Black bean soup is the perfect blend of pragmatic and sexy. Black beans may be cheap and robust and there is no shyness to their flavor or definitive color – but they have a nutty subtlety that intrigues and keeps you coming back for more and wanting to try it new ways. They are happy in the company of the spicy as well as the subdued. Try this basic recipe first (it is broken down into easy steps, so it only looks long) and then start ad-libbing and improvising according to your tastes. Black beans are very sociable and get along with all sorts of flavors!
Black Bean Soup (with vegetarian options)
2 oz salt pork in a single piece, scored – don’t cut through as you will remove it (skip if doing vegetarian soup)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup cubanelle or green bell pepper, minced (may mix or substitute with red pepper. Cubanelles are the pale green cooking pepper, sometimes called Italian cooking peppers)
6 culantro leaves, minced (if available. If fresh from the garden, 2-3 leaves should be enough. If you can’t find it, skip or add parsley)
1 Tbs cilantro, chopped (plus another Tbs chopped and reserved for garnish)
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced (about ½ cup)
2-3 stalks celery, diced (about ½ cup)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbs oregano (2 Tbs if fresh)
1 tsp cumin powder
2 Cups black beans from dried (soaked overnight, water replaced in the morning and simmered for two hours in the afternoon) OR two 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained.
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a soup pot. Add salt pork and sauté until it has rendered much of the fat. Remove the salt pork and discard. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and warm it. One at a time, stirring to coat, add onion, garlic, peppers, culantro (recao), and cilantro. Saute at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
When the sofrito elements are translucent and limp, add the vegetables and stir to coat and cook till somewhat tender.
BROTH AND BEANS
Add broth and heat to boiling. If using soaked beans, add at this time with remaining spices and cook for 15-20 minutes, until tender. If using beans from a can, first cook broth and vegetables for 15 minutes, then add beans and cook for another five minutes.
(Optional finishing touches: Some folks, Cubans in particular, like to add a couple of teaspoons of red wine vinegar at the end to finish. You may like to serve with sliced or chopped avocado, dressed with a bit of red onion, squeeze of lime and salt. You can also serve over rice. I like to garnish with finely minced red onion, cilantro, and/or finely chopped hard-boiled egg. Sriracha is my current favorite hot sauce, but any hot pepper based hot sauce will spike this up nicely)