Looking for a black Halloween food to make grown-ups howl with delight? Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto tastes like it took all day simmering on the back burner, getting rich and thick from hours of loving attention.
But when time is too short to stir dried beans in a witch’s cauldron, canned black beans that have been carefully rinsed are the fast and easy answer to perfect results, because they’ll be intensely flavored and then puréed smooth in the resulting soup.
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My favorite black bean soups are from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, specifically around the city of Mérida; their unctuous, creamy textures contain no cream and are packed with characteristic layers of flavor from gargantuan amounts of herbs and a whisper of regional habañero chile. For decadence, locals often swirl in a spoonful of crema for special occasions, and Halloween is definitely such an occasion, at least in the U.S.
You start by making a flavor bomb similar to an Italian pesto to embellish the finished soup: Pull a big handful of basil leaves off stems, add cilantro and, if you can get some of the herb, throw in a little epazote with spicy habañero chile for traditional tastes. Because pine nuts aren’t found in the Yucatan, substitute pecans, Mexico’s national nut, for the right texture profile. For cheese, my choice is a not-too-salty queso añejo (aged queso fresco), or use Parmigiano-Reggiano. Only the best-quality extra virgin olive oil will do for its fruitiness, and then finish the soup with Merida sunshine: a generous squirt of bright Mexican (aka Key) lime juice.
Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: Makes 4 servings (may be doubled)
For the pesto:
4 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 fresh habañero chile
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup basil leaves, tightly packed
½ cup cilantro leaves
10 epazote leaves (if available)
¼ cup grated queso añejo or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the soup:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
One 3-inch white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½-inch piece of the habañero chile, minced
Three 15-ounce cans organic black beans
2 cups organic chicken broth, divided
2 Mexican (aka Key) limes
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup Mexican crema, or sour cream thinned with a little milk
For the pesto:
1. Combine the garlic, pecans, a tiny ¼-to-½-inch piece of the chile finely chopped (wear disposable gloves while doing this), salt and pepper in a food processor. Process for 10 seconds. Toss in the basil, cilantro and epazote and grind again for 10 seconds. Turn the processor off and scrape the sides with a spatula to get everything down into the mixture.
2. Add the cheese. Turn the machine back on and pour the oil slowly through the feed tube, processing until the mixture is fully incorporated and smooth. Taste carefully for saltiness and if the sauce is spicy enough — it should be hot! If not, mince another small piece of the chile and process again to fully incorporate the bits. Taste again and adjust accordingly.
3. Using a rubber spatula, scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
For the soup:
1. Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onion until translucent. Toss in the garlic and chile and cook until starting to brown. Remove from the heat.
2. Rinse the beans carefully for a few minutes. Scrape the onion, garlic and chile into the processor using a spatula and then dump in the beans. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Process until smooth, adding 1 cup of broth. Pour back into the pot.
3. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of broth. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer, squeeze in the lime juice and season the bland beans assertively to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes.
4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a generous tablespoonful of pesto on each. If using, swirl a tablespoon of crema in a circle around the pesto and pass the remaining crema in a small bowl.
Main photo: Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky