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08/10/2009

Joel’s moderately fancy meal: Chilled Black Bean and Peach Soup with a Caramelized Peach-Onion Relish!  »

I spent this past week on vacation with my family. We ended up in a little vacation-centric town by the side of Lake Michigan, where fresh fruit is plentiful (tis the season to u-pick blueberries!) but most everything else is in short supply.

Being the tight-knit clan of epicures that we are, and perhaps also because after some 30 years my mom has gotten tired of cooking for the entire family, we agreed beforehand to split up the meals: some made by my parents, some by my brother and sister-in-law, and some by little ol’ me. The catch: while everyone else was driving, and so brought all the kitchen staples they’d want, I was flying, and was therefore severely limited re: the explosive liquids, suspicious powders, and extremely sharp implements that mark my usual cooking experience.

In the end I used some of that lovely fresh Michigan fruit, in combination with the kitchen staples of others, to whip up (and please excuse me as I lapse into the vaguely smarmy language of Top Chef) a play on a black bean and citrus soup. The days were hot, so the soup was cold; and the oranges weren’t biting, so I went with peaches. Here is what I did.

Chilled Black Bean and Peach Soup with a Caramelized Peach-Onion Relish
Serves 5

Ingredients for the soup
1 pound dried black beans (about 6 cups cooked) or equivalent canned
2 quarts bean cooking liquid or stock (or tap water if using canned beans)
2 large onions, chopped
2 medium fresh tomatoes (or equivalent canned), chopped (skins are fine)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 large peaches, coarsely chopped
red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or to taste)
salt, black pepper, and cayenne to taste

Ingredients for the relish
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 large onions, sliiced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
3 large peaches, quartered
2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and plenty of black pepper

Cook the black beans your favorite way. Reserve the cooking water. If you’re using canned beans instead, you can use the time you’re saving to feel bad about yourself for using canned beans.

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, add a couple tablespoons olive oil at medium heat. Cook the onions until translucent, then add the garlic, tomatoes, and a little cayenne. When the tomatoes start to wilt, add the beans and your chosen liquid. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, it’s relish time. In a small pan, heat 1/2 cup olive oil on high heat until it’s shimmering, just short of smoking. Carefully drop in the onion slices, spacing them out so that each makes maximum contact with the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until the bottom surface of the onion is deeply colored, verging on blackened. ¬†Flip the slices and repeat. Ideally, the outer surfaces of the onion are deeply caramelized but the inside is still raw. Take the onion out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat the same procedure with the quartered peaches. Finally, mince the onion and peach, and toss with the oil and fond from the pan. ¬†Season generously with salt and especially black pepper, and toss in the vinegar and remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Refrigerate.

At this point you should have a few minutes left before the 20 minutes for the soup are up. Add a little more oil to the pan, and caramelize the chopped peaches for the soup in the same way. When the 20 minutes end, add the peaches and cilantro to the soup, along with salt, pepper, and a little more cayenne. If your peaches are not particularly sour, add a little vinegar to bring out the rest of the flavors. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. If not (and I didn’t, and it sucked; every kitchen should have an immersion blender), either plunge the soup pot into an ice bath for 10 minutes, or wait several hours for it to cool. Then transfer to a blender and puree. Now that it’s room-temperature, taste for seasoning again. It may need more salt, but don’t add too much; remember that much of the flavor will come from the relish. Refrigerate.

Take the soup and relish out of the refrigerator at least 10 minutes before serving (or longer; a room-temperature service is fine). To serve, ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls. Either add a few tablespoons of relish to each bowl yourself, or pass the relish at the table. Finito!

Variations:
Use red onions instead of white in the relish. Or use sweet onions, but don’t bother caramelizing them. Replace half the peaches (in both the soup and the relish) with uncooked cucumbers. Try it; you’ll be pleased. Replace half the black beans with small white beans, and use smoked paprika rather than cayenne.

This has been an installment of Joel’s Moderately Fancy Meal, brought to you by Joel, of Joel and Nibbler.

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