Creamy Black Bean Soup

Last week I had to have a cavity filled, and it was so not fun. I haven’t had a cavity since I was a kid, but apparently they are coming back to haunt me. Our dentist is great, and it didn’t hurt at all, but I was told to eat only soft foods for a couple of days. Since I went in thinking I was just going to have a regular cleaning, I found myself making do with what I had on hand during a busy week. There was a lot of oatmeal and a lot of yogurt going on, and also: soups. Soup is not exactly what you want to be eating during the hot summer months, but this is one is so delicious that it more than made up for it.

This soup comes with a story too, one that goes back several years, to when Eric and I were driving through the desert on the way home from his scientific balloon campaign in New Mexico. It was just the two of us, a truck full of scientific equipment, and mile after mile after mile of Interstate 40. We stopped in the little town of Winslow, Arizona for lunch, and Eric suggested a place called The Turquoise Room that he’d found listed in our GPS. When we stumbled in, we just could not believe our eyes. The restaurant is inside La Posada, a gorgeous old railroad resort that has been very lovingly and meticulously restored. After days of empty deserts, we seriously felt like we were walking into an oasis.

The Turquoise Room carries on the tradition of Fred Harvey, who ran the superb dining cars and restaurants in and along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, stretching from Kansas all the way out to California (this recent book chronicles the development of his empire–a great read!). I had never heard of it, but I became obsessed with it, and the famous Harvey Girls, who came from all over the country to serve in the kitchens and dining rooms (there is even a Judy Garland musical based on them!). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was one of few solid employment opportunities available to women, and I have loved reading some of their stories. I didn’t know any of that yet when we stopped for lunch, but I quickly fell in love. The first thing we ordered was their signature soup, a mixture of black bean and sweet corn soups. It was amazing. Here I am three years ago, loving it. (Look at all the links in this paragraph! I am totally in railroad geekery mode).

And, just for fun, here’s a picture of the two of us, back when we were just kids. (I know we’re still just kids, but we look so young here!)

But, to return to the soup at hand–this soup is one half of that majestic one. After a few days of split peas, the idea dawned on me, and I was so happy that I’d given Eric The Turquoise Room Cookbook for our two-year anniversary. It is a gorgeous book, full of incredible recipes and the history of La Posada. The cuisine is really focused on native and local foods, and those foods just happen to be local in our branch of the desert here in LA. Perfect.

This soup cooks up quickly, and then all that’s left to do is puree it in the blender. It is so, so richly flavorful, and it was absolutely the best thing about having a cavity. But I am sure it will have a permanent place in our dinner repertoire now, cavity or no.

Creamy Black Bean Soup
Adapted from The Turquoise Room

1 lb dried black beans (if using canned, about 4 cans plus liquid)
1/2 Tbsp mild chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chipotle pepper
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small bay leaf
1/2 c diced white onion
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil or butter
1 quart water

-Cook the beans in 1 quart of water with a splash of olive oil in a pressure cooker for about 25 minutes. (Alternatively, soak the beans overnight and cook for 1 and 1/2 hours on the stovetop, until tender).
-Pour the beans and remaining water into a large pot and add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
-Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup in a blender. You can add water to reach the desired consistency if you like. That’s it!

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