Quick & Easy Refried Bean Soup

This recipe was shared with me many years ago by a friend who had the craziest schedule I’d ever witnessed. When she wasn’t running full speed ahead with her two middle-schoolers—to dance classes, soccer practice, music lessons, birthday parties, etc.—she was leading a high school youth group, teaching aerobics classes, volunteering at church and befriending every newcomer to the neighborhood. Her door was always open to visitors, even during the hectic holidays, and she always seemed to have something tasty to nibble on when someone appeared unexpectedly.

She didn’t have what I would call a passion for cooking, and certainly not much time, but she was incredibly skilled at getting a healthful and satisfying meal on the table in no time flat. This soup is one example, and when I pulled it out of my old recipe box the other day, I thought, “of course.” This is not an all-day-simmer kind of soup; rather, it leverages the already developed flavors of two key ingredients—jarred salsa and canned refried beans. Add some fresh onions and bell pepper, some veggie broth and your choice of chili beans and dinner is served.

There’s plenty of hearty comfort in the bowl, with beans, onions and peppers. And your favorite salsa lends a flavor that defies the quickness of the recipe.

The soup is every bit as comforting as any other homemade soup, but only takes 20 minutes, start to finish, which just happens to be the exact amount of time you need to throw a batch of Jiffy corn muffins into the oven (they’re perfect on the side).

What could be easier after a hectic day of shopping and errands during the busy holiday season?


Simple pantry ingredients and a few easy things from the fridge.

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 bell pepper (any color), chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Cumin, salt and pepper

1 cup prepared salsa from a jar* (see notes)

2 cans beans (mix and match; pinto, black, kidney, navy are all good here)

2 cups low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth

1 can refried beans

Corn muffins for serving (optional, but yummy)


*Notes

Any kind of savory salsa will work here. It can be mild or spicy, green or red, thick or runny. If you have a can of Rotel tomatoes on hand, you could also substitute with that.


Instructions

  1. Get your corn muffins in the oven, if you’re making them. This soup can be made while they are baking.
  2. Drain and rinse the canned beans.
  3. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Saute onion and pepper until softened. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
  4. Increase heat to medium-high. Add canned beans, salsa and broth, and stir to combine. When mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to medium. Stir in the can of refried beans, taking time to swirl and blend it into the broth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer until ready to serve.


Turning Les’s Chili into “Kitchen-less” Chili

The first dish I cooked from scratch happened in fall 1981, my first semester out of college, living in Southern California. It was sometime after the appearance of the annual TV Guide Season Preview edition. We all of a certain age remember those, right?

This thick edition featured previews of all the new shows, updates on returning shows and, seasoned amid all that, some unique features. The 1981 edition had a clip-out thing with the actor Vic Tayback, in all his “Alice” glory (rolled-up white hat, white t-shirt), sharing the recipe for Mel’s chili. Curious thing is that I didn’t watch “Alice.” Ever. But I wanted to make that chili, and it came out great. Of course, at the tender age of 22, saying something came out great means it was edible.

Vic Tayback as Mel Sharples. Gruff, but likable. And everyone loved his chili.

My chili has grown considerably in depth of ingredients and flavor over the years, and I no longer need to refer back to Mel’s recipe as I did for at least 10 years, but the baseline recipe still has some “Mel” in it. Namely, I still typically use some type of ground meat, onions, garlic, tomato paste and red kidney beans. I remember my very first modification, probably the second time I made the chili, was adding diced green peppers. Diced red pepper followed shortly after.

Soon enough, my chili became the regular main dish at the annual Gura household Super Bowl party, and I tried to do something different with it just about every year. So, among the additions (which sometimes also required deletions), were diced tomatoes (I now use Rotel hot diced tomatoes), roasted garlic, cocoa powder, various types of chili powders and seasonings rather than the packets of chili seasoning the recipe called for, canned green chiles, and diced jalapeno. A breakthrough ingredient some 15 years ago (I think I have to credit chef Steven Raichlen for this) was dark beer, as substitute for the water needed with the tomato paste. I’ve used ground bison. Used ground venison. Used smoked brisket (that might have been my best chili ever, Super Bowl party 2017).

Now comes a new challenge. Making chili without a kitchen, which became my mission one recent weekend while Terrie was taking a trip to West Virginia to buy colorful new Fiesta dishes for our soon-be-be completed kitchen. Fortunately, in our current state of kitchen-lessness, Terrie and I have two useful things for making chili. A multi-purpose slow cooker and a toaster oven; the former was the star of the day for the new batch.

I’m not going to bore you all with the details. Suffice to say, while I roasted a bulb of garlic in the toaster oven, I diced up peppers and onions and lined up the other key ingredients (Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was the beer). I browned the bison in the slow cooker and flavored it with a taco skillet sauce, then removed the bison to sauté the vegetables. Eventually, everything went back  into the slow cooker and I left it on low for 2½ hours. With the jalapeno pepper flakes and ground chipotle that I added, this chili came out, to quote Jim Carrey in Masked, “ssssmokin!”


Ingredients (makes about 8 portions)

Counter space and lighting is even worse in the dining room than in the old kitchen, but I like to get “mise en place!” Everything ready, including a frosty beer for myself.

1 pound ground bison* (notes below)

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 each green and red peppers, diced

1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 bulb garlic

1 can Rotel diced tomatoes (I used the “hot” variety)*

2 small cans of chopped green chiles*

1 10-ounce can tomato paste

1 12-ounce beer*

1 packet Frontera brand taco skillet sauce (you will need less than half the packet)

2 cans red pinto beans (for this I used dark red; normally I mix dark and light red beans), drained

1-2 Tbsp. ground chipotle*

A pinch or two of dried jalapeno flakes

1 Tbsp. cocoa powder

Salt and pepper


Tools

Slow cooker and toaster oven for cooking*


Toppings/Extras

Shredded cheese*

Sour cream

Scallions

Tortilla chips


Notes

  • Bison can be substituted with ground beef, ground turkey or other favored protein; chili also works great with different kinds of stewed or smoked meats cut into small chunks.
  • Rotel makes three varieties of diced tomatoes; use whichever suits your heat preference.
  • I used Ortega’s fire-roasted, mild chopped green chiles for this batch, but any will do.
  • I like to use a dark beer; for this batch it was Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which Terrie thought was too bold but it was the only bottle of dark beer in the “downstairs” fridge.
  • Ground chipotle can be substituted with other types of seasoning such as ancho chili powder or a seasoning packet mix or a combination of seasonings, all based on heat preference and desired flavor profile. And another thought on seasoning: add in whatever you like on a given day. Chili never comes out exactly the same, at least in our kitchen. And that’s OK.
  • If you don’t have a multipurpose slow cooker, you could brown the beef and sauté the vegetables in a fry pan, then add all other ingredients into a cast-iron pot.
  • Needless to say, garlic can be roasted in a regular oven. Unless you’re remodeling your kitchen.
  • I like to use a block of cheese rather than pre-shredded. Because this batch came out spicy, I used a Colby-jack blend. If your chili’s heat factor is low, Trader Joe’s makes a habanero pepper jack that works great and you can make your own bowl as spicy as you want.

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat toaster oven to 400° F. Cut off head of garlic bulb, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in foil. Cook 1 to 1½ hours until the bulb is soft and golden brown.
  2. Brown ground bison in multipurpose slow cooker on brown setting, adding in small batches to avoid steaming. After initial browning, add skillet sauce to coat bison, then remove from slow cooker.
  3. Add olive oil and sauté the vegetables about 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
  4. Change setting to slow cook on low, return ground bison to the slow cooker, and then add in Rotel diced tomatoes, beer and tomato paste. Add seasonings. Mix all ingredients well. If mixture appears too thin, gradually add more tomato paste; if too thick, add water.
  5. After cooking about 90 minutes, add kidney beans and heat through.

In Terrie’s new Fiesta ware, the leftover chili looks like a party in a bowl.


Slow Cooker Turkey Chili Soup

Can someone please explain to me how time works? Because it has only been nine days since my last post, but it feels like 29. Some of the days have been a blur, as we have had non-stop activity in the kitchen during the demolition of the old and especially the arrival and installation of the new. And then, other days it has been so quiet it seems that even the crickets are on vacation. This morning, I literally had to ask my husband, “what day is today?” because amid the ruckus, I couldn’t quite remember. Only one week down and at least five to go—oy, vey!

It would be premature at this point to show you the progress of our remodel, given that we don’t yet have a countertop and the floor is covered in protective cardboard and there is new and ongoing discussion about how much we can configure our backsplash for a couple of design features I’ve been desperate to have. Well, OK, maybe just a few quick photos, but I want to save some for the big reveal!


There is much more to be done, and some of the details our contractor is working through are special enough to be considered “fussy,” so we are fine with some intermittent slowdowns. As far as we know, and barring any future catastrophes, things are still on track for us to be back in the kitchen by mid-November!

The biggest challenges have been exactly as expected—keeping the pets calm and cared for, which has been manageable so far because the weather is nice enough for our cat to chill outside (which she loves anyway) and our next-door neighbor has generously invited me and the dog over for some peace and quiet whenever things get wild over here. The other obvious challenge has been cooking without a kitchen, and today I’m sharing the first real, “cooked” recipe I’ve made since we started the remodel project. Breakfast doesn’t count because we are mainly just using the toaster. And until Friday of last week, we had relied on take-out and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. And (of course) cocktails for me, but that will be another post. 😉

Our first real meal could not have been more perfect for the fall season, and it also could not have been simpler to make, despite the fact that I did not have a stove, a microwave, a sink or a countertop. How did I pull it off?

It’s my multi-purpose friend, the slow cooker!

Say hello again to our multi-purpose slow cooker, the same one I used for our final “Chopped” challenge when Les tricked me into cooking all that kielbasa. The “browning” setting on this 7-in-1 appliance saved the day for my new adventure of “cooking without a kitchen.” I browned the ground turkey and onions, then added all the other ingredients, switched it to the slow cook setting, and let it simmer until Les walked in the door at the end of his workday. I was so excited to have actually cooked, and there was something very comforting about having the aromas of that chili soup filling the house. We needed a good, home-cooked meal at the end of such a crazy, noisy week. And, because it all came together in one pot, even the cleanup was easy.

This original recipe is one of my favorites, and it conjures warm and fuzzy memories for me. A few years ago, on a gloomy February day during another crazy time in my life, I’d scrambled through the cabinets for something to make that did not require a trip to the grocery store. I didn’t have a whole can of tomatoes, but I did have a small can of salsa, plus some roasted green chiles, half a bag of frozen corn, a can of beans and a carton of chicken broth. When I settled in with a bowl of this delicious concoction, which is not quite chili and not quite soup, I loved it so much, I took time to write it all down, and I’m glad I did because it was just right for such a crazy time as this. And there’s another benefit to it—easy leftovers!

Of course, you don’t need to have a special slow cooker to make it. Feel free to use a soup pot or Dutch oven. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll do next time—you know, when I have a shiny new kitchen!

If I had an oven this week, I would have made a batch of cornbread to accompany this tasty chili soup!

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 small sweet onion, chopped

1 lb. ground turkey (or turkey breast, if you prefer leaner meat)

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder

Salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth (this is equal to 1 large carton)

7 oz. can roasted green chiles, chopped

1 small can Herdez salsa (about 8 oz.)

1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn

1 can black beans, drained

Tortilla chips for serving


Instructions


  1. Add olive oil to the slow cooker (or pot), on a medium heat setting. Saute the onions until they are soft and translucent, then push them to the outside of the pot.
  2. Add the ground turkey, about half at a time, breaking it up into bits with your fingers as you go. When you brown ground meat, it’s a good idea to cook a small amount at a time to maintain a steady heat. Otherwise, the meat will just steam. When all the turkey is browned, add the chopped garlic and the spices, plus salt and pepper, and cook about one minute until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the ground meat mixture and stir it around to evenly coat all the meat. It should seem a little dry on the surface of the meat; add a touch more flour if needed to get this appearance. Cook the mixture two minutes, add the green chiles and cook two more minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth to the pot all at once. Stir gently to mix the broth with the roux-covered meat mixture and cook until it reaches a slight boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about one hour. At this point, I switched the slow cooker setting from “browning,” which is essentially the same as cooking on a stove top, to “high slow cook.”
  5.  Add the roasted corn, black beans and salsa and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer on low setting for two hours or more, until you’re ready to serve.

For our first “cooking without a kitchen” meal, I served this comforting turkey chili soup with tortilla chips, but it’s really delicious with a fresh batch of skillet cornbread.



Bean & Bacon Soup

Nothing makes me crave soup more than a snow day, or as is usually the case in North Carolina, an “ice day.” Like much of the U.S., we have been under threat of severe winter weather this week, and it finally arrived overnight in the shape of freezing rain. Bleh. Rather than stare out the window at the ice accumulating on the trees behind our home (beautiful, but dangerous), I’ve decided that I will make soup, and I am thankful once again to be cooking with gas. Power outages be damned, we will have a comforting bowl of something to eat. I wish I had a pot large enough to feed all of Texas this week.

Soup is a very forgiving meal, allowing you to use whatever you already have in the fridge and pantry, and this one is very true to that. A few cans of beans, some stock from a carton, basic vegetables and thick-sliced bacon comes together to create hearty, soul-warming goodness.


Ingredients

A few slices of thick-cut bacon, cubed (measuring about 1½ cups)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

Several carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)

Salt and pepper

3 cans (15 oz.) white beans (cannellini, great northern or navy)

1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 or 2 bay leaves


Instructions


  1. Heat a medium-size soup pot over medium heat. Toss the bacon cubes in the pot until all edges are crispy and fat is mostly rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined bowl and drain off excess grease, keeping about two tablespoons of it in the pot. You’ll return the bacon to the soup after it is simmered and pureed.
  2. Add the mirepoix (onion-celery-carrot) to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are translucent and carrots are just tender.
  3. Drain and rinse the canned beans and add them to the pot. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add vegetable broth, tomato paste and bay leaves. Stir to combine and bring soup to a low boil, then reduce heat, cover pot and simmer an hour or two.
  5. Remove bay leaves and puree some of the soup, using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. If the power is out and you’re cooking in the dark, use a potato masher. Blend as much or as little as you like; for me, this is usually about 2/3 smooth with chunks of bean and vegetable throughout.
  6. Return crisped bacon to the pot and continue to simmer about an hour, until bacon is softened and its smoky flavor has infused the soup.


Want to make this comforting soup?