Inasmuch as complex events can be said to have their roots in a single moment, I credit my first attempt at this delicious soup – an assignment for my Fundamentals of Stocks, Soups, and Sauces course at the ICE Culinary Institute some 10 years ago – with much of what I’ve produced in the kitchen ever since. I might as well call it my Butterfly Effect Soup:

I think the dish is so successful because it manages to strike a balance between the dense and satisfying texture of pureed beans, the heat of fresh chilies, the sweet fragrance of of onions and garlic, and the nutty tang of dry sherry, and because it tastes like it should take far longer to make than it actually does, with a depth of flavor that belies the simplicity of its construction.

So please, make this soup, and tell me if it inspires new and unpredictable trajectories for you as well, a desire to bounce around your kitchen like that clever-looking Lorenz Attractor over at the right. (You can get an intuitive sense of this concept, what mathematicians call the “sensitivity to initial conditions”, by watching the evolution of this fractal – just click New Start Point on this page. It’s pretty cool.)

Oh -And I haven’t even mentioned how healthy it is!

Black Bean Soup (Adapted from Chef/Instructor Gerri Sarnataro)
The real deal starts by soaking dried beans the night before an uses a ham bone and bacon lardons in the mirepoix and home-made veal stock for the liquid. It is, to be sure, better like that. But this version is vastly easier, healthier, and doesn’t offend my wife’s vegetarian sensibilities. Cornbread would make an ideal accompaniment, as would an ice cold Mexican beer.

4 cans black beans, with their packing liquids (preferably unseasoned)
1 bouquet garni (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh chili peppers, such as Serrano or Jalapeno, seeded and minced (more or less to taste for heat)
1 onion, diced
0.5C dry sherry or madeira (adjust to taste)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Mexican Crema and lots of chopped cilantro, to garnish
  1. Sautee the onions, garlic, and chilies in a little oil until they’re soft and fragrant
  2. Empty the beans and their liquids into the pot and add just enough water (or stock) to cover; if you’re using a bouquet garni, add it now.
  3. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-30 minutes.
  4. Use a slotted spoon and reserve a cup of the beans and puree the rest of the soup with an immersion blender, or in batches a blender (be careful!). Return the beans and puree to the pot.
  5. Add the sherry, tasting as you go, and simmer for another 5 minutes to cook out the alcohol. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Whisk in a handful (to taste) of the cilantro just before serving and garnish each bowl with crema and more cilantro on top. (For the animal lovers out there, smoky bacon lardons in the bottom of the bowl make for an astoundingly good touch – cook them first, reserving, and use the bacon fat to sautee the veggies.)