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different kinds of winter

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

sautéing vegetables

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
[print recipe]
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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8 nibbles at “different kinds of winter”

  1. Kristin says:

    Mmmm, it looks delicious! Sometimes I am lazy & use canned beans, but the texture & flavor are sooo much better when you cook your own. I haven’t tried bb soup with a touch of sherry, but do love lentil with red wine vinegar, so I am really looking forward to trying this!

  2. Brianne says:

    I really like the idea of only pureeing some of the beans. This looks like a great mix of textures and also an awesome way to warm up. There’s no way I would make it through a winter with that much wind; I am too much of a baby!

  3. Lisa @ Je suis alimentageuse says:

    Mmm these flavours look like Brazil in a bowl =) Do you have any suggestions for how to cook beans without a pressure cooker? I have a crock pot and a regular pot, but no pressure cooker =P

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Looks fabulous! Just this year I began cooking dried beans in my crock pot. It’s incredibly easy and the beans come out beautifully. They can be cooked overnight or during the day — it takes about 5-6 hours for black beans. I cook a batch and keep them in my fridge all week — if there are any left by the weekend, I make soup. Yum!

  5. swan says:

    jen! HI! i have everything but sherry–can i use chardonnay? happy new year–xo xo..HI KAWEAH!!!!!

  6. jill says:

    Nom nom…..looks like a winner dinner. Love your glassware!

  7. Irmi says:

    Thank you so much for this stunning recipe! The soup is great – really warming up when it’s cold outside and snowing, like now. You feel so warm and comfortable… – I added a good amount of cayenne, I wanted it a bit hot. And I tried it in three versions: One pure (without the sherry), one with sherry as you suggested and a third one with lemon juice instead of sherry. The last I liked best, although I like all the three of them.

    Thanks a lot again – I’m looking forward for tomorrow to get the rest of it and I sureley will make it again!

    Take care of you, Jen.

  8. jenyu says:

    Kristin – it’s true. I use canned beans if I didn’t plan ahead or in a pinch, but your own cooked beans are always going to be so much better,.

    Brianne – Sometimes I wonder if I can make it through with this much wind. It makes me crazy sometimes!

    Lisa – Yes, I have instructions in the recipe for cooking them stove-top in addition to pressure cooker.

    Elizabeth – Sounds great! I can’t get the beans to the right texture in my slow cooker (hence the pressure cooker) at my elevation, but yes – a slow cooker is a fantastic option if you aren’t too high above sea level!

    swan – I’m sure you could use anything in the wine or vinegar family.

    jill – :)

    Irmi – Wow, thanks for testing all those versions! I’ll have to try it with lemon juice!

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