- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A good friend of ours, who lives in Washington, is the author of a new and well-received book on the history of American women writers. She’s in demand on the lecture circuit and will be stopping in our area to talk at a local college.

When we learned this news, we invited her and her husband to stay with us overnight. They’ll be arriving on a Friday, and although I had planned the menu for a small celebration dinner that evening, I also needed to decide what to serve for lunch the next day before our pals departed.

I was searching for something simple that could be prepared ahead, and pulled out a recipe that an assistant had created and sent to me a few days earlier. It was for Colorado chicken soup with black beans and pepitas. The talented cook had been visiting her son and daughter-in-law who work on the ski slopes in Colorado, and while there had developed this potage to serve when the children returned home after a long day outdoors.

It’s made by simmering sauteed onions, carrots and celery in a chicken and tomato broth along with seasonings of smoked paprika, cumin and oregano. Shredded chicken (from a purchased rotisserie bird), black beans and corn round out this potage’s ingredients.

Each serving is topped with an unusual garnish of toasted pumpkin seeds known as pepitas and cilantro that are minced together in a food processor (like a pesto but without any oil). Once I prepared this dish, I was won over. The recipe calls for many convenience products, but the results are a delicious, beautifully seasoned soup that bursts with flavor.

To round out lunch, there will be a salad of greens tossed in a lime and olive oil dressing, crusty bread, and a platter of homemade cookies for dessert. Although I think this is an ideal recipe to serve when entertaining weekend company, I am also counting on using it in other ways. The soup could anchor a light meal before or after a movie or star as the main course for a fireside supper.

Colorado chicken soup with black beans and pepitas

Makes 6 servings.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup diced celery, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/2 cup diced carrots, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

2 large cloves garlic, minced

6 cups chicken stock

28-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices

A 4- to 4 1/2 ounce can chopped mild green chilies and any liquid

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (mild not hot, see note)

4 cups shredded cooked chicken (see note)

15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups frozen corn kernels, defrosted and patted dry

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds; see note)

1/3 cup packed cilantro leaves

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add onions, celery, carrots and garlic, and saute until vegetables are slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, chilis, oregano, cumin and smoked paprika. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cook at a simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken, black beans and corn, and simmer 5 minutes more. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as needed. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate.)

Place pepitas and cilantro in a food processor and pulse until finely minced, scraping the bowl as needed.

To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls and top with a generous spoonful or more of the pepita mixture.

Note: Use a good quality rotisserie chicken from your local supermarket. A 1 3/4 to 2 pound chicken will yield 4 cups white and dark meat. Pull meat off bones and shred or cut into thin strips.

Note: Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are available in some supermarkets and in health food stores. If you can’t find roasted pepitas, place seeds in a skillet set over medium heat and cook and stir until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Seeds might pop while they are cooking. Watch carefully so they do not burn.

Note: Smoked paprika - pimenton from Spain (the mildest is marked “dulce”) - can be found in gourmet stores and in supermarkets or from Web sites such as www.tienda.com.

• Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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