Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Black Bean Soup with Sherry

I like spicy black beans and rice, Latin style. But sometimes I want to do something with black beans that doesn't involve cumin and chile. Here's an example:


  • 1 lb. dry black beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cooking oil
  • 1 onion
  • a couple cloves of garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery (optional - sometimes I feel like celery and sometimes I don't)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence (or try it with just thyme and marjoram)
  • 2 tbl. sherry
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (or a couple fresh tomatoes - or maybe some sun-dried tomatoes - it's up to you)
  • 1 bunch of kale


  1. Sort and wash the beans. Soak them overnight in a large bowl.
  2. The next day, cook them in a medium-size pot, with fresh water and the bay leaf, until tender. (Don't overcook.)
  3. After the beans have been cooking for an hour or so, heat the oil in a larger pot and sautee the onion until caramelized.
  4. Add the herbs, maybe a little salt and pepper, then add the garlic, carrots and optional celery. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Now pour in a shot of sherry (or red wine if you don't have sherry.) Let it return to a boil, then add the tomatoes.
  6. When the beans are tender, pour them and their cooking water into the onion mixture. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Continue to simmer the soup over low heat.
  7. At this point I like to chop the kale and cook it in the empty bean pot, then add it to the soup. Simmer about 5 minutes longer. When the vegetables are soft and it tastes good to you, it's done!
The inestimable Camellia Beans company, based here in New Orleans, includes sherry in the list of ingredients for their Black Bean Soup recipe, which is printed on the back of their bags of black beans. That's where I got the idea to use sherry. Very pleased with it. (Another nice thing about Camellia Beans is that they are quick-cooking and don't really need to be pre-soaked. Maybe they are nice fresh beans.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Power of Darkness: Charles Williams' Shadows of Ectasy

Charles Williams is one of my favorite writers (I've blogged about him before.) He was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis - in fact, during his lifetime he was a more popular writer than either of them. His writings include but are not limited to novels, plays, and criticism. Visit The Charles Williams Society to learn more. So far I've only read the novels.

Williams, like Tolkien and Lewis, was a Christian. Some of his books are more Christian than others - I happened to read three of the less Christian ones first, and I had no idea he was a Christian. Unlike Lewis, Williams doesn't always hit you over the head with his ideology. Unlike Tolkien, he prefers to write about the modern world, with elements of fantasy. As I wrote previously, if you like urban fantasy you'll love Charles Williams.

His seven novels all have very similar themes: ordinary life is disrupted by some supernatural force. Sometimes this force is resident in a magical object: the Holy Grail, the Stone of Solomon, the original deck of Tarot cards. Sometimes it's more amorphous. Another common theme is a character I'll call "the evil magician." He's not always a magician (I believe he's always a "he") but he is hungry for power and ruthlessly uses other people to achieve his ends.

I enjoy some of Williams' books more than others, but I was extremely happy with him until I realized that his novel Shadows of Ecstasy is about Africa. I was immediately filled with trepidation. How is a white Englishman writing in 1933 going to deal with Africa? I've read the book twice now. The first time I was constantly asking myself "Is this racist?" But I feel comfortable saying that, although there are some flaws in Williams' handling of the Dark Continent and its dark people, it's not all bad.