Originally created 10/30/02

Recipe for black bean soup is in a whole different league



An Augusta classic celebrates a milestone this month, as Tea-Time at the Masters, turns 25.

The book, published by The Junior League of Augusta, Georgia, Inc. in 1977, has helped the volunteer organization fund its community projects and operations. And, even as it passes its quarter-century mark, the cookbook is as useful today as it was when first published.

Like most community cookbooks, Tea-Time represents a broad range of recipes. From family suppers to elegant ideas for entertaining, you'll find what you need between its green covers. In fact, I've often said that you could take most of my cookbook collection (which numbers several hundred cookbooks) as long as you left my Tea-Time and the Junior League's follow-up cookbook, Second Round, Tea-Time at the Masters.

The recipes were triple-tested through an exhaustive process that involved the entire volunteer organization. Twenty-five years ago, the recipes, index and other text all had to be typewritten, then sent to the publisher for typesetting. Committee members endured exhaustive hours of editing to get the book ready for printing.

Their hard work was not in vain, as they sold 10,000 copies the first month the book hit the market. Since then, the book has garnered accolades from across the country, and was awarded membership in the Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards Walter S. McIlhenny Hall of Fame.

I'm more than your average fan of the cookbook since, as a member of the Junior League, I spent a year as cookbook chairman, helping to run the cookbook operation and market the books. During my year working as Tea-Time chair, I met many amazing ladies who worked endless hours to put together this outstanding work. I planned tastings at bookstores, and got to know the recipes in both cookbooks from cover to cover.

Some of my favorite recipes in Tea-Time include the now-famous cheese ring, a recipe often associated with former first lady Rosalynn Carter, whose recipe for peanut soup also appears in the cookbook. Hot artichoke spread is a classic, and no matter how often I serve it, it's always a hit.

Peg's Layered Salad would have seemed old fashioned a few years back, with its layers of iceberg lettuce, shredded cheese, bacon, green peas and mayonnaise. However, iceberg lettuce salads have come back in vogue, and fine restaurants all over the country are coming back to this crisp and cool (albeit without nutritional value) lettuce.

Connoisseur's Casserole is an all-time favorite of my husband, Bond. The casserole combines canned shoe-peg corn, French green beans and other chopped vegetables with cream soups, sour cream and cheddar cheese, then tops them off with a crumbly crust of cracker crumbs, melted butter and almonds. And I turn to Sally's Roast Tenderloin and Kalua Pork time and again when entertaining.

When my hungry trick-or-treaters come home tomorrow night, they'll enjoy big bowls of Tea-Time's special black bean soup. I've given the original recipe the Quick Cooking treatment, of course, eliminating many steps and hours of cooking.

The original recipe began by soaking a pound of black beans in water overnight. I've replaced the dry beans with several cans of black beans, which I rinse and drain well. A smoked, cooked ham bone also was called for, and I've replaced it with two cups of diced ham from a smoked ham steak.

Fresh chopped celery, onions and leeks are used in the original, and I used them in my version as well. Chopped leek is a classic soup ingredient, and it adds a lovely flavor that is milder than regular onion.

When chopping leeks, slice the root end off, then slice off the top, bright green stalks. You'll have a 3- to 4-inch cylinder that should be mostly white to light green. Slice the cylinder in half, then rinse well, as sand often is hidden inside the leek. Slice long, thin strips, then slice the strips into a fine dice.

If time is really short, substitute a package of seasoning blend (the frozen combination of chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and parsley I often refer to in this column) for the fresh vegetables. The substitution will save you about 10 minutes preparation time.

While the original recipe called for a whole cup of Madeira wine, I decreased the amount to a quarter cup, and made it an optional ingredient since I plan to serve the soup to children. The Madeira adds elegance to the soup, but the soup still isdelicious without the wine (sherry can be substituted for the Madeira if you don't have time to run out for a special bottle of wine).

You can serve this soup chunky or slightly pureed.

I like to use an immersion blender when pureeing hot soups. I do not recommend placing hot soups in a blender, as the steam from the soup can blow the top off of the blender even when small batches are used. If you don't have an immersion blender, use a potato masher to slightly mash some of the black beans for a creamier, thicker soup.

Serve Tea-Time's black bean soup with a tossed salad and some crusty bread for a satisfying soup supper that you can have on the table in 30 minutes.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup cubed cooked lean smoked ham

1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 leek, white part only, chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

6 cups reduced-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, water or a combination

3 16-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

2 bay leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup Madeira or sherry, optional

Sour cream, for garnish

Lemon slices, for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ham, onion, celery, leek and parsley. Saute until onion is golden brown. Stir in the flour, then add the broth or water, whisking well until flour is dissolved.

Add the black beans and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Puree soup slightly using an immersion blender, or mash some of the beans with a potato masher. Add the Madeira or sherry, if desired. Ladle into soup bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of lemon.

Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: The recipe was analyzed using 8 cups of chicken broth, and 1/4 cup sherry. It does not include the sour cream or lemon slices used for garnish.

JUNIOR LEAGUE INFORMATION

The Junior League also provides grants to area nonprofit organizations through the Community Enabling and Community Emergency Funds. For more information about applications, contact the Junior League office at 736-0033.

   350 calories
   24 grams protein
   50.7 grams carbohydrates
   11.9 grams fiber
   5.1 fat
   1.2 grams saturated fat
   9.7 milligrams cholesterol
   1,523 milligrams sodium
 Nutrition analysis provided by Fran Frye, a licensed and registered dietitian of the Augusta District Dietetic Association.