Graduate school made me a better cook and more firmly directed me on to the road to recipe development. It wasn’t the examination of social theory, the fun-filled evenings in the library stacks, or trudging through the snow with a 20-pound backpack that sparked my culinary creativity, but, far more simply, having to cook on a very limited budget.
I read all of the grocery sales sheets each Sunday and marked out a game plan—if there was a bargain, I was going to get it, and I designed my menus and experiments around the weekly specials. I stockpiled my freezer (and cupboards, and yes, even my bedroom closet) with super-bargains, was the first on the scene at the local bakery for bread markdowns, and became hyper-skilled at spotting red closeout stickers for exotic and esoteric ingredients.
Back in the kitchen, I focused on techniques and precision to make the most of my frugal bounty. It was around the same time that I began mapping out all of my creative experiments on the computer before heading to the oven or stove. I didn’t have the cash to make 2 or 3 versions of one dish to get it right, so I did everything I could to make it paper-perfect first.
Along the way, I also discovered that humble ingredients are the ones I like best, in part because of their potential for elevation—from ordinary to extraordinary—is so much greater. It’s pleasing to make a refined dish with an assemblage of high-tag elements, but there’s something far more gratifying about creating something noteworthy with a few dollars-worth of ingredients.
The soup I offer today is an example of just such an amalgamation of good things; the sum is far greater than its parts. It is one I have made often throughout the years, beginning in graduate school.
Pumpkin makes the soup extra thick and voluptuous (as well as extra-nutritious); chipotle and cumin add smoky undertones. It freezes beautifully, enough for a great dinner and several soul-soothing lunches to follow. You don’t need much more to round out the meal except perhaps some cornbread; I also like to serve it spooned over hot steamed rice. It will warm you through and through!
- 3 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (or oil of choice)
- 1 and ¾ cups finely chopped onion (about 2 medium onions)
- 1 and ½ tablespoons ground cumin
- 1-1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder (or smoked paprika)
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 and ¼ cups water
- 1 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin puree
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ¾ cup plain nonfat yogurt or nondairy yogurt (vegan or dairy allergies)
- Optional: ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- In a food processor coarsely pureé beans and tomatoes; set aside.
- Heat oil in large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the cumin, chipotle chile powder, garlic powder, oregano and salt; stir 1 minute. Stir in bean pureé, water and pumpkin until blended. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Just before serving, add lime juice. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup drizzled with yogurt and (optional) chopped cilantro.
Black beans' dark color adds an additional nutritional kick in comparison to other beans: Researchers have found that the rich, dark veneer on black beans packs at least 8 different flavonoids (flavonoids are color-producing phytonutrient pigments that have great anti-oxidant potential), much like blueberries, red grapes and pomegranate.