Three-Dollar Throwdown–Sarah’s Ancho-Lime Black Bean Soup and Crispy Sweet Plantains


All you need: $2.86

The road to this black bean soup is long, and started with a pig’s foot. I was poking around my local Polish market and saw that pigs’ feet were about $1 per pound. Perfect! I’d do a pied de cochon–a classic preparation in which you simmer the trotter for hours, then shred the meat and gelatinous bits off the bone and put them in a round mold (or a cookie cutter). When the mixture cools,the gelatin sets, and you’ve got a jiggly, meaty hockey puck of pig’s foot, which you can then pan fry to crispy. I was so clever! Victory was mine!

But I could only afford one teensy pig foot ($1.12), no shank attached. I simmered it until 11pm last night, until I realized that you can’t really just buy one small cloven hoof, and expect it to magically yield meat. I didn’t think anyone would want to eat a terrine of nothing but skin, gelatin and tendons. My dog ate the pig skin, and I abandoned my pied de cochon, feeling like one of the dumber contestants on Top Chef, who decides to do a braise with a 15 minute time limit.

Time was running out but victory could still be mine! I went to my local Mexican bodega, where there’s a good selection of dried chiles for 99 cents. Black beans were on sale, and the fat, ripe plantains and limes were practically free. Back to the Polish market, where they don’t mind if you break a head of garlic and only buy a few cloves, because that’s the kind of thing that the old ladies who shop there do.

My Three-Dollar Throwdown accounting book:

1 ripe yellow plantain: .40
1 lime: .25
7 cloves garlic: .23
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans: .99
1 (1.5 ounce) bag ancho chiles: .99

Total: $2.86

I think I should get points for being under $3. Plus, I submit for your consideration the fact that my meal would serve two people.

The recipe and results, after the jump.

Ancho-Lime Black Bean Soup and Crispy Sweet Plantains

A simple puree of dried chiles, garlic, water and salt, creates a miraculously deeply flavored base. Anchos are sweet and mildly hot, and have a dark raisiny flavor. This basic concoction–dried chiles, garlic and salt pureed with a bit of water–is the starting point for many classic Mexican marinades and stews, or can be used as is for a simple, taqueria-style salsa. Don’t skip the step of toasting the chiles and garlic on a dry griddle–it deepens and sweetens the flavor.

Ancho-Lime Black Bean Soup
Yield: about 2 servings

3 dried ancho chiles
7 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 cups water
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lime

On a dry skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, toast the chiles, pressing them into the pan with a spatula, until their color darkens slightly and they begin to soften. Place the chiles in a bowl, and cover with warm water. Set aside. Place the garlic cloves, still in their papery skins, on the skillet, and toast until the cloves soften and develop browned spots.

Pull the garlic cloves out of their skins, and place in a blender. Drain the chiles, tear off the stems, and place the chiles in the blender. Add generous pinches of salt and pepper and 2 cups water. Blend until smooth.

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the chile-garlic mixture, and cook until warmed through and fragrant.

Add the beans, and cook until warmed through. Zest the lime, and set the zest aside. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 of the lime into the soup.Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if necessary. Transfer soup back to the blender, and blend until smooth. To serve, lade soup into two bowls, and garnish with the lime zest.

Crispy Sweet Plantains
Yield: 2 servings
Yellow plantains are sweet and ripe when their skins are totally black

1 large, ripe yellow plantain
canola oil for frying

Peel the plantain, and slice into 1/2-inch thick slices. Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of about a 1/2 inch. Warm the oil over high heat, until it’s hot enough that a plantain slice placed in the oil sizzles immediately. Slide all the plantain slices into the oil, and fry about 2 minutes on each side, until plantains are golden brown and crisp. Remove plantains to a paper towel to drain, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Serve hot.

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