Emma says: “This is one of the heftiest soups you could ever hope to lay eyes on. If you have a hungry rabble or a builder to feed this is the one.
In combination with the smoky, earthy chipotle chilli, the meatiness of black beans is really accentuated, so if you’re going the veggie option don’t fear – it doesn’t lack in meaty flavour.
Black beans and corn are staples in Mexican and Cuban cuisine and as with most pulses the beans absorb flavours really well. In soups they are far more filling than their appearance suggests, and whilst many soups – even the chunky ones – can leave you craving bread to dunk, this will not; especially if you chuck some chicken in there too.”
2 medium red onions – diced
4 medium tomatoes – cut into small chunks
1 ripe avocado – cut into small chunks
4 cloves of garlic – minced or finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of black beans – drained
2 small tins of sweetcorn (drained) / or the equivalent of fresh
500ml chicken stock
300ml orange juice
A really good handful of fresh coriander – roughly chopped, stalks and all
2 heaped tsp of toasted ground cumin
1 bay leaf
2 tsp ground chipotle powder/OR 1 chipotle chilli from a tin of chipotle adobo finely chopped/OR 2 tsp chipotle paste (if you’re not keen on heat just add ½ tsp).
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano (or use normal oregano)
4 skinless boneless chicken thighs – optional
Combine half the onion, half the tomatoes, the avocado, juice of 1 lime and a good pinch of salt. Toss together and set aside.
Hdeat a glug of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over a medium – high heat, and fry the remaining onions, along with the red pepper (and chicken thighs if using them) until they are all soft and slightly browned (not too dark though – you’re looking to seal and slightly brown the chicken if using).
Add the garlic and spices and fry for a further few minutes, stirring to mingle the flavours together.
Add 1 tsp seasalt, the black beans, sweetcorn, remaining tomatoes, orange juice and chicken stock.
Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about an hour – you’re looking for the tomatoes and onion to break down – if it takes more than an hour that’s fine, you can add more water if it gets too thick.
If you are using chicken, remove it when it’s cooked and shred it using 2 forks, then add it back.
Serve the soup with a good spoonful of avocado mixture on top and a generous amount of fresh coriander.
If you’re feeling particularly Mexican you can add a blob of sour cream, some crumbled queso fresco (Mexican cheese, akin to Wensleydale) and some toasted broken up tortillas.
Make mine a double.
Adding spices to any dish can be a daunting prospect – what to add? How much is too much?
I would say it’s always a case of achieving a balance. For example here the sweetness of corn and orange juice balance the heat of chipotle and earthiness of cumin. The meatiness and substance of the beans is counter-balanced by the light, zestyness of the lime, onion and tomato. Creamy avocado melts with the strong flavours, tempering them and adding the same indulgent touch that cream might; Except the fat in avocados is a very healthy fat that can help lower cholesterol levels, it’s also a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, B, C and D vitamins amongst other nutritious benefits.
The fantastic thing about spiced world foods is their flexibility. From one family to another, or one region to the next the recipes differ, there is no absolute, you can’t go wrong. If you don’t have tomatoes – use more red pepper. Add some sour cream, add some cheese, add some toasted, broken tortillas, add it all (it might fill you up for 3 days).
I always cook a ton more food than I need, when it comes to spicy food, it gets better as it sits – make double, freeze it. Next Monday remember it and you won’t have to cook (it is a Monday after all). Second to that, if you want to change it up, reduce the soup down until most of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a flippin’ brilliant tortilla filler.
The spices: if you can buy whole cumin seeds and grind them as you need them, that’s excellent. Whole spices (with the exception of a few) retain their flavour much better in whole form. Toast them in a dry pan, shaking them often, until they begin to smoke as they release their aromatics (a posh word for flavour) and begin to turn a nutty brown. I prefer cumin this way, it has more depth and less of that soapiness.
(This is me discovering chillies in Mexico where there are literally hundreds of varieties in each region, and EVERYONE knows the difference between them – ‘mind blown’)
he chipotle chilli is a smoked, dried jalepeno. In Mexico the change in the flavour of a chilli when dried is regarded as so vastly different that it deserves another (entirely different) name. Whilst this can be confusing, I always think it’s best to imagine them as totally different chillies, as they really do serve totally different purposes.
Chipotles are medium to hot, they are wonderfully smoky, meaty and ever so slightly tangy – a really great edition in Mexican dishes. You can buy them whole and just throw them in (poke holes in them for more heat), ground or in tins of ‘chipotle adobo’ which is marvellously pokey stuff.
Then there’s bay, Mexican oregano and fresh coriander, which all bring to the table layers of flavour adding earthiness, complexity and that fantastic fresh herbal zing of a shed load of coriander. All in all best-described as packing a huge long-lasting energy punch AND a party in your mouth – what’s not to love. If these lovely ladies were a soup this would be it.