Monday, February 8, 2016

A Grand Tour via Soup; Cuba for Black Bean Soup with Cuban Bread

                           A Cuban Black Bean Soup garnished with yogurt or pulled pork.
The Grand Tour has now followed the Spanish explorers and arrived in Cuba. I have one book on Cuban food in my cookbook collection and although I have enjoyed reading through the authors notes on all the recipes I have still yet to cook from it! I had set my mind on making black bean soup and she does not give a recipe for this. Perhaps black bean soup is not so typically Cuban, but I saw many a reference to Cuban black beans in various other recipes so at least the beans have authenticity.
The author's family left Cuba following the communist revolution in 1959 and this book is a mix of her looking back on recipes from the old family home in Cuba and recipes that she and her family still make. Following the communist takeover by Fidel Castro many Cubans took exile in the USA, with large numbers settling in Miami, Florida. The recipes I found for 'Cuban bread' all seemed to originate more from bakeries set up by Cuban exiles in Miami than actual bakeries in Cuba. Rationing in Cuba seems to allow a little rather poor quality bread per person but I wonder what the bread was like pre-revolution.
This article in the Guardian on a 'Cuban' bakery in Miami shows the bread being adorned with strips of  palm which I did not have for mine. The recipe I followed which came from the Taste of Cuba  website suggested a piece of thick string was placed down the centre of the loaf but I could see that getting completely  stuck in the dough so I just went for a rather generic scoring of the dough. The loaf came out with a nice thin crisp crust and soft interior but I would not have drawn the comparisons to a french baguette that I saw in many descriptions of Cuban bread. If you are going to have a go at making the loaf  note the recipe requires an overnight starter to be made.
The black bean soup recipe is very basic so I think the most important aspect here is the variety of black beans you use. My favourite black bean in the rather small black turtle bean which is commonly used in latin america (and Cuba!). Both the texture and flavour of the cooked beans are better than some of the larger black kidney beans I have tried, but I think the small shiny black turtle bean are very easily bought now so try to get those.

Black Bean Soup
250g dry black turtle beans which need to be soaked overnight
1 medium onion chopped
1 green pepper seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic minced
2-3 tbs olive oil
vegetable stock/water
ham bone (optional)
1tbs cider vinegar

Optional Garnishes :

Full fat Greek yogurt or sour cream, and chopped red pepper

Left over pulled roast pork/bbq pork or bbq roast chicken (as much as you want)

The night before prepare the beans by washing well and checking for and removing any small pieces of grit or mis-formed/shriveled beans . Then place the washed beans in a bowl and cover with plenty of cold water and leave overnight to soak. The beans will absorb plenty of water and should remain covered in water throughout the overnight soak.

The next day when you are ready to start cooking drain off the soaking water and rinse the beans again in fresh cold water.

In a large deep saucepan heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions, garlic and pepper until starting to soften.

Add in the soaked and drained beans and then add enough vegetable stock and/or water to cover the beans by 2-3 centimetres. If you are using a ham bone add this now too.

Bring the pan to a boil and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam and then cook at a gentle simmer with the pan lid on. The beans should be checked after 2 hours to see if they are completely tender. If the beans were old it may take 3 hours for them to soften. Add more liquid as needed to keep the beans covered while they cook.

Once cooked (beans will be meltingly tender with no hardness/resistence) remove the ham bone if used and check the seasoning adding more salt if needed.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool a little. Then using a stick blender part puree the soup so you have a thick texture but still with some larger pieces of cooked beans left. If you do not have a stick blender then a liquidiser can be used, just remove some of the soup to the blender goblet, puree and return the pureed beans to the pan. If neither of these options are available then you can use a potato masher to crush the beans in the pan until you get the right consistency. If too thick add extra vegetable stock or water.

Add the vinegar to the soup and reheat, check seasoning again. The soup is now ready to serve.

Optional Garnishing:
If you are using yogurt and chopped pepper then this is just added cold to each bowl as you serve the soup.

If you are adding pulled pork to chicken the cut/tear the meat garnish into small pieces and gently fry in a small non stick pan until heated through and stating to colour. You may need to add a little oil to the pan but try to keep this to a minimum.

Once the meat garnish is heated through and a little crisp/caramelised on the edges immediately serve the soup into bowls and top with the pieces of pork or chicken.
The base soup can be stored in the fridge once cool and it also freezes well so can be made ahead. The chilled soup will set rather solid but loosen up again on gentle warming.

Image result for che guevara image
So the tour now leaves Cuba and heads to Argentina. One of Fidel Castro's key revolutionaries in the overthrowing of the US backed Cuban President Batista, a movement which Castro started in 1953 and finally succeeded with in 1959, was the Argentinian born Marxist Che Guevara. Che Guevara was born in Santa Fe Province in Northern Argentina and studied medicine in Buenos Aires. His image is widely used as a counterculture symbol.

It is also to the north of Argentina where I will be sourcing a recipe for a beef and vegetable stew called Carbonada, but in my case this will be served as a soup along with a griddle bread not dissimilar to english muffins.

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