Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mexican Black Bean Bowl

When I started this blog I originally thought that updating it at the beginning of every week would be good.  However, as the semester has started, I've found that moving my updates to Saturday might be preferable.

On July 28, I made the "Mexican Black Bean Bowl," a soup from my favorite cookbook (as you can see by scanning some of my earlier recipes), the Crock Pot Incredibly Easy Recipes.  Although when I made this recipe I followed the instructions and cooked it for three to four hours on high, this could be one that you make in the morning before going to class/the library/your tiny cubicle in the dungeon of whatever building the university has put you in for the day and cook it instead on low.

The other cool thing about this recipe is that it didn't take that much prep work. You spray the crock pot with nonstick cooking spray, then just add all the ingredients.  The chicken goes in whole--I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of the bone-in chicken thighs (with the skin removed) that the recipe calls for--and the only thing you have to cut is the onion.  The extra step that I had was defrosting the chicken broth that I had forgot to take out of the freezer the night before, as you can see from my picture on the right.  I tend to buy the boxes of broths because they're a better deal for the amount that you're getting and there's no risk of BPA leeching in from the can liner.  So, when I don't use it all for a recipe, I freeze whatever is left over for next time.  The only problem is that I then have to remember to take it out of the freezer in advance to let it defrost.

So other than the chicken and the onion, everything else in the recipe comes in a can or is frozen, so the prep work really just involves opening things.  You add a can of diced tomatoes with Mexican seasoning (which is what I used) or ones with green chilies if the store doesn't carry the ones with Mexican seasoning.

Then you add a can of black beans, which you should rinse and drain before adding them.  I took this picture specifically to show you what the coolest little tool is if you are cooking with a crock pot using canned ingredients (which I found a lot of the easy recipes call for): the can strainer.  I've had this since I worked at the now-defunct housewares store Lechters one summer while I was an undergraduate, meaning I've had this for about 10 years now.  There's different types you can buy, but all you really need is this, and it's only about $3.  I cannot emphasize enough how much this is a worthy investment because it makes draining and rinsing things from cans much easier.  I use it all the time for beans and I used to use it for canned tuna, until they started selling tuna in those cool one-serving packets.

Anyway, I digress.  After rinsing and draining and adding the black beans, you add some frozen corn.

Then chopped mild green chilies (also from a can) and the seasonings: chili powder and cumin.  As usual, the recipe also calls for a "teaspoon salt, or to taste" which I left out, figuring that if I really needed more salt, I could add it when I was eating.  Especially in the case of this recipe, where so many of the ingredients were coming from cans, I didn't really expect to need much more salt, even when I try to get the "no salt added" canned foods as much as possible.  Anyway, the recipe says nothing about "combining" or "stirring" the ingredients, but I thought that the way this looked was absurd and it needed to be stirred.

So this is the soup before it started cooking...

...and this is what it looked like after it finished.

Now, unfortunately with this recipe you're not finished once it's done cooking, but for second steps, this one is quite easy compared to some of the others I've had to do.  First you use a slotted spoon to take out the chicken, which was hanging out on the bottom.  Then the recipe asks for you to debone and chop the chicken.  Since I had used boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopping it was quick and easy because chicken cooked in the crock part tends to just fall apart when you cut it.  When I first started using the crock pot, I would use bone-in chicken when recipes called for it, but I've since stopped because I prefer the ease of boneless, skinless.

After cutting the chicken, it gets added back and stirred in to the soup.

Now, this recipe says that it makes four servings, but I was able to get six out of it, and with the beans and chicken it's a pretty filling soup.  I would estimate that it's only about 300 calories per serving, so not too bad if you're trying to watch your figure within the grad student lifestyle.  The recipe suggests optional toppings which, of course, would add calories: sour cream, sliced avocado, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro, or fried tortilla strips.  I didn't add any of these, but thought that sour cream would be really nice with it, especially since I used hot chili powder in the recipe, giving my soup a nice kick.

As you can see from the pictures, I might almost be convinced that the soup that they used for the picture in the cookbook was actually made in a crock pot.  Since I already had chicken broth, frozen corn (from previous recipes) and the spices, the total cost of making this crock pot meal was less than $12, coming, in fact, to just over $1.85 per serving.  As for taste, I really enjoyed this soup, though it didn't necessarily wow me in any way.  But, it was still a quality, low-cost meal, that fit well within my grad student budget.

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