup, with two totally different components works in the same way. The black beans provide spiciness, earth, robust, hearty texture, and deep flavors. Then you get a bite of the banana and it’s just slightly sweet, tender, melty. With each bite, you alternate perfectly with two flavor experiences much like the waves of sine and cosine. It leaves me baffled as to why I never ate them this way before, because they seem made for each other.
Jacques Pepin came up with this soup recipe, I’m assuming at the influence of his wife, Gloria, who is Puerto Rican. Even Jacques (a notoriously French man) loves the Latin flavor.
This soup might sound odd. My love for math might be odd, too. But I love them. Unexpected and out of the ordinary, yes, but always loved and appreciated.
Black bean soup with bananas
Adapted from Essential Pepin
Notes: Jacques suggests using bacon or salt pork to flavor the soup, which you can totally do, but I wanted to keep it vegetarian. To make up for the bacon flavor, I added a red pepper, a green pepper, and 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. If you want bacony flavored soup (delicious) use 8 ounces of diced pancetta, bacon, or salt pork instead of the peppers and add it when you boil the beans.
As always, I suggest using dried beans because as much as I want it to, canned doesn’t provide the same texture. They’re cheaper, too!
Jacques suggests only using 2 bananas to garnish, for 8-10 servings. Being the banana freak that I am, I found this to be too little. I suggest using about 4, garnishing each soup with about half of a banana.
Also being a molasses freak, I drizzled a little on top once the soup was served and it really added another layer of flavor. I realize this is intense, but try it if you want.
When I photographed this, I added some pineapple to see how it worked. It was okay. Better with just the bananas, which is how I ate it afterwards.
For the black bean soup
1 pound dried black beans
3 quarts (12 cups) water
1/2 cup brown rice
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced, plus a little adobo sauce
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
8 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (or oregano, thyme, rosemary, or a mix thereof)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Make the soup
Remove and discard any damaged beans or debris, and wash the remaining beans well in cool water. Drain the beans, place them in a bowl, cover with cold water, and soak for 3 hours.
Drain the beans, put them in a stainless steel pot with the 3 quarts water, and add the rice. (If using bacon: add it to the pot now). Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered (this will take about 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 1 hour.
Add the onions, garlic, peppers, herbes de Provence, chili powder, cumin, tomatoes, and salt to the pot, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
Using a hand blender, emulsify the mixture in the pot for 5 to 10 seconds. (Alternatively, remove 2 cups of the mixture, puree it in a food processor, and return it to the pot.) You want to thicken the mixture slightly while still maintaining its overall chunkiness.
Mix together the oil, vinegar, and Tabasco in a small bowl, and add to the soup.
Garnish the soup
Peel the bananas and cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss them in a small bowl with the lemon juice and pepper.
Divide the hot soup among four bowls. Top with the banana slices, sprinkle on the cilantro, and serve.
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