Black Bean, Black Barley and Blue Corn Posole Soup
October 28, 2011
When I was planning meals for this week, I knew it was going to be cold for a couple of days in Boulder (and it turned out to be quite cold, with about eight or nine inches of snow), so I really wanted to make some soup. I’ve been so taken by the heirloom black beans I bought from the Boulder Whole Foods, that that was the first ingredient I decided to use. For some reason, I then got stuck on getting more blue corn posole, so that ingredient joined the soup plan. I went to the bulk section to replenish my supply of both, and took better notes as to the origins of everything I purchased. The black beans turned out to be from Grant Family Farms, which I was familiar with as being one of the most lauded CSAs in the area, as well as a supplier to some wonderful local restaurants. I couldn’t tell from the information on the front of the bin, however, what particular cultivar they were. So I did some research online, and failing to find anything on the Grant Family Farms site, I pinged Boulder food blogger Boulder Locavore, who was kind enough to do a bit of reconnaissance for me, having received some of these beans in a CSA package earlier in the year. They are Black Turtle beans, replanted from seeds saved each year. These beans are discernibly smaller than more commonly available black beans, and I find that they have such a rich taste that I don’t even look twice at the other black beans anymore. I go straight for these little guys.
I guess I was just in the mood for some hearty soup, because I started pondering throwing in one of the lovely, uncommon grains they have in the bulk department. As I was walking along the grain dispensers, my eye was caught by something labelled black barley. Awesome! My husband and I LOVE barley – what a great hearty, flavorful grain. And black barley? You bet! I decided it must be tried. Some research on black barley once I got home turned up that it originated in Ethiopia, but has a somewhat low yield, so is not a popular crop in the US. But there’s a farm in Montana which grows it, and I’m so glad they do! I really felt I could tell a difference in the taste of this barley – it was a stronger, nuttier taste than pearled barley – more flavorful.
A night or two before I planned to make the soup, I was thinking about putting it together, and I realized what I had done. Everything that I had purchased was going to turn the broth purplish/black. My husband suggested Halloween soup when I was lamenting these choices. So that was kind of my plan, but it actually turned out to be a dark, dark brown, like a Cuban black bean soup. It really didn’t seem to be the height of beauty for photographing, but once he suggested the very obvious (not to me, apparently) garnish, the photography aspect was saved. I had some left over cilantro, and some red bell pepper – perfect!
But back to the preparation. I knew that posole took a long time to cook, so I started that first. We had half a bottle of green chile left over from enchiladas, so I added that, the onions, the garlic, and some spices, and then simmered it for an hour. Then I added the beans and barley, and tasted it…and it seemed a little flat. So I added more spices, and some salt, and it still just didn’t have much pop. So I did a search on spices used in Mexican cooking, since that was the line I was going along, and the result was pretty much what I had already used – Mexican oregano, cumin, and chiles. But cloves, cinnamon, and chocolate were also mentioned. Hmmm…I thought. Cloves. Could that possibly work? Rather than just dump it in and hope, I took a bit of the broth and tasted it with cloves, and it was very interesting, and not too bad. So I figured 1/8 of a teaspoon would certainly be easily absorbed by the amount of broth I was using, and end up barely noticeable. Well, that’s not exactly how it turned out. It was really clovey (not a real word, so I opted for the ‘with an e’ spelling). And then began a long process of tweaking and adjusting (and maybe just a tinge of taste panicking), that had to do with too much clove, then too much salt, trying to tame it with vinegar, white wine, and lime juice, as well as adding more and more water. But, I am thrilled to say that the culinary damage control was a great success, and I LOVED how this tasted! The recipe below leaves out quite a bit of salt, uses half the amount of cloves, and as a result, leaves out all of the vinegar I had to use to neutralize the salt. Be sure to taste the spices as you add them – you may find you want to use less than this, or even more.
Black Bean, Black Barley and Blue Corn Posole Soup
1 c dried black beans
1 c dried blue corn posole (or white)
1 c black barley
1 large onion, chopped
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
1 c green chile (I used medium)
4 c chicken or vegetable stock
6-8 c water
1 tsp lime juice
2+1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp adobo chile powder (I used a blend called Lodo Red Adobo)
1+1/4 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika, divided
1+1/4 tsp cumin, divided
1 pinch (1/16 tsp) ground cloves
salt to taste
Soak black beans and blue corn posole (separately) overnight, and rinse well. Some people recommend bringing the posole to a boil and then draining it and rinsing it again, but I couldn’t find any decisive answer as to whether you need to, and we never have before – so do it it you want, or skip it. Combine the posole with 2 cups water, 1 cup broth, onion, garlic, green chili, 1 tsp Mexican oregano, 1 tsp adobo, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika, and 8 grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer (but make sure it’s bubbling so things cook) for 1 hour. Add 2 cups broth, 4 cups water, black beans, black barley, 1+1/2 tsp Mexican oregano, 1 tsp cumin, 3/4 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika, and the lime juice. Add the cloves only if you like cloves – skip otherwise. Bring back to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hours. Stir every 15 minutes or so, and add an up to an additional 2 cups of water over time if the soup gets thicker than you want. Garnish with cilantro and pepper.