Spicy Black Bean Soup with Monte Cristo Style Sandwiches

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

As late winter now transitions into early spring, or if you're still stuck in winter back east!, a pot of soup is the best thing in the world. Black bean soup, although pretty simple in its preparation, can satisfy all cravings and give you a healthier alternative to battle those last few holiday pounds lingering around. It's cheap to make, extremely easy, and very hearty and satisfying without bloating you. My recipe uses canned black beans which speeds up the process considerably -- the beans have been parcooked already for you so it cuts down your cooking time more than half as opposed to using dried beans. And simple seasonings from smoky cumin, deep ancho chile powder, and earthy oregano and bay leaf give the soup a wonderful foundation. I like using poblano peppers for this, but you could just as easily substitute with green or even red or yellow bell peppers. Add the jalapeno to taste -- a perfectly balanced soup will use half of the jalapeno, seeds and all, but if you want it more or less adjust accordingly.

And a perfect side dish? Monte Cristo-style sandwiches of course! Traditionally made with ham, cheese, and turkey "croque monsieur" style, I used ham and manchego cheese which is what I had on hand. I loved the subtle nutty flavor of the manchego against the ham. If I had it I would have used jambon but simple black forest ham works beautifully as well. I also dotted the bread with the traditional strawberry jam (yes, strawberry jam) that adds a wonderful sweetness to the dish especially when paired with the decidedly savory black bean soup.

This recipe serves 2-4 people; 2 for a heartier dinner and 4 for smaller appetizer portions. Enjoy!

Spicy Black Bean Soup
1 white onion, chopped small
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped small
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced (seed it for less spicy)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 (15 oz) cans black beans (recommend: Goya brand)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1.5 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ancho chile powder
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 limes
sour cream (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, poblano pepper, and jalapeno and season with salt and pepper to taste. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are softened and starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add the bay leaf, cumin, oregano, chile powder, black beans (with juice from can if you want it thicker; if you want a thinner soup then rinse the beans in cold water first; I prefer with juice!) and broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer for at least 25-30 minutes for flavors to meld. You'll know it's done when the color of the soup darkens and the soup becomes thicker. Add the cilantro and cook another 5 minutes. To serve, garnish with tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, and sour cream if desired. Serve a lime cut into wedges on the side for more acid if desired.

Monte Cristo Style Sandwiches
white sandwich bread
sliced black forest ham
manchego cheese, sliced thin
strawberry jam
1-2 eggs*
2-3 Tbsp heavy cream*

To assemble the sandwiches, take one slice of bread and smear a little strawberry jam. Add a slice of ham on top then some cheese on top of that, and the other slice of bread. Set aside and repeat with desired amount of sandwiches. Beat the egg and cream together in a shallow bowl. Preheat a griddle pan or non-stick saute pan. Dip the sandwiches in the egg mixture, flipping to coat both sides. Cook on griddle until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes each side. Remove and slice in half to serve.

*If making two full sandwiches (meaning 2 slices of bread per person), then use 1 egg + 2 Tbsp cream. If making for 4 people, then use 2 eggs + 3 Tbsp cream.

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