Slow-Cooked Black Bean/Sweet Potato Stew

I went off my normal vegan routine for a week and went to Annapolis to get married.  Oh, did I feast!  Softshell crabs, curried chicken salad, perfectly rare roast lamb, decadent deli sandwiches, crab and Provolone omelets and something called Crab Eggs Benedict, which looked like this but tasted even better.


The final hurrah of the trip was a second visit to the Café Normandie (that served the lamb), where we split a grilled artichoke stuffed with—you guessed it—crab, and I had sea bass for the first time, served over sautéed spinach with toasted pine nuts.  Like this:


So then I drove from Annapolis back to Ohio and it was time to get back into the groove of real food, the kind that sounds good, tastes good and best of all makes me feel  good.  Eased into it with a plate of roasted cabbage, a banana and a whole-wheat tortilla for lunch.  And while I ate it, I was smelling this, my newest experiment into comfort food:


Slow-Cooked Black Bean and Sweet Potato Stew (feeds 8-ish, depending on starvation levels and if there are any teenagers in the house)

Soak 3 cups of dry black beans overnight (I have super-hard water so I boil them for 2 minutes before soaking overnight and add a generous pinch of baking soda to the soaking water).

In the morning, drain beans and pop them into the slow cooker.  Add two large sweet potatoes, chopped into half-bite-size chunks or so, and two onions chopped a bit smaller than that.  Add a lot of chopped garlic.  I put in around a quarter-cup, but I cheat and use the kind that comes in a jar.  Any garlic is better than none, so chop until just before it stops being fun if you’re chopping by hand.  Festoon the pile with a tablespoon or even more of each of these:  chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin and Italian seasoning.  I put in about 2 teaspoons of Vietnamese chile-garlic sauce for heat, but you can use hot sauce, cayenne or red pepper flakes, whatever floats your boat. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and some black pepper to taste.  You can always salt it more after it’s cooked for a while.  Cover with enough water to allow all the ingredients to move freely, and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.  If you start late, cook it on High until it starts to boil and then turn it back.  At which point it will look much like this:


Italian seasoning, you say? In a dish overflowing with Southwestern sensibilities?  The ingredients in my enormous but cheap plastic container are oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and sage.  What I really wanted was oregano (but I was out), so I substitututed this and it was yummy.  And the heresy only gets worse.  After the beans are fully tender, add a cup of drinkable red wine and a can of Ro-tel  or other canned tomatoes with chiles.  The theory behind adding acidic ingredients last is that it helps the beans soften in the hard water.  Chemically-minded readers will immediately associate this with the pinch of baking soda added during soaking.  Bingo!

This soup benefits from an occasional stir during cooking, if you happen to be home; the stirring helps some of the sweet potato chunks fall apart and thicken the soup.  But it really does just fine left to its own devices.  A well-placed couple of strokes with a potato masher (possibly an immersion blender although I’ve never tested it) will have the same effect.  Like this:


Make sure to taste for salt before serving, and if you’ve left out tomatoes or wine, consider a splash of vinegar or lime juice to brighten the flavors. This soup, like all its beany relatives, will improve in flavor for several days after making it, so make sure to get maximum mileage out of the leftovers!

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