So I really like black beans. There was a time in my life when I would cook up a pot of black beans regularly. I’d use them in tacos or burritos, mix in white rice, and even make up a little soup. I like to use them in place of other beans. I mean, come on who really likes the kidney beans in chili? *
I can’t remember where I first ate black bean soup, but I vividly recall the experience. It was a small hot bowl, almost bittersweet chocolate in color. The taste was savory and spicy with just a bit of lime. It wasn’t totally smooth, but had whole beans swimming in the thick beany broth.
The deal sealer with black bean soup are the garnishes. In the same way as a good chili, you need to top black bean soup with something. Preferably many somethings. This restaurant topped the soup with a scoop of steamed white rice. It was amazing. It is the flavor of that soup that I chase when I make my own recipes today.
This recipe below also busts a myth or two. You really don’t need to soak beans before you cook them. I still will soak beans if I think about it, but often I just cook up black beans for soup and it’s just fine. Also, I added salt relatively early in the cooking process and again it was just fine. I know some claim that salt inhibits the cooking process with beans, but I haven’t had that experience, and by adding salt your beans aren’t blah.
For the Beans
1# black beans
1 ham hock
2 bay leaves
6 cups of water
1/8 t baking soda
1 t salt
For the Soup
3 T olive oil
1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 red pepper
2 large cloves garlic
½ t red pepper flakes, I may have used a bit more, so to taste
1 ½ T ground cumin
½ c chopped tomatoes (I used some larger pieces from a jar I canned last fall)
4 cups chicken broth
Cooked white rice
How to do it
Start by combining all the bean ingredients except the salt in a nice sized Dutch oven. Turn it up and get a good boil going over medium heat. Stir in salt and lower the heat to a peppy simmer. Simmer covered until the beans are tender. Mine took about 90 minutes, but check them. Also, keep track of the water. If it starts to get low add another cup. When the beans are tender, I put everything in a large bowl, remove the hock and the bay. When the hock is cooled, remove the meat and chop it up to add back in.
Wipe the dutch oven clean with a paper towel. Toss the oil in the pan and heat over medium high. Add the onion, carrot, pepper to the pan and stir occasionally. You’ll cook them until they are very soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin to the pan, stirring frequently until fragrant maybe a minute or two. Add the beans, cooking liquid, tomatoes, hock meat, and chicken broth to the pan and adjust the heat so you get a nice boil, then lower to a simmer for about a half hour so the flavors can combine.
When it seems ready, take 3-4 cups of the soup and put it in the container that held my homemade stock. You want something tall, so you can whip out your immersion blender and frappe the soup into a smooth thickener. Once it’s smooth, add it back to the pot and you should have a slightly thickened bean soup that still had whole beans and bits of veggies.
Then you’re done. This soup is very close to what I remember from that soup that got me hooked. It is just a little thick, but still silky with a depth of flavor that has just a bit of heat. Don’t forget when you serve it to have a little assembly of garnishes. Your guests will love customizing their own bowls with various add ons. Let’s be honest, people usually hop up their chili until it’s more garnishes than actual chili, and that’s how it should be.
Suggested beverage: Malbec or a Pale Ale.
* Answer is no one. Kidney beans are gross.