I had a bowl of gorgeous turtle soup at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen a long long time ago back when I still lived in the South. It was dark and rich and intriguing, spicy and earthy and had a nice whiff of sherry in it. I loved it. The thing is, I don’t run across a lot of turtles and if I did, I can’t say I could fathom cooking one of them, having only just conquered the crab. But that flavor has always stayed in my memory, waiting to be recreated. The trigger on that idea got pulled recently. Here in NJ where I live, there are grocery aisles dedicated to Caribbean ingredients like adobo seasoning, lard colored with annatto, beans and rice, yucca chips. There are at least five Caribbean restaurants here in my mile-square town. Seeing pumpkin soup and black beans on menus and then eating some good jerk during TMRVacationEver got me thinking- rich, earthy, sweet, spicy. Spices like cumin, allspice, thyme and Habanero are straight out of a jerk marinade recipe and pumpkin and black beans balance that earthy/sweet flavor combo. I’m not going to say that this soup tastes like that turtle soup I had, but it makes me feel like that soup did. And I didn’t have to cook a turtle.
Black Bean and Pumpkin Soup
1 ½ cups dried black beans, soaked and drained
1 onion large diced
3 cloves garlic minced
1 small knob ginger smashed (end of thumb size)
I medium heat green chili diced (can of chilis would work)
1 small Habanero deseeded and cut in half
oil (or butter) to sauté the onion
1 allspice berry, crushed (or tiny pinch of ground allspice)
small pinch of dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 packet Goya ham base or whatever smoked ham stock you like
4-6 cups water
¼ calabaza pumpkin, seeds removed and roasted until soft
¾ cup diced tomato
1/2- 2/3 cups diced or shredded smoked ham
1/3-1/2 cup dry sherry
garnish with avocado, feta or cotija cheese, or sour cream, or toasted pumpkin seeds
Saute’ the onion, chilis, ginger and garlic in oil until soft. Add the cumin, thyme and allspice and warm in the oil for a minute. Add the drained beans and the ham stock if desired. Otherwise , cover generously with water and simmer until the beans are soft and creamy. Don’t fear the Habanero. If you are tasting the soup as you go, you can easily fish the pepper out when you are happy with the heat level. I just think that the fruity heat of the Habanero adds a specific flavor that cayenne or jalapeno doesn’t have.
I roasted the pumpkin on a dish in the oven, lightly covered, at 350 for a few hours. Since everything is going to be blended, you can’t really overcook it. I used calabaza because it was easy to find here, but I’d also make it with butternut squash or kabocha pumpkin; they both have dense, sweet flesh that intensifies as it is cooked down. Scrape the pumpkin flesh off of the skin and add to the black bean along with the tomatoes. Simmer together, adding additional water if needed. Adjust the seasoning for salt.
Pour in the sherry and bring back to a good simmer, to let some of the alcohol cook off. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Stir in the smoky shreds of ham (or put it in the bottom of each bowl before pouring in the soup). Scoop some avocado, cheese or sour cream on top.
If you are disinclined to do the whole “from dried beans and whole pumpkin” route, try it with canned beans and pumpkin. Use about 1 can of pumpkin puree and 2 cans of drained black beans. After the onions and spices are cooked, add the beans, pumpkin and stock, tomatoes, and cook it all together . Letting it sit overnight before blending will probably help the flavors integrate more thoroughly.