Sopa negra

Sopa negra or black bean soup is a soup from Central America. I remember that the last time I ate it was when I escaped the hot city of León in Nicaragua, and went a day to the beach to get some fresh air. There I had a huge bowl of sopa negra for lunch. Although it was delicious, I still find it strange that I loved the soup so much despite the warm weather. I always associate soup with cold weather. That’s why I thought it’s a good time to try to make sopa negra to warm you feel all warm inside during this autumn.

Ingredients sopa negra

Ingredients (4 portions):

  • 2 cups of black beans
  • 3 garlic cloves, 2 of them finally chopped
  • 1 white onion finally chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper finally chopped
  • 100 grams of bacon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp of heavy cream
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig of fresh oregano
  • fresh coriander to taste, chopped

For the vegetarians, just leave the bacon out.

The name already gives it away: black beans are the main ingredient. It’s hard to find them, but here in Brussels I’ve found dried black beans in a shop selling African products. There must be a similar shop in your city.

Soak the black beans

Start the preparations a day before, because you’re going to need the time to soak the beans. Use 3 cups of water for 1 cup of dried beans. In this case it’s 6 cups of water and 2 cups of dried beans. Let them soak overnight.

Cook the black beans in a pot

The next day, throw away the water, and rinse the beans with clean water. If you’ve a pressure cooker put the beans in there. It will save you a lot of time. If not, use a big pot. Add 4 cups of water, 1 (whole) garlic clove, the oregano and the thyme. Use enough water to cover beans by about 2 fingers. Bring the pot to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer gently until the beans are tender. For the pressure cooker, it will take 30 – 40 minutes, and around an hour for a normal pot.

Use a stick blender to puree the beans

Strain out 2 cups of broth and 1 cup of the cooked beans. Place it in the food processor, or like I did, let it cool down and use a stick blender to puree the beans.

Fry the vegetables and bacon

Fry the bacon, add onion, the sweet pepper, cream, and at last the beans.

Cook over low heat until soup begins to boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Break the eggs into the soup and cook for 10 more minutes.

Serve with 1 egg in a bowl, sprinkle fresh coriander on top and serve with bread or latin america style with tortilla.

Sopa negra or black bean soup

What to do with souvenirs? Turn coins into a key chain

Get your foreign coins

Colones, pesos and cordobas are some of the foreign coins I’ve collected during my travels in Latin America. I’ve been saving them in a wallet, and they haven’t really been of much use since I’m back home. I realized I wanted to create something or either get rid of them. Luckily, thanks to my Pinterest addiction I got some inspiration, and I decided to use my foreign coin collection to make key chains. Here’s how I did it.

Coins, key chain, and utilities

Of course it’s all about the money, so get your collection of coins. I also gathered other stuff I wanted to add to my key chains such as bracelets from my university in Mexico, a small piece of bracelet I made in Costa Rica, and the Brazilian Senor do Bonfim. Besides, you’re going to need a couple of key chains. Last year two friends gave me both a key chain, and it seemed a good idea to add some more nice memories, and pimp them. Have a look at a hobby shop if you don’t have any key chains at home.

Chain

Last but not least, you’ll be needing a chain. Have a look at your hardware store to see which chain size suits best. The ring shouldn’t be too big because it becomes too heavy, but they shouldn’t be too small either because you don’t want it to break easily and you’ll need to attach the coins to it. Tools you’re going to need: two pliers. I used one with a needle-nose, the fine pliers, and one slip joint pliers. Later I’ll explain why.

Add holes to the coins

Again, I couldn’t have done this DIY project without some help. This time my neighbour made some holes in the coins. If you don’t have a handy neighbour, you either need all the right tools to drill some holes or go to a smith. The size of the hole should be big enough to put the ring of the chain through it, and at the same time it should leave a bit of space, so the coin can move around the ring.

Use the pliers to open the chain

As you can see the chain I chose is pre-cut which made it easy to open up the rings. All you’ve to do is put pliers at each side of the ring, and twist in opposite directions. If you force it enough, the ring breaks on the line. The best method is to use the slip joint pliers to hold the ring, because you can squeeze it and put more force on it, and then with the needle-nose pliers you’ll twist the ring.

Coin attached to chain

Break the chain in small parts of 7 rings by removing the 8th ring. Then use this loose ring to attach your coin to the small chain at the end, in the middle or, like I did, both. Make sure you close the ring properly otherwise you’ll end up losing your coins.

Mix and match the coins

When you’ve finished your chains with coins you can attach them, and all the other things you want to add to your key chain. The coins and the chain can be quite heavy, that’s why I ended up using just two little chains with each two coins on each key chain.

The final result: key chain with coinsAnd tadaaa! The final result. All my memories of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, and even Ecuador attached to my keys. Sometimes my key chains make me feel like a gold digger, but at least now I use the coins daily.

Día de Independencia in Central America

Día de IndependenciaDía de Independencia or independence day is a national holiday that’s celebrated in Central America on the 15th of September to commemorate the beginning of the war of independence. This war started on the 16th of September in 1810 in Guanajuato, Mexico, when the priest Miguel Hidalgo called for the end of the Spanish rule. With the grito de la independencia or the cry of independence, Hidalgo encouraged the people to revolt against the Spanish colonial rule. At that time Mexico and the other countries of Central America (except Panama) formed part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain established following the Spanish conquest in 1521. However, Mexico was the only country that fought for independence. The rebellion started by Hidalgo led to a long and bloody war which took a decade before Spain declared Mexico and the other Central American countries independent in 1821.

Independence and la patria

The start of the war is commemorated yearly in all Central American countries from Mexico until Costa Rica. While in most countries the focus is on parades, student activities, and assemblies, in Mexico día de independencia is a big fiesta with food, music, and fireworks. Because it’s all about the patria or the fatherland, the weeks before half of September national symbols arise everywhere. The public and national buildings are decorated, street vendors are selling national symbols in all kinds, and the public squares are cleaned and prepared for entertainment.

The Mexican fiesta

In Mexico on the evening of the 15th of September which is called el Día del Grito, the celebrations are started. Traditionally around 11 o’clock in the evening the president rings the bell of the national palace at the central square zócalo in Mexico City. After that he will speak the grito de dolores mentioning the names of the important heroes of the Mexican War of Independece, and the speech is ended shouting ¡Viva México! three times. Often the public adds cabrones to it. After this the president waves the Mexican flag followed by the playing and singing of the national anthem. Then it’s fiesta time, and the party continues until dawn. For the people without hangover or cruda, the following morning on the 16th of September which is the Day of Independence the military performs a parade starting from the zócalo and passing by Hidalgo Memorial and other main places in Mexico City.

How to select a good avocado?

Eating an avocado or aguacate is best when its ripe. Then you’ll really taste the smooth, buttery, and nutty flavour. However, selecting the right avocado for your guacemole or other recipes can be hard, so here’s a small guide on how to select a ripe avocado, how to open it, and how to store it.

Selecting

Press opposite of stem
To see if an avocado is ripe press at the end opposite of the stem of the avocado. Ripe avocados should have a bit of a give to them; it should not be completely soft to touch, but neither too hard. The meat ripens from the stem down, so if it yields a bit when you press the end farthest from the stem, you know that the rest of the avocado is at least as ripe. Check the rest of the avocado as well, because people often manhandle it and you’ll end up buying a squishy avocado. Also important is to find out if an avocado is not overripe. Gently shake the avocado near your ear and if you hear the seed rolling, it’s overripe. Choose another one. Lastly, the avocado should have an even coloured skin all over.

Avocados don’t ripen until picked which is why the avocados sold in supermarkets are often under-ripe. The best thing to do is to buy your avocado 3 or 4 days in advance, and let it ripen at the fruit bowl. In case you need to speed up the ripening process, you can store the avocado a day in a brown paper bag together with some bananas or apples.

Opening

Cut the avocado all the way through in the length and turn the halves in opposite directions. The meat of a good avocado will be light-green of colour. If it’s brown or black it’s rotten. Sometimes you’ll find some brown spots. Just remove these as the rest of the meat will be fine. If the avocado is ripe, you can easily peel the skin now it’s cut open.

Storage

Leave unripe avocados on the counter to continue to ripen. It’s best to eat ripe avocados immediately because the taste will be stronger. However, if you have to, you can keep them in the refrigerator drawer for fresh products to last them several days longer.

If you just use one half of the avocado, save the part with the pit attached, and put a bit of lemon or lime juice on the cut side. Wrap it in plastic foil and keep it in the fridge. You can save it up to 2 days. Cut avocados turn brown quickly, and the lime juice, and plastic foil slow down the browning process.

Guacamole

The ingredients for guacamole

Guacamole is my all time favourite recipe. It’s easy to make, everybody loves it, and it’s very healthy too. Because a good guacamole is all about avocados, make sure you’ve got some ripe ones. If you’re not sure how to select a ripe avocado, read my tips.

Like with all recipes there are a lot of variations of guacamole out there. One is spicy, the other mild, or chunky or smooth. I’ll be sharing the recipe I got from my Mexican roommate when I was living in Mexico City. It’s a mild guacamole, because Mexicans add enough chilli sauce to their food, but you can spice it up with some cayenne pepper if you want.

Of course guacamole contains some of the main ingredients of Mexican cuisine: coriander or cilantro, lime and salt. To be precise, you’ll need:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • juice of half a lime
  • roughly 1 table spoon or to taste of fresh coriander, chopped up
  • 1 small red onion diced
  • 1 (roma) tomato seedless and diced
  • a pinch of salt and pepper

Mash the avocados

Mash the avocado with a fork.

Add other ingredients

When it’s a smooth texture add the onions, tomato, and the coriander. Make sure all the ingredients are mixed properly with the mashed avocados.

Add lime juice

Finish it off with a squeeze of lime juice. Again, mix it well with the other ingredients.

Guacamole and tortilla chips

You’ll end up with a bit of a chunky texture. If you prefer a smooth guacamole, just put all the ingredients in the food processor to chop it up fine. Transfer it into a bowl, and serve the guacamole immediately. It’s as easy as that! I’ve added a big bowl of tortilla chips to dip, but you can also chop up some veggies like carrots to dip or put the guacamole on top of tortillas.

Store your guacamole with plastic foil on top

If you want to store the guacamole for a while you can add some extra lime juice, and cover it with plastic foil. But the tastiest is to eat the guacamole straight after preparing.

What to do with souvenirs? Turn flags and t-shirts into pillow cases

My collection of flags started in Mexico when my friend Mario gave me a Mexican flag. Being back home in the Netherlands again, one day my mum surprised me with a present: she had turned the flag into a pillow case. I loved the idea! Now I could use the Mexican flag pillow to decorate my couch, and think back of my great time in Mexico while relaxing. Recently, when I was cleaning out my closet I discovered I collected more flags during my travels. Also I had a couple of t-shirts I was very fond off, but I didn’t wear them. Because of the memories I couldn’t throw them away, and immediately thought of the great idea of my mum to turn them into pillow cases.

pillows2

I wouldn’t really call this a DIY project, as I don’t know how to use a sewing machine. Luckily, I’ve got a great mum that doesn’t mind doing me the favour. If you aren’t handy with a sewing machine either ask a family member or go to a tailor in town.

Stitch a piece of fabric to the flag or t-shirt

To turn the flags and t-shirts into a pillow case, my mum stitched a red fabric at the back of it. One side is left open to put the pillow in.

Pillows come in different sizes

Take into account what the size of your pillow case should be. As you can see the pillows have different sizes. The standard size of small pillows is often 40×40 or 50×50 cm, and for bigger pillows it’s 60×70 or 40×60 cm. If you already have some inner cushions at home, measure them to find out what size they are. New you can buy them for example at Ikea. Surprisingly they are called Inner 😉

Pillows add a personal touch

The great thing with these cushions is that they add a personal touch to your place without having to do a big make over. I recently moved to a new place, and didn’t want to paint my room, but with the pillows on my bed it immediately felt like home.

How to eat tunas

tunas

This week when I was passing by the Arabic shops in my neighbourhood, I discovered it’s tuna time. I really love these edible cactus fruits which I ate for the first time in Mexico. It can be a bit tricky to cut them because of the small hair-like spines. But with these tips you should be able to cut a tuna or cactus fruit without problem.

be careful with the spinesI cannot stress this enough, be careful with the spines.

This is why you've to be careful when cutting a tunaI’m clearly not the best person to give a good example 😉 Watch out for the hair-like spines. They are very small and can cause a lot of pain and/or skin irritation. You’ll end up finding them everywhere, and they are hard to spot.

Hold the tuna at both ends

To avoid the spines, hold the tuna at both ends.

Cut one end of the tuna

Cut off one end of the tuna while avoiding the spines…

Cut off the other end of the tuna

…then cut off the other end of the tuna.

Cut the tuna lengthwiseNow you can cut the skin lengthwise, still holding both ends of the tuna.

Remove the skin of the tunaFinally you can remove the skin. This can be tricky because you still have to be careful of the spines and pull the skin at the same time. Watch carefully where you’ll place your fingers.

Look at the colourLook at that beautiful orangey red colour! The grainy flesh is the part you can eat. The first time it feels a bit weird to eat the small seeds, but it’s delicious. It tastes a bit like a juicy pear but sometimes they can be a bit bitter too.

Cactus figs come in many different colours such as green, white, yellow, pink, brown and red. Also the flesh comes in a rainbow of colours: white/yellowish, light green, orange or like now red/purple. In Europe they are available from August through October. A ripe tuna should have an intense colour, and the fruit should yield slightly to the touch, just like a ripe pear.

Go and have a look if they sell tunas in your neighbourhood. Remember to hold the tuna at the end when you buy, and cut it.

Tell me, how was your tuna?