Recipe: black bean soup
We’re back home on the Colorado Front Range where the weather seems unseasonably warm compared to Crested Butte. I know the whole country (except for California) was dogged by frigid winter weather for several days, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for us in the mountains. The thing is, Crested Butte has ruined me. It is my idea of perfect winter. The snow is fluffy and powdery, the temperatures are quite cold which preserves that nice powdery snow for a long time (in January, the average low is -8°F, but we measured as low as -22°F last week), there is a lot of sunshine, and there is no wind. Okay, they can get a little wind from time to time, but nothing like the winds that ravage us in Nederland and along the Front Range. So it’s a bit of an adjustment coming home to weather that feels so antagonistic at times.
there was decent snow in the trees
The wind is a real bitch here on the Front Range. But it makes you tough. Skiing ground blizzards, getting pummeled on the ski lift in gale force winds, navigating death cookies and busting wind slab – it all builds character. And then you have those blow outs where the winds have scoured bare ground right next to a 20 foot snowdrift. It makes the good days REALLY good, but winters here are not for dilettantes.
jeremy carries his skis across a giant blowout in 45 mph gusts
Once home our usual routine is to put the gear away, set the boots out to dry, remove sunblock, change into warm clothes, check that Kaweah is alive and well, and get something hot in our bellies. It doesn’t always go in that order (we usually check Kaweah first), but the need to warm up with a bowl of soup ranks high the moment we set foot in the house. I like to make a lot of soup and keep it handy in the refrigerator for these very occasions.
let’s start with black beans
black bean soup: pepper, olive oil, sherry, salt, cumin, oregano, onion, garlic, bell pepper, beans, chicken broth, tomato paste
The easy way to make this soup is to use canned black beans, but I love cooking dried beans because they’re economical, have a smaller carbon footprint, and taste fantastic. I avoided cooking dried beans for many years because they never cooked properly at such a high elevation – that is until I was gifted my wonderful pressure cooker. That was a game changer and instead of horrid mushy wasted bean sludge, I can now produce lovely silky creamy delicious beans. So I opted to pressure cook my beans. You can totally do it whichever way suits you best – I have instructions for conventional stove-top beans in the recipe too.
soak the beans overnight
drain the water off
place the beans, water, and a tablespoon of a neutral-flavored oil in the pressure cooker
While the beans cook, you can prep the rest of the ingredients. I added bacon to my soup because I had bacon left over from another recipe. I think a little bit can add a lot of flavor to a soup. If you don’t like bacon (really?!) or are vegetarian, then you can omit it and it’s no big deal. Oh, but if you’re vegetarian, you’ll want to swap vegetable broth for the chicken broth.
dice the pepper
minced garlic, diced onion, diced pepper
and beautiful bacon
Once the beans are done, make sure you reserve a cup of the bean liquid. If you are going the canned beans route, then save the liquid from the beans. Because the canned beans liquid has more sodium, you will likely add less salt to the soup at the end than if you use the cooking liquid. Start the soup by browning the bacon and adding some olive oil. If skipping the bacon, then start by heating olive oil in the pan so you can sauté the vegetables.
bean liquid and beans
adding olive oil to the cooked bacon
It will take about five minutes for the vegetables to soften. In the meantime, you can combine half of your black beans with the chicken broth and purée the mixture. Do this in a blender, a food processor, or use an immersion blender.
pouring the chicken broth into half the beans
adding spices and tomato paste to the vegetables
The soup comes together rather quickly once you start cooking. After the spices and tomato paste have a chance to mingle with the vegetables, the beans and bean purée are added and left to simmer for ten minutes. The final touch is to stir in the sherry and season with salt and pepper to taste. You could omit the sherry, but I think it adds a nice pick me up to the soup.
stir the beans in
pour the sherry
I like the chunks of vegetables and beans in this soup – it makes it feel more like a meal. But if you’re in favor of a smooth soup, go ahead and purée the whole thing. Smooth or chunky, the flavor is terrific and warming. I especially like topping the soup with some diced tomatoes and avocado (who doesn’t love precious avocado?). Some warm cornbread on the side and you have yourself a satisfying and delectable meal.
garnish with tomatoes and avocado
soup is where it’s at!
Black Bean Soup
from Fine Cooking
1 cup dry black beans OR 2 15-oz. cans of black beans with the liquid
3 thick slices of bacon, diced (optional)
3 tbsps olive oil (2 tbsps if using bacon)
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth (low sodium is recommended)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry sherry
Prepare the beans: If using dried beans, pick the beans over for rocks or other debris. Soak the beans overnight in a medium bowl covered with water a few inches above the beans. Drain the beans. If cooking the conventional way on the stove, place the beans in a large pot and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer, leaving the pot uncovered. Simmer for 1-2 hours until the beans are tender (add more water if it starts to get low and dry – you don’t want it to dry out). If using a pressure cooker, place the beans in the pressure cooker, add 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (something neutral to help reduce foaming). Lock the pressure cooker down and set to high (if you have a choice). Heat on high and let cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker naturally release (it naturally cools down which takes another 15-30 minutes). Reserve 1 cup of the bean liquid. If using canned beans, reserve the liquid from both cans.
Make the soup: Cook the bacon (if using) in a large stock pot on medium high heat. When the bacon is just crisp, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. If you aren’t using bacon, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot on medium high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic to the pan and sauté until soft. Purée HALF of the black beans and the chicken broth together in a blender or using an immersion blender. Stir the cumin and oregano into the sautéed vegetables and let cook for a minute. Stir the tomato paste into the vegetables until incorporated. Add the black bean purée, the remaining black beans, and the reserved bean liquid into the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Stir in the sherry and season with salt and pepper before serving. Serves 4.
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