Erysipelas Soup

by Mallard Man on November 23, 2008

in Food & Eating

mmmmmm... beansErysipelas (er ee se peh las): Proper Noun – A vicious little bacteria that gets in your face and makes you hideous beyond recognition.

That’s right, Gourmetro.  I’m back and I want to talk about bacteria getting into my face, because there’s nothing quite as appetizing as an absolutely disgusting bacterial infection all over your face.  Actually, it wasn’t.  It was vile.  It was horrific.  I went in to see the doctor the next week after getting antibiotics and she was surprised to learn I had a neck.  But here’s the thing, and why I feel I should share this joy with you.  When your face is disgusting and you live in New York, you tend to realize it’s not very fun being out in public.  Folks tend to stare, and they don’t hide the fact that you look like you weigh two hundred pounds more than you do from the neck up, they let their faces show you that your face is vile.  So, going out to eat is sort of out of the question.  What did I do so that I could keep myself in seclusion?  I invented the best damn black-bean soup in the universe.

Credit where credit is due, this soup was inspired by a recipe from Yamuna Devi.  (Also, I want to credit my mother, with whom I discussed my extensive soup plans.) A couple weeks before, I’d decided I wanted to create some sort of mulligatawny, but Devi didn’t really have one, so I tried to make her brown vegetable stock.  It’s not much of a story.  I sort of screwed up the recipe, wound up with a pretty disgusting, extremely thick soup.  But!  I did learn something about making stock with beans; mainly, if you boil two cups of beans for four hours straight, you wind up with a thick broth.  Also, I learned what parsnips are, thus realizing that carrots are not the most phallic vegetable on the planet. Now then, my soup.

  • 2 cups dried black beans
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 4 stalks celery, with leaves, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 4 to 5 roma tomatoes, quartered, (or eighthed)
  • 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped (optional, but wash your hands directly after cutting jalapeños unless you’re really into feeling your face burn)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ground cumin
  • chili powder

First things first, dump all your beans into a medium sized pot.  Fill the pot with water up to about an inch and a half to two inches above the beans.  Salt and bring the water to a boil, then bring the heat down to a simmer for maybe two minutes or so.  Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit while you do the next step.

You’ll need a large pot for this soup.  I recently bought this fantastic ceramic crock pot, I think it’s 6 quarts or something.  I can never remember.  Honestly, when it comes to volume, the imperial system has always been a little beyond me.  Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in pot and turn it onto a medium heat.  Next, start tossing in vegetables.  Garlic first, giving it maybe fifteen seconds.  Then your onion.  You may want to cover the crock pot for a minute or so, just until the onions start to get transparent.

Next up, toss in your tomatoes.  You want the tomatoes to cook down a little, so cover up your crock pot and make sure that your heat’s sort of medium low.  When the tomatoes have broken down a little, you can throw in your jalapeños.  Then, after all that’s cooked together for maybe a minute, throw in your carrots and celery, reduce the heat down to maybe a 2 in 10, cover it up and just let it all cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring.

By minute twenty, the celery should have browned a little and the carrots should be looking softer.  Now, it’s time to add your beans.

There are two minds on adding reconstituted dried beans to soup.  The first is that the water the beans have cooked in is unnecessary.  I do not agree with this mind.  Still, since you’re about to add a shit-ton of water, it’s not a bad idea to strain the beans.  You should notice, by the way, that the beans have wound up swelling quite a bit since you took them off the heat.  See, kids?  That’s why you do the beans first.  Anyhow, strain the beans, keeping the water if you’re of the mind to, and throw them on top of your veggies.  Then, you want to add 12 cups of water to the pot (measure the bean water, include it in your count), throw in a couple bay leaves.  And that’s really about it.

Add some cumin, add some chili powder, add some salt and then let it heat to a simmer and leave that bugger alone.  You can add some cilantro to it if you like, but I can’t stand the stuff so I avoid it like the plague.  If you’re going to, tie up a few sprigs in some cheese cloth and put it into the soup when you add the water.  Go do whatever it is you do when there’s nothing to do.  Watch a movie.  Watch two.  If you want to keep using the soup as a respite from the terrible discomfort caused by your swollen face, you can be a futzer like me and get in there every fifteen minutes or so and stir the whole thing up.  Don’t worry about how much the soup is spiced until you’re about three hours in.  It’ll probably take near that long for the flavor of everything to really get into the soup. All in all, let the whole thing cook for about four hours.

You wind up with a ton of soup.  Last time I had four quarts and a peanut-butter jar full of the stuff.  By the way, if I may say so myself, as this soup’s daddy, it’s really awesome.  Having the beans cook for so long makes this a pretty thick broth.  To add to that, leaving in the vegetables gives you some nice texture and seeing all those black beans stirring around adds something really nice to the soup’s overall aesthetic. It’s savory and very authentic tasting.  It’s pretty damn filling too.  You can try to use it as just a starter, but don’t be surprised if you don’t have room left for a main course.

The soup goes great with grated cheddar cheese and a nice whole wheat toast.  If you want to feel more Mexican, buy some corn tortillas at your grocery store and spray on some olive oil.  Preheat your oven to 350, chop them into thin strips, and let them toast for a few minutes.  I figure between one and a half to two tortillas for a large bowl of soup.

But now, I want to share what I really learned from this soup.  Recipes are fine.  In fact, recipes are great. There’s nothing wrong with using them, I don’t want to imply that there is.  But there’s something that’s satisfying for me about this soup that, even if you wind up really liking it and I hope you do, you won’t get.  Because it’s mine.  And I don’t feel like I can completely say that about anything else that I cook.  Even the potato pizza I make, which I did most of the thought work on, relies on a crust that I found online.  I love to cook.  I love being in my kitchen.  But I have never been proud of a dish like I’m proud of this soup.  So next time you find yourself holed up in your house for a few days, think about making something new.  Grab some ingredients and dig in.  Maybe you wind up with a dud, but maybe you make something you need to share with everything you know and I guarantee, it’ll be your favorite thing to make from then on.

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