Black Bean Soup

Miami's official sopa of the day, sometimes spooned over white rice. Recipe adapted from Miami Spice: The New Florida Cuisine by Steven Raichlen (1993).

Ingredients:

1 pound dried black beans
1/2 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, cut in half
1 whole clove
5 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slivers
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded & finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sour cream, for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion greens, for garnish

Directions:

Prepare the beans: The day before cooking, spread the beans on a baking sheet and pick through them, removing any pebbles. Rinse the beans thoroughly in a strainer under cold running water. Place the beans in a large, heavy pot and add 8 cups of water. Let soak overnight in the refrigerator.

Add the bell pepper and garlic to the pot. Pin the bay leaf to the onion with the clove, and add it to the pot. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, loosely cover the pan, and simmer the beans, stirring occasionally, until tender, about one hour. (The beans can also be cooked in a 6-quart pressure cooker. Black beans shouldn't cause a frothing problem, but watch the pressure. The cooking time will be about 30 to 40 minutes.)

Prepare the soup: Brown the bacon in a large heavy frying pan, three to four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off the fat from the pan.

Add the olive oil to the pan, followed by the onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft but not brown, four to five minutes.

Stir the sautéed vegetables and bacon into the beans, along with the wine, vinegar, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Cover and gently simmer the soup, until the beans are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaves. Using a slotted spoon, transfer two cups of the beans to a bowl and mash with the back of a wooden spoon or a pestle. Stir this mixture back into the soup to give it a creamy consistency. Correct the seasonings, adding salt, pepper, or vinegar to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the scallion greens.

Servings: Serves eight.

Chimichurri Sauce

A tangy vinaigrette originally from Argentina used as a marinade and served with steaks; it's so common in Miami that the local grocery stores sell it packaged with raw cuts of beef. Recipe adapted from MMMMiami: Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere by Carole Kotkin and Kathy Martin (1998).

Ingredients:

1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup malt or cider vinegar
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons dry-leaf oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Combine oil, vinegar, parsley, garlic, oregano, pepper, and pepper flakes in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Let sit for at least two hours for the flavors to blend. Measure out one-third cup for the steak marinade (place this set-aside sauce and the meat in a self-sealing food storage bag in refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight before grilling meat). Add the salt to the remaining sauce. Shake to mix before serving on the side with the grilled steaks.

Servings: Makes about one and one-third cups.

Los Ranchos' Tres Leches

A light cake soaked in three kinds of milk (the name literally means "three milks") served in Latin restaurants throughout Miami, including Los Ranchos Nicaraguan steakhouse.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar, divided
5 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Milk Syrup:
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon light rum

Meringue:
1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Beat 3/4 cup sugar and egg yolks until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Fold in milk, vanilla, flour and baking powder. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks, adding cream of tartar after 20 seconds. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and continue beating until whites are glossy and firm but not dry. Gently fold whites into yolk mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until it feels firm and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cake cool completely on a wire rack. While cake is cooking, make the Milk Syrup and Meringue.

For the Milk Syrup: Combine evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, whipping cream, vanilla and rum in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well mixed.

For Meringue: Place 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in heavy saucepan with water. Cover and cook over high heat two minutes. Uncover pan and cook the sugar to the soft-ball stage (239 degrees Fahrenheit) on a candy thermometer or six to eight minutes). Meanwhile, beat egg whites to soft peaks with cream of tartar in electric mixer. Add remaining two tablespoons sugar gradually, continuing beating to stiff peaks. Pour boiling sugar syrup in a thin stream into the whites and continue beating until mixture is cool to the touch. The hot syrup "cooks" the whites.

Unmold cake onto a deep, large platter. Pierce cake all over with a fork. Pour Milk Syrup over cake. Spoon the overflow back on top until all is absorbed. Using a wet spatula, spread top and sides of cake with a thick layer of Meringue. Refrigerate the cake covered at least two hours before serving.

Servings: Serves eight to ten.

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