A few years ago I received a call from my father—“I’m moving to Chile in a few weeks to teach English, not sure when I’ll be back.” It wasn’t exactly a stunner, but definitely a turn in events. I knew he’d been planning to move to South America to teach ESL, but I wasn’t sure if he’d ever go, let alone so suddenly.
We aren’t very close—my parents divorced when I was seven or eight and, as most stories of divorce go, I lost touch with one half—my father. Throughout high school and college we’d meet up every month or two and share a meal, talk about politics, current events, never anything very near or dear to each of us. But in some ways I think we’ve achieved a closeness through that—we both learned to love each other through focusing on the present, not the past.
After a year in Santiago (his first week there was that deadly earthquake of 2010), my father moved back to the US to take care of his mother. She passed away this past March right before I visited Europe and my father has been planning his route back to South America since. He’s finalized plans and will be moving to Ecuador this time. I have a feeling it will be a more permanent move. I’m looking forward to visiting the country again, getting to see it a little more up-close than the last time, but I will miss our erratically timed visits and the conversations we’ve had watching football games and grilling out.
So in honor of his flight down south this month and to celebrate the coming coolness of fall, I’ve cooked up a large pot of Porotos Granados, the ubiquitous vegetarian bean soup of Chile. It combines the best of the two seasons we’re hovering between—summer and fall—by featuring summery corn, tomatoes, and basil, as well as the more autumnal heirloom beans and winter squash. Since my butternuts are ripening in the garden and the markets are still flush with beans, corn, and tomatoes, it is the perfect dish for a slightly rainy Labor Day weekend.
The soup itself is slightly warmed with the addition of smoky Spanish paprika and serves up nicely with a chunk of cornbread. I can definitely picture eating this somewhere in Chile with the Andes rising up behind and a fog rolling in off the Pacific. While I never visited my father in Chile, I hope to make it there one day (especially to see Patagonia), but, in the meantime, this soup does work to transport me from southern Appalachia to the South America, across hemispheres to a place I can almost taste.
Adapted slightly from this recipe
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp smoked hot Paprika
1 tsp dried cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 large tomato, chopped
3 c vegetable stock
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped into bite size chunks
2 c fresh* October (or other heirloom) beans
2 ears corn cut of off the cobb
1/4 c fresh basil, julienned
Salt & pepper
In a large stock pot, warm 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, and cumin, stir and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
Add the vegetable stock, tomato, beans, and squash. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook 45 minutes – 1 hour, until the beans and squash are soft.
Add the corn, basil, and salt and pepper to taste and cook for another 5 minutes.
*If using dried beans, soak overnight before using.