I spent the evening with my grandma last night. I gave her tickets to see the LA Philharmonic for Christmas, as she mentioned years ago that she had always wanted to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It really is a gorgeous building with impeccable architecture. When I picked her up, she told me she spent the entire day getting ready - polished her jewelry, painted her nails, trimmed her own hair, tried on all her clothes and took in her pants. I couldn't say the same for myself. I'm trying to grow my hair back out and we're at an incredibly awkward stage of shoulder length curls. And my outfit? A collection hand-me-downs from my younger sister.

It took just a moment, as she was telling me about her day, to recognize how the perspective of time is so relative. I try to accomplish as much as I can in a day - to make a list and cross things off so that I feel success when the day is done. Maybe it's her age; at 82 you have neither the need nor the energy to hustle around. Or possibly the wisdom that those lists aren't the things she tells me about when she talks about her younger years. She was an only child, but on the ride home, she reminisced about Sunday dinners with extended family, poker nights and her favorite uncle who had a garage with all sorts of gadgets and toys. The cheer in her voice was never about privilege or a life of luxury, but how great it was that her dad was close to his brothers and their families spent time together. "It was a really good life."

It put me in my place. Whatever I am trying to prove to myself by being busy, is not necessarily the mark of success. Could I spend an entire day primping myself for a night out with my grandma? It's unlikely, but every so often, some circumstance like this nudges me to cool it just a bit. I'm not saying I'm the most task oriented person in the world, but I do allow those tasks to qualify a good day. Something tells me a long list will not be what I tell my granddaughter about when I recall it being "A good life."

This soup is easy to pull together and a nice change from the smooth soups I've been making. It's almost stew like, and I felt like I could pour some over a bowl of quinoa or brown rice, like a curry of sorts. I do love my beans, but it is different to have the chopped cabbage and butternut to break up the texture. With enough garnishes, you can shine a bowl of this up to really look like something great, cause last time I checked, a chunky soup wasn't much of a looker.

Inspired by Coconut and Quinoa

Some of my measurements are pretty vague, but in a stew-like soup, perfection is not necessary. Taste as you go, add more spice if necessary but beware that both chipotle and cayenne are SPICY, so start small. You can cook your beans from scratch or used canned for the sake of time.

1 Tbsp. coconut or extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 a small head of cabbage, chopped (heaping 2 cups)
3 cups cubed butternut squash (sweet potato would be good too)
3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cocoa powder
pinch of chipotle powder or cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked, black beans (about one can, rinsed and drained)
salt to taste

avocado, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish

// tortilla crispies //
3 corn tortillas
scant 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt

In a heavy bottomed pot, warm the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until just beginning to brown, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, cabbage, squash and broth. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover the pot and cook for about 15-20 minutes for the vegetables to cook.
Add the spices and the beans and stir. Let everything continue to cook another ten minutes for the flavors to blend. Salt to taste. At this point, I did a few pulses with my immersion blender through the soup, because I wanted to thicken up the broth a bit. This is optional, but makes it seem a bit thicker. You could alternatively, run just a bit of the soup through a blender or food processor, and add it back in to the pot. OR a sprinkle of cornmeal will help thicken it as well.

For the tortilla crispies, preheat the oven to 375'. Stack them and slice into thin matchsticks. Spread on a baking sheet, dirzzle with the oil, sprinkle the salt and toss gently to coat. Spread them in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes until they are light brown and crispy, giving the pan a shake halfway through.

Garnish each both with some diced avocado, a handful of chopped cilantro and some of the tortilla crispies! A sprinkle of goat cheese would be quite nice as well.

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Reader Comments (98)

Mmm, this looks pretty delish. Love that shot of the cilantro!

I love the wisdom that comes with age. I often try and rush the wisdom gathering but I realize that you can't. I have to make my own mistakes and learn along the way. Then every once in awhile get a gentle reminder, from a grandma perhaps, that life is indeed short and what seems to matter most to me in my days are quickly forgotten when the wisdom of age sheds light on the truth. Thanks Sara's grandma for giving us all this reminder.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Your grandma sounds lovely. What a wonderful reminder to just stop, slow down, and live in the moment. My Grandpa is 80. I cherish the moments spent with him. We laugh, play cards, and tell stories. The hours go by so quickly and honestly, I always hate for our time to end. Not sure if he knows it or not, but he always reminds me what really matters in this life.

The soup looks divine. I love Hugh's work on this one.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen O.

I bet the cocoa powder adds such a great flavor! thanks for the great idea!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSimply Life

What a deliciously healthy combo of stew and vegetarian chili! And I love that you cook with coconut oil. I'm currently obsessed with it and even use it on my skin! Thanks for the recipe!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChrissy @ My Fare Foodie

Gosh how I recognize that feeling of trying to squeeze as many achievements in on a day as possible. Why do we push ourselves so hard? I wish I still had my grandmother to remind me to slow down. Lovely post. And the soup sounds delicious.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Avocado is pretty much the best garnish ever. This is such a great combo of flavors!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

LOVE the photography! Gives the veggies such personality.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I love grandmas, they always have the best advise and perspective on life. And I love chunky soups!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacqui

I like the addition of the cocoa powder....a comforting soup seems to be the perfect antidote.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna @ the shady pine

This looks great and I for sure plan to make it. Who ever thought to add squash to black bean soup! Superb!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

I love everything about this post. The story and the soup! I've been thinking a lot about how I spend my time lately. I feel you!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShauna

Sara - gorgeous stew and sentiment. You made me miss my grandma. ;)

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

ooh, the cocoa is such creative and exciting idea! Can't wait to try it out.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeanine

Grandmas really should rule the world, it'll make it a much better place. You have just bought everything that I'vee been needing to use up in the kitchen. will definatly do this tomorrow. can't wait.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarah

I'm in love with this recipe... as people have mentioned, the cocoa is a nice touch. I'm all about that butternut squash, which looks a lot like a naked body. Hooooot (that's hot, not hoot :-))

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian @ A Thought For Food

Two of my favorite things... in one pot... with cabbage! You are so smart. Thank you! Cannot wait to try it, especially since we have completely worn out our last favorite chunky butternut squash soup. :)

I could really dig into this. Thanks for the great recipe.

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

Just made this tonight and it was divine! Thanks for the delicious recipe. :)

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Such a sweet reminder of what to really appreciate in life. <3

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMollie

that looks sooo delicious!

January 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJasmin

The soup looks utterly heavenly. So filling and warming. And love the idea of avocado for garnish. Divine.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSkye (Skye Loves...)

I loved this story from the moment I saw your tweet about it :) But I like the extended version. Thinking of your grandma taking all day to get ready makes me a little teary-eyed; so sweet.

And yet somehow you make the chunky soup "a looker". Impressive :)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I simply love this story. It's a good reminder to us all that when we look back on our lives someday, it's not going to be on the "stuff" we acquired but the people and experiences in our lives. We all have to slow down and appreciate the moment more. We tend to rush around thinking of the next thing that needs to get crossed off our list.

This soup looks like something I would slow down to savor and take my time eating. I love thick and hearty stews and soups.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjackie @ marin mama cooks

I so enjoyed reading about your grandma and her life. I'm very close with my grandparents and they are a continued source of inspiration, calm, advice, love, laughter & happiness in my life. :)

Oh, and your soup looks great too!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDessertForTwo

Thanks for posting this! I too run around trying to cross things off lists thinking that I always have to be productive and accomplish a lot. But I think that the most enjoyable days are those when I am not on a schedule and just go with the flow, even if that means taking a nap or lounging around all day. As for the soup, it looks divine and I can't wait to try it!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

The garnishes you chose are so perfect. I love the crispy tortilla idea!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkale @ tastes good to me!

Absolutely wonderful post, (and great recipe too). Makes me nostalgic for the times I spent with my grandparents. And hungry for soup. Thanks for sharing.

Ooh - black bean and butternut? novel!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermodernworkinggirl

Wow, this recipe looks wonderful, and your pictures are AMAZING!!!! Such a beautiful post, especially considering chunky soups, as you say, aren't usually the most photogenic. :-)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily (Edible Psychology)

looks sooo delicious! a must try!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlechow

The recipe looks delicious, and the post is so thoughtful. Makes me remember time spent with my grandmother, who passed when I was in college. I am the same way, I always qualify my day with how many tasks I accomplish, and if I don't, I feel guilty. It can be hard to change your point of view and stop and enjoy life a little with all of the pressures in modern society.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynell

Very beautiful. I adore the butternut squash black bean combo. I make a side dish with mexican flavors with this combo.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

Yum, what a perfect winter-y stew! I love the combination of squash & beans. So hearty and warming!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Cozy Herbivore

it's so funny how wrapped up we can get in today's obsession with accomplishments. i'm completely the same. i somehow feel defeated if i've "wasted" time doing something leisurely and enjoyable instead of tackling that long list of to-dos that never seems to get any shorter. thanks for the reality check. maybe i need to go visit my grandma...

this soup looks amazing. i'm going to make a pot of it this weekend to see us through what looks to be a dark and stormy forecast. thanks for the continued inspiration in the kitchen, through the lens, and in life. you just get better and better. xo...

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersamantha jillian

love this post. love what you said about your sweet grandmother. there are so many days i wake up thinking... maybe when i'm older i wouldn't worry so much about this or that. its a good perspective our grandmothers give us uh? thank you for sharing - this dish looks divine!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrobyn

Oooo I hate the 'growing the hair out' stage. So awkward. It makes me feel like everything else in life is in that weird limbo phase. :P Thank you for sharing these thoughts about your grandmother. She sounds like a fantastic lady :) I love how you two spent the day together. My father is the same way when he reminisces about earlier years. Sometimes I feel like I need to put "#5. Take time out!" on my list just to remind myself to balance out between being busy and taking a breather. Funny how we define a successful day isn't it?! Well, as always, the dish looks divine. And that's the best lookin' 'chunky soup' I've ever seen! ;)

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYumi

The chunks of butternut squash floating in the soup look just divine. How nice that you got to spend the evening with your grandma!

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

[...] Beautiful photos, Beautiful soup! [...]

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterI love lists, Friday! ›

mmm, I love black bean soup and butternut squash soup but never tried the two together. This looks great!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNatsumi

Your words made me miss my grandmother something awful. I wish I could take her out on the town and enjoy an evening with her. I never seem to knock off as many to do items in one day as I feel I should, and I'm beginning to think that my expectations are unrealistic. Thank you for reminding me of what is truly important. Older and wiser generations are always quick to remind us of that.

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCookie and Kate

Another great combination. I love the look of this seasonal soup!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay @

This dish looks both healthful and hearty--warm and comforting for the damp weather we've been having here, but full of energy, with just a touch of spring in its forward-looking step. A wind-down dish at the end of a busy day, or a meal to get you started tackling that to-do list after lunch. Can't wait to make it!

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCalantha

I pinned this on my Recipes I want to try board, and I can't wait to make it. It sounds delicious!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Texas Peach

What a great idea to pour this comforting soup over quinoa. This soup looks delicious! And your photos, amazing!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie {Epicurean Mom Blog}

When does your book come out? Can't wait!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

Oh yum, this looks great! I especially love those tortilla crispies, must make!

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGaby

@Kristen - fall of this year! I don't have an exact date yet, but I'll keep you guys posted! Thanks :)

January 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara

[...] bisque that will do the trick. Or, a classic lamb chop dish that is sure to please. Or, a lovely butternut and black bean soup will warm you [...]

This looks delicious. And the photos are stunning as always!

January 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenice

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