Smoky Bacon Black Bean Soup With Cilantro Chive Pesto and Grilled Shrimp

We’re all wearing plaid and feeling rather angsty lately, thick in the midst of a nineties revival. The mopey, dopey Northwest nineties – not Clinton playing sax on Arsenio Hall. When I recall food trends from the last decade of the 20th century, all I can conjure are wraps. And smoothies. Is it just me, or weren’t we all effing bananas for that pseudo-healthy texture combo in 1996? I was packing on the freshman fifteen in Boston, devouring a chicken-Caesar-salad-sun-dried-tomato wrap bigger than a baby’s arm with a giant cup of strawberry studded fro-yo at some incensed cafe near Newbury Comics, listening to Ani DiFranco, smoking clove cigarettes, feeling so morose and misunderstood. And you remember what they always served on the side in those simpering neo-hippie bookstore slash coffee shops? Black bean soup. Am I right? Since I have Madder Rose and The Lemonheads on my playlist once again, and I’m wearing lots of cardigans and corduroys, I thought about black bean soup, and decided to make some for myself, without all the slam poetry and baby doll dresses to mix up my head with really deep thoughts.

Our friends at The Manhattan [food] Project whipped up a batch recently, and as usual, I like what they’ve got going on. But I wanted to do something new and of my own device, so I checked in with Simply Recipes, 101 Cookbooks, and Epicurious, and with their instruction, guidelines, measurements and hints, drafted my own recipe, which I have set forth below. I call it:

Smoky Bacon Black Bean Soup with Cilantro Chive Pesto and Grilled Shrimp

Soup Ingredients:

  • 3 15 oz cans black beans
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 extra large clove of garlic
  • 2 strips thick cut applewood smoked bacon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup Spanish red wine
  • 2 tablespoons chipotle in adobo sauce
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • salt

Soup Method:

I thinly sliced the bacon and laid it down in a soup pot, heat on medium. After about five minutes, I added diced onion and garlic, cumin and salt, which I let cook for another five minutes, at which time I added the wine, bay leaves, chipotle sauce, broth, and drained, rinsed beans. When it had cooked for fifteen minutes I busted out my badass* new immersion blender and blended most of the mixture to my desired consistency. I served it with a dollop of sour cream and the pesto, recipe to follow.

Cilantro Chive Parsley Pesto Recipe

In my food processor I combined 1 extra large garlic clove, 2 bunches of cilantro, all the chives that weren’t slimy, a little parsley, some sea salt, the juice of one key lime and olive oil. I whirled and sampled until it seemed right. I know this is not very precise, but there’s really no way or reason to be. It’s pesto, which is much more of an art than a science. Use your senses. When you have a deep green and gorgeous paste, you’re probably good to go.

Later, I will grill a few shrimp, simply salted and peppered and placed aloft the ladled out soup. It’s so tasty I plan to write in my journal about it later, and maybe make this soup a mixtape.

* There is absolutely nothing badass about a blender, unless you are 32. I know this.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.


  1. So, up there in the frozen north, how do you grill shrimp in winter? do you use a grill pan, or really get outside and grill it? I love the poetry of that line”Later, I will grill a few shrimp, simply salted and peppered and placed aloft the ladled out soup. “

  2. It really is a 90s revival–I’m quoting Reality Bites for a work report right now.

    Black bean soup is a pretty great canvas to work on–there are so many different directions to take. One of these days I will get myself a nice pig hock bone and try to capture the soup that I loved at Soul de Cuba.

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