University: "Bean there, done that."

Well, it finally has happened. First midterm in September! Oh wait, make that the first three midterms. And don’t worry; I’ve already had another one in October. I swear that all that rain going on when school started was a higher power reminding me that there is no time like the present to study myself to death. Already I’m in that semi-numb student state where your brain is split into segments and you are not sure that you can pull all the bits together. That is not to say that the semi-numb state has closed my eyes to the content of the courses I’m struggling with- there is some wicked stuff in them. Some cool science that has been in two out of four of my courses is the concept of artificial cells. No, not models of cells, but actually creating life out of parts, something that was done for the first time this past May by Craig Venter. Of course, he has already been accused of playing god and declared a threat to the world at large, which must mean that he has done something that is, in a single breathe, both groundbreaking and brilliant. Here’s a link to him presenting synthetic life, if you want to check it out:

With all this studying, the relationship between food, activity, and brainpower is becoming increasingly relevant. I am forever guilty of trading in jogging for sleeping, yoga for biology, and snacks for coffee with extra cream. Straying from what is ACTUALLY good for us is an inherent trait of 99% of the population, and when we find someone in that other 1% we eye them suspiciously and wonder what their problem is. This comes as a bit of a double standard when what I’m studying is telling me all about what is healthy for me (do this, eat that), and yet taking up just enough time to make it truly difficult to apply any of those orders. But ‘tis the life of a student, and those in health sciences, like myself, are no exceptions- there is an urban myth about one medical school student who figured out that if he ate beets, peanuts, and raw sugar all together for every meal, he could cover most of his biological bases, so that’s what he did. I love the raw sugar part- clearly he was at that point of exhaustion where the flip switches from “I shouldn’t eat that, it has too much sugar in it” to “I have six hours to go, which has more sugar in it?” which I experience via a London Fog at least once before every midterm.

Sugar sins aside, I have been reveling in cooking meals lately- a little too much. Every time I get a little too overwhelmed, I drop all and chop/bake/bubble away my anxieties. This disruptive and delicious hobby has to calm down, as the freezer is filling up faster than I’m eating. One appliance that has been assisting this obsession is, of course, the slow cooker. Other than consuming my time, it has been a saint. Fantastically convenient, it has also been letting me cook beans like a rockstar, which has been a great money saver. Health is more important than marks anyways, right? Right…

So far my favourite recipe that has come out of the slow cooker is a fantastic Mexican black bean soup. I ate it every day for a week, and never once groaned. THAT good. The recipe was more than just inspired by Smitten Kitchen (, which is a fantastic blog with great pictures. I took this recipe word for word, and then added a few touches of my own (maybe she’s not a fan, but I know that for me, it isn’t Mexican if there isn’t cilantro!). So here it is, a dirt cheap, rib sticking, crazy luscious black bean soup!

BEST Black Bean Slow Cooker Soup

The name says it all. So easy, you just throw dry, unsoaked beans in a pot with all kinds of other yummy-ness, go away for a few hours, and come back to a very memorable meal. Make sure you serve this with classic Mexican extras- tortilla chips, avacado, fresh cut tomatoes, and a lovely little dollop of crème fraiche (substitute sour cream if you don’t have this handy- you’ll be happy either way).

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp cumin
1 ½ c dried black beans
1 tbsp chipotle puree **
7 c boiling water
¼ c fresh lime juice
2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ c fresh cilantro, chopped

1) In a large pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and peppers, sautéing them until onions get nice and translucent and the edges start to brown. Should take about ten minutes. Add garlic and cumin when you think the sautéing is just about done, and stir until nice and fragrant.

2) Transfer the whole mixture to a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour in beans, chipotles, and 7 cups of hot water.

3) Cover the slow cooker and set on high- I checked my beans at three hours and found that perfect, so start with three hours, then check. You may need to cook it another hour or two, depending on your slow cooker/beans.

4) When the beans are lovely and tender, turn the slow cooker to warm for serving, and stir in the limejuice, salt, and pepper. Taste, and if you find it could do with another cumin hit, throw a little more spice in to taste. If you plan on serving it right away, stir in the cilantro.

5) Transfer two cups of this finished soup into a blender (NOTE IF YOU HAVE A GLASS BLENDER: do not put in hot soup! It can crack! Cool down the soup first in a mini-ice bath, it shouldn’t take too long!). Blend until smooth. Stir back into the slow cooker.

6) Perfect! Add a little more salt if you think it needs it, and serve with crème fraiche, fresh chopped tomatoes, avocado, more cilantro, and a squirt of lime!

** I buy the chipotles in adobe sauce, and then just give them a whirl in the blender to make this puree.


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