If you have ever shopped for chipotle peppers in a NYC grocery, you have very likely seen la doña chipotle on an attractive little orange can, hovering over a sea of peppers. But who is she? Is she a renowned cook or a renowned beauty, or both? Is she the CEO's beloved auntie? The peppers are manufactured by La Morena, and their English-language site offers little in the way of history, explaining only that "La Morena products are made in small batches, so you can trust that each and every product will have the same great taste you [have] always trusted." The Spanish-language site (which can be read in both Spanish and English) is a lot fancier and explains that the company began operations in 1969 (when the current owners apparently bought out their former employer), that its name ("the dark one") honors the Virgin of Guadalupe, and that they have grown to have over 1800 employees. It goes on to say that their motto of "quality and tradition" extends to every aspect of their way of doing business (such as contributing to social and humanitarian projects in the community), and that the fact their products are still, after 40 years in business, hand-made according to unchanged traditional recipes is what allows them to offer the best quality, tradition and flavor. It's very nice to know that some companies still believe in these things, but what about la doña chipotle? She resembles the Virgin of Guadalupe to the extent that she has dark hair and her gaze is cast downward, but they're definitely not twins. She looks a bit like Frida, although somehow less likely to have had an affair with Leon Trotsky.
I wrote to the company to ask whether they might tell me something about her, but I didn't hear back from anyone. In some ways this is preferable because it allows me to conclude that la doña chipotle is a reclusive genius. She is perhaps the JD Salinger of the condiment aisle (and accordingly, capable of thrilling neighbors merely by venturing out to do some shopping), or, if you are very hip, its Connie Converse. And like other reclusive geniuses, she has a special something that her rivals just can't compete with (although those in the know might suspect it has something to do with the judicious use of sesame oil).
I very often have a can of the chipotle chiles in adobo my cabinet, but I'd never seen La Morena's "home made style red Mexican sauce" at the grocery until very recently, and the rustic little molcajete and blocky font and folk-art vegetables were irresistible to me.
So irresistible, in fact, that it never occurred to me I was simply buying a little can of salsa.
It wasn't as good as I'd hoped, but my method of preparing black bean soup — which so far I've made three times this chilly spring, and will likely make again before the weather improves — is quite flexible, and can easily accommodate a few spoons of salsa.
It's not a pretty soup, particularly without a couple cilantro leaves or a few wisps of pickled red onion as a garnish, but the fact that it can be made when the refrigerator is nearly empty and still be a very satisfying dinner is part of its attraction. The key ingredients are the black beans (which take on an incredibly velvety texture when pureed) and a couple of small tortillas (which thicken the soup without making it too dense).
black bean soup
Serves 2 for dinner + some leftover for lunch for one the next day.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, with a little of the sauce clinging to it (or 2 minced jalapeño peppers if that's what you have)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (preferably freshly ground)
1 generous teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (the one sold by Rancho Gordo is perfect)
2 6" tortillas (preferably corn tortillas, although flour ones work too), sliced in half and then finely sliced into strips
2 to 3 tablespoons salsa (optional)
approximately 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
1 15.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed well under cold running water
a splash of sherry vinegar
freshly ground black pepper and possibly a pinch of salt
also: a hand blender, food processor or blender to puree the soup
Saute the garlic and onion (and the jalapeño peppers if you're using them) in the olive oil over medium to medium-low heat until softened but not browned. Stir in the cumin and oregano and cook for an additional minute, or just until the mixture is very fragrant. Add the tortillas and stir until thoroughly coated in the spice mixture. Stir in the black beans and add the stock or water (and the chipotle pepper and/or salsa if you're using either of those), and simmer approximately 30 minutes. (I make this soup in a 2.25-quart pot and add just enough stock or water to fill it without any danger of bubbling over). After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes or so, puree it in the pot with a hand blender. (If you are using a food processor or blender instead I trust that you know to be very careful about transferring it there and back, and let it cool for a few minutes first). Add a splash of sherry vinegar and some fresh ground black pepper to the pureed soup and taste it for seasoning. Add salt only if necessary.
As long as you'll be using tortillas you might as well make a quesadilla to go with the soup, and we recently had a very un-Mexican but very tasty one made with chopped daikon greens and goat cheese.
I'd bought daikon for the first time for another recipe and the greens were so nice-looking I didn't want to throw them away. Fortunately they have a great flavor (a little peppery, like watercress) and some health benefits too. You don't need to cook them before using them in a quesadilla; just wash them and chop them into bite-size pieces and mix them with whatever cheese you're using.