I have been drawn to cooking for years prior to being an artisan baker in New England and a pastry chef on Manhattan Island. It started in earnest when I was at Hampshire College, where we had a farm on campus and great vegetables to prepare for the six or so housemates. Most of us were vegetarians for various reasons, from environmental to peer pressure, and our greatest source for inspiration did not come from the Internet, for that was just an idea to us in those early nineties. It actually came from books, from actual restaurants: Bloodroot and Moosewood were the two that stand out in memory (and continue to serve vegetarian meals). I owned Sundays at Moosewood, but in our college kitchen someone had the purple Moosewood Cookbook, where I discovered a recipe for Brazilian Black Bean Soup.
I am sure I referred to that recipe the first few times I made it, but soon that soup was second nature, and often called upon as a cheap way to feed a bunch of people. I have been cooking this soup now for 25 years without referencing the book. I know it wasn’t exactly the same every time, but every time it was used to serve a larger group of people. Inevitably there was someone who said, “I don’t like beans” or something else negative, but by the end of the meal, their bowls were empty.
This soup has for me been a sign of my hospitality, which is an important part of my faith. I have to admit that often food has made its way into my ministry, from cookies to pot-luck casseroles, from pretzel making with children on Good Friday, and hot crossed buns with the moms during Lent, over thanksgiving meals with homeless families, to the great meals with those gathered at Open Gathering. I even once got up before dawn as an associate minister and set-up over half-dozen bread machines so that the sanctuary would smell like baking bread for World Communion Sunday. And of course, I have become a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where we base our worship around the Holy Communion Meal. For me, food communicates as much as hugs and words, and the latter are often the least clear.
In what I would argue was one of my hardest meals of my culinary career, I was called to make this soup. I was living in Belfast, where I arrived with all my items in my backpack, and had found a flat with a woman from Newcastle and a man from Portugal, and I must say there was no priority to stock our kitchen, let alone toilet paper. Getting used to syrup being Gold’s and not from a tree, and the lack of rinsing the dishes was easy, but finding something I could make that tasted good for a dozen plus people was a challenge. Of course the black bean soup was the answer, finding orange juice was the only challenge. The soup was ready and beer was chilled.
Our guests arrive, and one of the older students was a Cockney from East London, who said something that sticks with me to this day. People were eating the soup with beer and bread and it was a cacophony of conversation and spoons in soup. It was clear that many of these vegetarians had not often eaten vegetables that were not fried or covered in cheese. So my Cockney friend sitting on the settee filled with others leaned forward and said to me after eating some, “This is great” loud enough to hear over the music. I smiled. I probably said thanks, but he started to sit back on the settee, and turn to his cushion neighbour and spoke as shoveling the soup past his bearded lips, not aware I could still hear him clearly. “What the f@#k is this?” He didn’t care to hear the answer; he simply kept eating with the music, the music of fellowship.
This is my faith-sharing goal. I want people to experience me through my following of the forgiving victim I call the Christ. They don’t have to thank me, but they certainly don’t need to know what it is, they simply need to experience the hospitality and love.
Our Faith Recipe may had started with a book, for many of us we realize we cannot be anchored to it as if it is an idol itself; we must live it daily in the real world. When I received the original Moosewood Cookbook for my birthday, and opened to this recipe I had not seen in print in 25 years, I realized how much more important it is to live my faith then keeping my faith in a book, and also I realized I have been calling the soup Cuban for the past quarter century, while it was actually titled Brazilian Who gives a F@#K what it is called? Just keep sharing.