Black Bean Soup

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Black Bean Soup Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 8 cups. Serves 6.

Prep the onion, sweet potato, carrot, celery, garlic, and red bell pepper while the beans are cooking in step 1.


  • 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 (2 cups)
  • 1 medium sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (2 cups, chopped) (can substitute 2 large carrots)
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine (1/2 cup)
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine (1/2 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chile powder
  • 2 cups chicken stock (add 2 teaspoons of salt if using unsalted stock)
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp lime juice (can substitute lemon juice)
  • Salt
  • 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 While the beans are cooking, 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, carrot, 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 Once the beans are tender, 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.) Or use an immersion blender to purée just half of the soup.

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.

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Showing 4 of 72 Comments

  • A reader

    Black bean soup is different from black beans and rice. For the soup, the celery and sweet potato add incredible amounts of fiber and vitamins making this a very restorative soup.

  • It's almost winter

    I don’t soak the black beans. I pick them over for debris and rinse them and then just cook them in the appropriate amount of water. It takes longer, of course, but I like the color of the beans better this way.

    Also, I grate the sweet potato and sometimes grate the onion.

  • Christine

    Katy, the soaking doesn’t make any dried bean soft. Dried beans, after soaking, usually take about 30-45 minutes of cooking on a simmer. I tried cooking black beans once without soaking overnight, and *that* took hours. I hope you tried again with beans that are pre-bagged in the legume section. Once you experience beans this way, you will never want to go back to canned. Especially garbanzos–what a difference in flavor and texture. I definitely feel it’s worth the time. . . . I’m trying this recipe for the first time today. Just started the soak at 6:30 in the morning.

  • Meredith

    Made this for the first time today and can’t wait to eat it tomorrow! One question – I read the recipe several times and don’t see when I should have put the carrots in? I ended up adding them with the bell pepper because I looked at my counter and thought “uh oh, the carrots probably should have gone in with the other root veggies…” Can you please clarify for next time – since I already know there will be a next time!

  • Carolyn

    Elise, this soup was really, really good. I doubled the recipe and subbed carrots for the sweet potato. I ate it for work lunch for a few days and froze the rest. I love black bean soup, but have never found a recipe that fits me. Yum! As always thanks for the great food!

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