OK, forget muffins. Muffins are over-rated. If you can’t forget muffins, please go try

these muffins

, which cannot be over-rated enough, and for which certain members of my family were pining yesterday as the counter piled up with bad muffins of other sorts. Please note for best results I recommend adding 2T of cornstarch to this batter because it radically improves the texture; also you have to track down almond


, which is different from almond


, and can be found


and will make a great addition to your pantry.

Black bean soup is a much better topic, I think. Black bean soup behaves, and a big pot of it will ease your mealtime pain for days and days. Three vectors converge on my black bean soup, and I will sketch them out for you.

Vector # 1: Greens Restaurant in San Francisco

Going to this restaurant in my 20’s was a revelation. After ten years of trying to quietly assemble a vegetarian entrée on the occasions that I found myself in fancy restaurants, it was heaven to be in a fancy restaurant that was all about vegetarians. Subtle, delicious, meticulous, intricate food for vegetarians! Wild stuff.

The cookbook was a revelation, too. Subtle, delicious, meticulous, intricate food is not made in a snap. Each recipe in that book takes a chunk out of your day; frequently one of the items lurking on the ingredient list is “a batch of X, on page Y” which has its own nine-yard-long list of steps and ingredients. But the black bean soup, which I had been told repeatedly up until that time could and should only be made with plenty of pork, was delicious. Almost worth the steps.

Vector #2: Laurie Colwin, natch

Laurie Colwin has a recipe for black bean soup in her essay collection

More Home Cooking

which is the perfect inverse of the one above. It is made in the proverbial snap in a largely hands-off process which is revolutionary, but less flavorful. Aiming for the middle ground between the two has produced a black bean soup that outperforms muffins any day of the week.

Vector #3: The Goddess Miranda

I have known my friend Miranda since I was a tot and she taught me (I know what she thinks I am going to say here but that is not the story I was planning to tell so HA) that


was possible to drink chocolate milk through a straw in your nose. I have yet to try it out personally, but she demonstrated so I know it is true. Whatever this gastronomic accomplishment might suggest to the contrary, Miranda is an epic chef. Her husband’s sweet toast on their wedding day revolved around the role of her cooking in winning his heart. It was a PG story in every respect but the tone of his voice as he said these two words: “lobster ravioli,” which to this day make me blush a little when I see them on a menu. Anyway Miranda once bet this husband of hers that he could not go five days without discussing flatulence, and to stack the odds in her favor, on Sunday of the week in question she made a big pot of black bean soup WITHOUT PRE-SOAKING THE BEANS.

What you can take from this is three-fold: one, whatever Laurie Colwin tells you to do will make your life easier and better, except the part about not sautéeing the onions and garlic first. Two, there is something to what people tell you about soaking beans.  Three, it is a wise person who makes a large pot of black bean soup on Sunday.   All odds will be stacked in this person’s favor for the week ahead. Black bean soup is tasty enough on the day you make it, but it improves so much on the subsequent days that making a large pot is unquestionably the right move.

If you have not soaked your beans overnight and MUST HAVE THIS SOUP, rest assured you can quick soak them by putting them in a pot with water to cover, bringing it to a boil and turning off the heat. Let them stand 30 minutes to an hour and off you go. Also be sure to look for a

pure chile powder

; commercial chili powder is usually a blend of spices and includes salt, which will toughen the beans if you add it too soon. Finally, I bet you could make this in a slow cooker, instead of the oven, once you have sautéed everything.

triple vector black bean soup

3 c dry black beans, soaked and drained

3T olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 T mild pure chile powder, such as ancho

4 t ground cumin

1 t mild paprika

2t dried oregano


25-oz jar

of pure Italian tomatoes

a large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

1 4-oz can of chopped roasted green chiles

optionally: ½ to 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, to taste, for extra heat

salt to taste

To serve, some or all of these:

  • Grated cheddar or jack
  • Green salsa
  • This fresh green sauce: large handful of minced cilantro, 1T minced scallion or shallot, juice of a lime, pinch of cayenne or minced fresh jalapeño, pinch of sugar, all mixed well together
  • Dollop of plain yogurt
  • Corn tortillas, warmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In an oven-proof pot (I use my Dutch oven), heat the olive oil and sauté the onions over medium heat until they soften. Add the ground spices and the garlic, and sauté a minute or two longer, until the fragrance is all around you. Add the beans, the tomatoes and three jars full of water, stir well and bring this to a simmer. Cover the pot, put it in the oven and turn the oven down to 250. Go on about your day. Stir if you feel like it, from time to time. After 2- 3 hours, see if the beans are totally soft (this will depend on the age of your beans). Keep going if not. If they are, take the pot out and turn off the oven. You can pause the soup-making at this point if you need to.

When you are ready to resume or continue, toss the chopped cilantro and the chipotle pepper if you are using it into the pot and use a hand blender to attack the cilantro heap, and then bounce it around the pot to partially blend the soup. It should be smoothish, but with texture. Add the green chiles and about 2t of salt and taste for heat and salt and adjust to your liking.

The more times you let this mixture cool and then reheat it, the more the texture will improve and the flavors will deepen and it even looks better, all shiny and nice. You can ladle it into bowls or over cornbread or rice or baked potatoes or, especially as it thickens, into burritos or over nachos. It freezes well, too.