The best black bean soup recipe I’ve tried – and with what’s left it’s easy to create a second meal using black beans as a topping along with melted cheese and green onions in twice-baked potatoes.

The soup is a hearty meal in itself and will satisfy both the meat lovers in your life and vegetarians alike. Chipotle chill powder adds a lovely smoky heat but don’t be put off from making this if you don’t like spicy foods, just reduce the amount you use.

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

You will need:

• Chicken broth, 30% sodium reduced, 6 cups

• Bay leaf, 1 large

• Black beans, 3 x 19oz cans, drained & rinsed

• Olive oil

• Sweet Vidalia onion

• Garlic, 3-4 cloves

• Chipotle Chili Powder, ½ to 1 teaspoon

• Ground Cumin, 1 teaspoon

• Coriander, 1 teaspoon

• Dried oregano, 1 teaspoon

• Red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon

• Crushed tomatoes, half of a 28oz can

• Sugar

Garnish

• Plain Greek yogurt

• Avocado

• Green onions (scallions)

• Grape tomatoes

• Fresh lime

This is an easy soup to put together if you just do a bit of prep. beforehand: drain and rinse the black beans, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic; set out the containers of dried spices and red wine vinegar along with ½ teaspoon, teaspoon and tablespoon measures.

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot set over medium-high heat; add the bay leaf and the black beans. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered (the soup will have thickened). After 30 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

Meantime, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and cook the onion gently for 10 minutes but do not allow to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Then add each spice in turn, stirring each time to combine and continue to cook over low-to-medium heat until the onion mixture has softened completely.

Pour in the red wine vinegar to deglaze the skillet then stir in the crushed tomato (reserve the other half for use later) and a pinch of sugar. Add the onion/spice mixture to the beans, stir to combine then cook for about another ten minutes or so to allow the flavours to meld.

Make an easy salsa by combining chopped avocado, chopped green onions (scallions) and chopped grape tomatoes in roughly equal amounts then season to taste with sea-salt and a generous amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice.

Remove the soup from the heat and when it has cooled slightly, carefully puree half of it using an immersion blender (or, if you prefer a smoother texture continue pureeing the soup). Re-heat and serve.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with Greek yogurt (use chopsticks if you have them to swirl it into a pattern) and top with avocado salsa. Some corn bread on the side and a beer or two would complete the meal. Enjoy!

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Black Beans

After it sits, the black bean soup gets thicker and looks and tastes more like chill so it is perfect alongside stuffed, baked potatoes on a cold winter’s night. You will need:

• Baking potatoes, one per person

• Butter

• Shredded cheese (I used a tex-mex combination)

• Green onions (scallions), chopped

• Leftover black bean soup

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Rinse and dry the potatoes, pierce the skin a few times with the tip of a sharp knife and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about an hour or until squeezing them gently on the sides reveals they are soft.

Remove the potatoes from the oven but leave the heat on.

Make cuts in each potato lengthwise then carefully squeeze the sides to open up the cut and push up some of the potato. Using a spoon, carefully remove as much potato as you can and put it into a large bowl.

When all the potato flesh is in the bowl, add butter, salt and pepper, grated cheese and chopped green onions (scallions) to taste.  An exact recipe is not necessary here but do taste as you go along – once it tastes the way you want, you’re done.

Now carefully refill each potato skin with the mashed potato mixture, top with grated cheese and return to the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the potato is piping hot.

Meantime, heat up the soup in a pot on the stove.

I usually place a potato on each plate then pour over the soup and top it with extra shredded cheese and/or chopped onions; it tastes great but is not quite as pretty to look at. Alternatively, as in the photo, you could set the potato on top of the soup and garnish with extra toppings.

Spicy Italian Sausage Bolognese

Spicy Italian Sausage Bolognese

Italian sausages, colourful bell peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes with a touch of red wine combine to make this flavourful sauce, my version of bolognese – without all the work!

It can be made spicy or not and can easily be adapted to use the sausages whole, to mix sausages with ground beef or to substitute ground beef completely if you prefer making it one of the most versatile recipes in my collection. Just be sure if you’re using them to buy the best tasting Italian sausages you can find. You will need: 

• Vidalia sweet onion, 1 large

• Olive oil

• Red bell peppers, 2

• Orange bell peppers, 2

• Garlic, 3 cloves or more

• Hot Italian sausages, 4

• Sweet Italian sausages, 4

• Dry red wine, ½ cup

• Marinara sauce, 1 jar (I use Rao’s) *

• Wide noodles, e.g. Pappardelle, 12oz

• Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

• Flat-leaf Italian parsley (optional)

Firstly, peel and chop the onion, core, de-seed and chop the peppers, peel and finely chop the garlic, remove the casings from the sausages and set aside.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion; cook for about 5 minutes until just beginning to soften. Add the chopped peppers, stir to combine, add salt and freshly ground black pepper and continue to cook for about another 5 minutes or so or until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add in the sausage meat, stir to combine and cook for a further 10 minutes or so or until the meat is cooked through and all traces of pink have disappeared. (If using whole sausages, brown them separately in a skillet then slice them thickly on the diagonal before returning them to the pot – they may still be a little pink inside but don’t worry as they will cook through as the sauce cooks.)

Turn up the heat to high, add in the wine and sauce and stir through. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and let simmer, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes; the sauce will have thickened slightly. Turn off the heat.

Meantime, cook the pappardelle noodles in boiling salted water according to the instructions on the package; drain then return to the pan.

Grate about half a cup of Parmigiana Reggiano directly into the sauce and stir to combine; add the noodles and stir again.  Cover and let sit for about five minutes to allow the flavours to meld.

Ladle into bowls, grate over a little extra cheese and garnish with fresh Italian parsley (optional).  Mangiare!

Set aside the leftover sauce, allow to cool then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Braised Pork with Cabbage & Onions

Braised Pork with Cabbage & Onions

Braised Pork with Cabbage & Onions

The tomato and pepper-rich sauce with Italian sausage infuses the pork with flavour while keeping it tender while it cooks. You will need:

• Pork rib roast, 3-4 ribs (or use chops)

• Olive oil

• Leftover spicy sausage sauce, 2 cups

• White cabbage

• Vidalia sweet onion

• Salted butter

• Fennel seeds

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.

Season the pork roast with salt and pepper then heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and brown the pork well on all sides.  Place into an ovenproof dish (not too large or the meat will dry out); pour over the leftover sauce, cover and put into the oven.  Bake for about 90 minutes or until the meat is just starting to fall off the bones.

About half an hour before the meat is cooked, make Braised Cabbage: Peel off the outer layers of the cabbage and discard, slice the cabbage into inch-thick wedges; remove the skin from the onion and cut into eighths. In a saucepan just large enough to hold both vegetables, add about an inch of cold water then the cabbage and onion.  Sprinkle with a teaspoon each of fennel seeds and salt and a half teaspoon of freshly-ground black pepper, dot generously with butter and cover.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes; almost all of the water will be absorbed and the cabbage and onions will be tender not limp.

Carefully cut the cooked pork roast into individual chops, spoon over the sausage sauce and serve alongside the braised cabbage and onions.

 

* A word about Rao’s. It is a famous Italian restaurant in New York that only a few people can ever get into to eat; the rest of us have to make do with their line of sauces. They are premium quality and yes, premium priced, but well worth it in my opinion. I would even go so far as to say that if you’re Italian and your Nonni makes sauce from scratch that it won’t be better. Long way of saying, try it!