Black Bean Soup

Black Bean SoupTwice a year, in the fall and spring, I try to limit new grocery purchases and instead try to create as many meals as possible from the ingredients in my kitchen.  This is a time for checking expiration dates, using up small portions of things like barley and lentils, and cleaning out the freezer.

Dried Black BeansThe first days of this project are always easy.  I discover pheasant in the freezer and I have apple and bacon on hand to make it an elegant roasted meal.  I find a Ziploc bag of frozen spaghetti sauce stuffed in the bottom basket destined to be paired with the half box of rigatoni in my pantry.

Mirepoix for SoupThen, just when I can see the shelves in my freezer again, things get a little trickier.   Almost 10 lbs of pork, chicken, and lamb bones become a hearty stock for a warm bowl of ramen and more pheasant (are they breeding in these frigid temps?) means a slow-simmering pot on the stove with canned tomatoes, white beans, and plenty of garlic.

Now I’m left with a half-eaten pint of strawberry ice cream with just a hint of freezer burn, some frozen peas (hopefully baby will become a fan again), and two ham hocks.  Ham hocks, despite the wonderfully smoky flavor they impart, do not a meal for many make, but add them to a pot of simmering beans along with some onions, green bell pepper, celery, garlic, and some leftover red wine and you’ll have a say-goodby-to-winter soup and a cleaner pantry in the process.

While you might be tempted to use canned beans instead of dried for this soup, I don’t recommend it.  Dried beans require advanced preparation, but the time needed to slowly simmer the beans is what gives this soup its richness and depth of flavor.  Can’t help but procrastinate?  While I prefer to soak my beans overnight, I’ve included instructions for the quick-soak method below.

Ham hocks are smoked pig ankles.  Before you turn up your nose, think carefully about whether you are willing to forgo the smoky taste and body they give this soup.  Removed after cooking, you don’t actually serve the ham hocks although I can’t imagine making this soup without them.   Here in the South, smoked ham hocks are staples in any grocery store, but if you have trouble finding them use a few slices of thick-cut bacon in a pinch.  Black Bean Soup 2

And lastly, the pictures of the finished soup were from my lunch and while the soup was delicious, the addition of cilantro, lime juice, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to the bell pepper mixture for dinner took this soup to the next level and I’ll never serve it another way.   Be sure to make plenty of the basic salsa as it is delicious heaped atop the soup and then swirled in with the sour cream for some texture and fresh crunch in each spoonful.  Happy cooking!

Black Bean Soup – Printer Friendly Recipe
Serves 4

I enjoyed this soup with a dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of the bell pepper and red onion mixture for lunch. For dinner, I added two tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, a little lime juice, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to the bell pepper and onion mixture for a Latin-inspired twist.  Lunch was good, dinner was how this soup is supposed to be served.

For the soup:
2 cups dried black (turtle) beans, picked over and rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 smoked ham hock or 4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 cup dry red wine
7 cups water, more as needed
1 bay leaf
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Ground red cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

For salsa garnish:
½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ orange bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ of a large red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Sour cream

Cover the beans with 4-inches of water and let soak in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours and as long as overnight.   If short on time, use the quick-soak method described below.

To quick-soak beans, place beans in a medium saucepan and cover with 2-inches of water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and cover. Let sit for 1 hour then use as directed.

Drain the beans after soaking.   Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and green bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until vegetables soften and just begin to brown (about 6 to 8 minutes).   Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the drained black beans and add the red wine. Cook, stirring as needed, until the wine reduces by half. Add the water, the ham hock and bay leaf and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 hours or until the beans are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne and let simmer for another 15 minutes.

While the beans are simmering, combine the orange and red bell pepper, chopped red onion and cilantro in a small bowl. Stir in lime juice, olive oil and salt based upon your personal preference. Refrigerate the pepper-onion mixture until ready to serve.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, return it to the pot and simmer until the desired consistency is achieved. Adjust seasonings as needed; I found that I needed to add salt and freshly ground black pepper generously. Serve the soup hot with a dollop of sour cream and a heaping spoonful of the bell pepper salsa. Enjoy!

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