Ask Chef Phyllis:
My husband and I have been vegetarians for many years and are always looking for something new. At a Denver restaurant, we recently enjoyed a Black Bean Sweet Potato soup/stew that had a licorice flavor. We asked our waitress and she told us the ingredient was fennel. I’m not familiar with fennel. Do you have a recipe?
—Malina Knable, Red Feather Lakes, CO
Every few years, I find a new “star” recipe. The last one was for Chicken Tortilla Soup. I think this Black Bean, Sweet Potato, and Fennel Soup will be the new one. Here it is.
1 lb. dried black beans, soaked overnight in 6 quarts of water OR
3 (15 oz.) cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 fennel bulb,* diced (reserve the green top fronds)
2 medium (half-pound) sweet potatoes/yams, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander
½ teaspoon anise seed
½ teaspoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 quarts vegetable stock or water
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 hard-boiled eggs for garnish
Fennel tops for garnish
1. If you soaked the beans overnight, pick out any debris that floated to the top of the water, then drain and set aside. Alternatively, have ready the 3 cans of black beans, rinsed and drained.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large vessel over high heat. Add onions, celery, fennel, sweet potatoes, and spices. Sauté until the vegetables are transparent and the spices aromatic, about 15 minutes.
3. Add beans and the stock or water.
4. Cover the pot and cook on low for about 2 hours.
5. Uncover and stir well. If you want a creamy soup, mash some of the beans with a potato masher or an immersion blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. For brightness and extra protein, slice the hard-boiled eggs and place one on top of each bowl of soup. If desired, garnish with a few chopped fennel fronds. Enjoy!
*Fennel is technically an herb. It resembles celery in appearance but has a mild licorice or anise flavor, which greatly diminishes when cooked. The bulb part only is considered a raw vegetable, and it’s often served as a cold appetizer with olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper. In Italian households, it’s offered as a palate cleanser between courses of a large meal. You can purchase fennel in most grocery stores. When you’re ready to use it, cut off the fronds (the top part just above the solid bulb) and use to flavor soup or as a garnish, as recommended above. Then cut the root end off as you would with celery, dice the bulb, and use as in the above recipe.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
·chemical- and hormone-free meat
·pastured-raised, organic eggs
·whole, unrefined grains
·virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
·whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
·pure, clean, spring water
·raw and/or cultured milk and cream products