G Daniela Galarza
THE WASHINGTON POST – Cooks across the Caribbean and Latin America have for centuries turned stewed black beans into a delicious art. Hundreds of dishes are based on the nutritious staple, which is indigenous to the Americas.
“In the New World, the remains of beans were found in a Peruvian Andean cave dated to 6000BC Mentions of black beans show up in the writings of ancient Mayans,” wrote my editor Joe Yonan, in Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein.
Traditional Brazilian feijoada marries the velvety bean and a crunchy topping of toasted cassava flour and meat. Colombian and Venezuelan cooks season black beans with onions, garlic, sweet peppers and bay leaves. Peruvians add vinegar for frijoles escabechados.
Mexican cooks infuse frijoles negros de olla with chillies for a touch of heat. Throughout Central America, cooks top stewed black beans with chopped raw onion, cilantro or simple salsas. Cuban black beans often start with a sofrito and are especially pungent with garlic and cilantro. Haitian cooks add fresh coconut and puree the stewed beans into the sauce known as sos pwa nwa.
This recipe, for coconut and black bean soup with a mango and avocado salsa, is an homage to this legacy.
It starts with sauteed onions and garlic, plus tomato paste and cumin – a sort of cheater sofrito. Cooked or canned black beans go in next, along with canned coconut milk. The inky broth turns a stylish grey and is tinted pale scarlet with a bit of ground chillies.
Puree half of this mixture, then be sure to heat it through and season it well. You may wish to add more salt or spice, a squeeze of lime or splash of vinegar. Then, referencing Mexican and Central American traditions and Caribbean fruits, I suggest a salsa topping, a slightly sweet and acidic salad of mango, avocado, red onion, cilantro and lime juice. It’s lush and bright and offsets the density of this satisfying soup.
COCONUT BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH MANGO-AVOCADO SALSA
For the salsa
– One small red onion
– One ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
– One ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
– Three sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped
– One tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more as needed
– Fine salt
For the soup
– One tablespoon coconut or vegetable oil
– Two cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
– Two tablespoons tomato paste
– One teaspoon ground cumin
– Half teaspoon ground chillies or smoked or hot paprika
– Two cans black beans, preferably no salt added, drained and rinsed
– One can coconut milk
– Three-quarter cup water or vegetable stock
– Half teaspoon fine salt, plus more as needed
Halve the onion. Grate one half on the large holes of a grater and set aside. Dice the other half.
Make the mango-avocado salsa: In a small bowl, combine the diced red onion, mango, avocado, cilantro and lime juice. Stir, and taste. Add more lime juice and/or a pinch of salt, if desired.
In a medium saucepan over high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the grated onion and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it begins to look transparent and just starts to brown, about two minutes.
Add the garlic, tomato paste, cumin and ground chillies or paprika, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about one minute. Stir in the black beans, coconut milk and water or broth.
Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Add the salt, then taste, adding more, if needed.
Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally, then, using an immersion blender, partially puree the beans until the soup looks half creamy and half chunky, with some coconutty broth holding it all together. (To puree in a standing blender, using a ladle, transfer about half of the soup to a blender jar. Remove the vent in the blender’s lid to allow steam to escape and loosely cover it with a towel to prevent splatter. Blend on low until smooth, then stir the pureed soup back into the pot).
Ladle the soup into bowls, top with the mango salsa and serve, with extra salsa on the side.