Thursday, January 14, 2010

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Tonight was a big night for me. After a day of orientation, which included being toured around the hospital campus where I've worked for the last year and a half, I had my white coat put on me by the deans of the College of Nursing! Granted, most health-oriented graduate schools have a white coat ceremony and it's mostly for show, this meant a lot to me because I spent the last two years figuring out what I should be doing with my life before finally settling on nursing. The program gives me my RN and MSN in 20 months, while each of those degrees normally takes at least two years to complete - 48 months worth of school and clinical hours in 20 is some daunting math, but luckily for everyone involved (especially my two friends in the picture, wearing equally awkward smiles!), cooking and baking is my favorite way of unwinding!

After getting home from the ceremony, I decided to make some celebratory black bean pumpkin soup that I've had my eye on for over a month. This year, for the first time, I started experimenting with cooking whole pumpkins instead of using the canned stuff. Unfortunately I didn't find this recipe until after I'd used all my pumpkins, making several delicious pies, and canned pumpkin works just fine. I found this recipe on my favorite blog to date, Smitten Kitchen, and it was everything I was hoping for.
Savory is an adjective normally reserved for meat-based dishes but this soup had enough substance to really absorb the seasonings and was fantastically savory. It can easily be it's own meal if you have some bread to go with it (hence the earlier attempts at making bread) and it does a great job of warming a person all the way through on cold winter nights.

A quick note on substitutions: instead of the 1/4 cup butter, I used 1/4 cup olive oil, which I've done in several other soup recipes. While butter is delightful, being lactose-intolerant, my life goes better when I use olive oil instead of butter in non-baking recipes. It's also significantly more heart-healthy for those so concerned. I did not add the ham and enjoyed the soup as it was, though mushrooms could possibly be added to create a closer texture. I also didn't have any Sherry or Sherry vinegar around, but I always have red wine and red wine vinegar, so I used those instead.  These substitutions undoubtedly gave the soup a different flavor but I enjoyed it immensely -- point being, don't be afraid to substitute and try new things!

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 9 cups

Three 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans (about 4 1/2 cups), rinsed and drained
1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced shallot
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
4 cups beef broth
a 16-ounce can pumpkin puree (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dry Sherry
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice
3 to 4 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

Garnish: sour cream and coarsely chopped lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

1. In a food processor* coarsely puree beans and tomatoes.    
2. In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened and beginning to brown.
3. Stir in bean puree. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and Sherry until combined and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4. Just before serving, add ham and vinegar and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Serve soup garnished with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.

*I used an immersion blender instead of a food processor, which is one of my favorite kitchen tools, since most poor grad students have neither the money or counter space for a food processor.

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