I have had an outspoken love affair with black beans ever since I lived in Mexico, but lately it's been more of a long distance relationship. They're one of a few main factors contributing to my most excessive weight gain ever (not even in any of my three pregnancies did I carry as much weight as I put on over there), but usually they tend to get all the blame. I conveniently ignore that I was also addicted to a certain starter labelled Mexican rice (which is nothing but a very attractive name for a gruesome concoction of rice with a sliced banana and a generous helping of mayo), made sneaky trips to the kitchen at least once an hour to indulge in a naughty snack of tortilla toasted directly over the gas stove, spread with (again!) mayo and about half a mashed avocado, and just generally was far too liberal with my daily calorie allowance under the pretext that I am not going to be able to enjoy this food forever and must take advantage of it while I can. I can always lose weight when I am dead, right?
If black beans weren't so hard to come by, I would probably still nurse a few extra pounds (read: stone) from way back when, but they are elusive little fellows. For years and years I imported frijoles negros refritos from a Mexican store in Austria, who actually got them from a wholesaler in Barcelona, who in turn... every attempt to make my own has ended in disaster because the beans I was searching for high and low must have been centuries old and never softened, not even after days of pre-soaking and cooking. But I decided to give it another go for Jeanne's edition of "Waiter! There's something in my... PULSES" and tried a frijoles kit from Cool Chile that had been sitting in my cupboard for a few months now, always too nervous to try it out.
And this time, I was rewarded. For once, I didn't actually give into my craving of frijoles refritos with tone of melted cheese on top and opted for a recipe of a young Austrian chef who's finding fame in New York (see a previously tested recipe for scallop ceviche with strawberries and green chile). As usual, I have liberally adapted the recipe, but the essence remains the same: a gloriously comforting soup of black beans with some crab meat and and hint of spice, a sprinkle of lime and some flatbread. And if you (like a certain friend of ours) are afraid that beans might give you flatulence, use a favourite trick of mine I learnt in Mexico: cook the beans with epazote, a dried herb that is also available through Cool Chile - the taste is similar to marjoram and it will spare you any embarrassing moments, allowing you to enjoy your favourite indulgence AND you get to keep all your friends close ;-)
Black bean soup with crab and chilli*
(serves 4 as a starter)
250 g black beans
1 dried chipotle chilli
6 strips pancetta (or other smoked bacon)
2 celery sticks (washed and halved)
1 onion (peeled and halved)
1 tsp epazote (see above)
100 g white crab meat
red chilli (finely diced) to taste
juice of 1 lime
4 flat breads (to serve)
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil and pour over the black beans and dried chilli. Leave to soak for at least 4 hours.
Add the celery, onion and pancetta to the pot, cook covered (simmering) for one hour. Remove the dried chilli, then puree the soup with a hand-held blender, adjust the consistency by adding water or continuing to cook to thicken. Season to taste.
When ready to serve, add the crabmeat either in the centre of the soup bowl or on the side, sprinkled with as much of the red chilli as your taste buds can bear. Sprinkle with lime juice and serve with flatbreads on the side.
* Based on a recipe by Daniel Angerer of Klee Brasserie, New York, in Wienerin kocht, April 2007