Smoky Black Bean Soup

Comfort is an old T-shirt that is soft and has holes in it.

Doesn't everyone have one of those?

Mine is gray, soft, and the letters on it are faded and peeling.  There are holes in the armpits.  It's been slept in, lounged in, washed, and loved for years.  Sometimes the sole reason I do laundry is just so that I can wear it again.  I'm not ashamed.

It reminds me of my favorite place on Earth.  And on some subconscious level, I think I gravitate to it when I need a little comforting.   Sort of like a grown-up security blanket.  You can try and replace my T-shirt, but it won't be the same. 

And one day it will officially fall apart, and I'll try to resist sewing its bits and pieces into other things.  It'll never be used to wash the car though, hear you me.

Comfort is also, without a doubt, a heaping bowl of spicy, hearty black bean soup.  It's exactly what I need after a slightly uncomfortable weekend, and so it made it's way to the top of the dinner queue this week.

(Comfort could also be the giant bag of Halloween candy I'm stuck guarding alone tonight while my husband is out of town for work, as well as the white chocolate-covered Nutter Butter ghosts that didn't make it to their Halloween party destination this weekend.  Good thing this soup will save the day.)

You see, this weekend I had BIG plans.  I was destined, along with several friends, to take on Manhattan in the name of the greatest game show ever, Double Dare.  There would be helmets, elbow pads, T-shirts, Marc Summers, and Robin the referree.  And let's not forget about the physical challenges.  You can't tell me that having a solo cup velcroed to the top of my head could lead to anything but fun at the bar.

Instead, we spent Saturday evening snowed in at home in PA, with no heat or electricity, and with a foot of water in our basement.  Not exactly the kind of physical challenge I had in mind.  Fortunately, we had a working gas fireplace, so we camped out in the family room.  In all, we were without power and heat for about 24 hours.  It was kinda romantical.  But not super comfortable. 

Fireplace, flannel PJs, Scotch.  And this was only 7:35pm.

To make up for my Double Dare disappointment, I'll be answering the door tonight in my solo cup helmet and blue T-shirt, ready to take on the neighborhood rugrats in any physical challenges that may present themselves.  But once I get the feeling that the world has settled into a sugar coma, I'll be curling up on the couch with bad Halloween movies, heat, and a steamy bowl of smoky black bean soup.

A final note:  This recipe will forever be dedicated to Meredith, one of my oldest and dearest friends, one of my 7s, and the best roommate ever (my husband's not bad, but he tends to max out on my girl talk).  She is the biggest fan of this soup.  Making it reminds me of chilly nights spent in front of the uneven heat from our window unit, with reality TV on mute as we (over)analyzed every detail of the day.  I've never been so comfortable in my life.

Black Bean Soup
courtesy of Rachael Ray
Yields 4 servings

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large dried bay leaf
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
3 15-oz cans black beans
2 tbs ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tbs hot sauce (optional, to taste)
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (use vegetable to make this a vegetarian soup!)
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, drained

Heat a medium soup pot over medium-high heat, and coat with the oil.  When hot, add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, jalapeno, and bay leaf to the pot.  Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the red pepper and continue to cook.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain 2 cans of black beans and add them to the pot.  Use a fork to mash up the beans in the remaining can, and add them to the pot.  The mashed beans will add a nice layer of starchy thickness to the soup.  Season with the cumin, coriander, salt/pepper, and hot sauce (if used), stirring well to combine.
This step is key!

Add the stock and diced tomatoes, and stir to combine.   

Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

Serve in heaping bowl-fuls for the ultimate in fall comfort.  Add more Tabasco for an extra kick!

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