As some of you may be aware, California has been hit with some stormy weather recently. We warm-weather low-landers don’t do cold and wet too well and for the last several days of rainy and cold I’ve been craving some hot, hearty, black bean soup. I love black bean soup thick, almost stew-like; if you like yours thinner, feel free to add water or more chicken stock to this recipe. Soup like this is mostly an improvisation. The foundation ingredients are the black beans, the smoked ham hock, the onions, and the spices. But even the ham hock you could substitute with some good bacon. Starting out with dry beans means that you can cook them (after a good soaking) for a long time with the smokey ham, allowing the flavor to really infuse the beans. Do you have a favorite way of preparing black bean soup? If so, please let us know in the comments.
- 1 pound dried black beans (about 2 cups), rinsed, soaked in 4 quarts of water overnight or 6 hours, drained
- 1 lb smoked ham hock or shank
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 cups water
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped fine
- 1 medium sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (can substitute 2 large carrots)
- 1/2 carrot, chopped fine
- 1 celery rib, chopped fine
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chile powder
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 Tbsp molasses
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 3 to 4 Tbsp lime juice (can substitute lemon juice)
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Sour cream
- Avocado, peeled and chopped
1 Place beans and ham hock in a 4-quart, thick-bottomed pot. Add 5 cups water, bay leaves, salt and baking soda. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let cook 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, until beans are tender. Remove bay leaves. Remove ham hock from the pot. Cut ham meat away from the bone and cut into small, bite-sized pieces, set aside.
2 Heat olive oil in a large 8-quart thick-bottomed pot on medium high until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Add the onions, celery, sweet potato and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and softened, about 10-15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add the cumin, chili powder, and garlic, cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
3 Add the beans, their cooking liquid, chicken stock, molasses, and bell pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.
4 Remove 4 cups of the soup (about half of it) to a blender. Purée until smooth and return to the pot of soup. (You may need to purée the soup in smaller portions, depending on the size of your blender. Don't fill the blender more than half way at a time and hold the lid while blending.) Add back the ham pieces to the soup. Add 3 Tbsp of lime juice. Adjust seasonings. If on the sweet side, add a bit more lime juice. Salt to taste.
Serve with garnishes.
Note that the soup may continue to thicken. If you would like it thinner, just add some water to desired consistency.