I do occasionally tire of our old standby recipes, and such is the case with my tried-and-true Brazilian Black Beans from The Joy of Cooking. The last time I made them — a few months ago — I knew I had worn out their welcome on my taste buds. The very thing that I loved about them — their citrus-y sweetness from the orange juice — became too much, too heavy-handed. It hit me like that piece of broccoli in my salad, the one I had to spit out, when I had my very first inklings of morning sickness in my first pregnancy; what I was eating was offensive, in a way it had never been before (but in case you’re wondering, I did not spit out the black beans — I figure spitting out food is something that should be reserved for infants and pregnant women).
I do think (or hope) I’ll someday return to my beloved black bean recipe. But for now, we need a break, so I went searching for something else to do with a pound of black turtle beans. I had a meaty ham bone in my freezer, leftover from the in-law’s at Christmas, and it didn’t take long browsing Cook’s Illustrated to find a recipe that would be a good starting point.
This was a delicious soup. Surprisingly complex, thanks in part to the ham, but also due to the use of homemade chicken stock (you can, in a pinch, use canned broth, which the original recipe called for). Since the beans cook in two stages, it’s not a throw-together recipe; but worth the extra step, since it helps make the beans really tender and flavorful without turning to total mush. If you don’t have a ham bone, you can substitute 4 oz. of smoked ham steak (or a thick slab of high-quality sliced ham). And don’t be shy with the toppings — they add a lot to the final dish.
My recipe is adapted from this one at cooksillustrated.com; I’ve made a couple substitutions and withheld the addition of salt until the end (salt will cause beans to toughen if added before they are tender — and this has happened every time I’ve added salt early, so I’m always flummoxed when recipes call for cooking beans with salt). I also added an overnight soak, with lemon juice, as this makes the beans much more easy to digest. Though I haven’t yet tried, there’s no reason it wouldn’t freeze well (and will keep in the refrigerator for a few days).
Black Bean Soup with Ham
For soaking beans:
- 1 pound (2 cups) dried black beans (I actually used 2 1/2 cups to finish a bag and it worked well)
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- warm water
In a large bowl, combine the dried beans and enough warm water to cover by about 2″. Add the lemon juice, and stir once or twice to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. Drain the beans, rinse well, and proceed with recipe.
For pre-cooking beans:
- soaked black beans
- one meaty ham bone, or about 4 oz. thick-sliced ham (or ham steak)
- 5 cups water
- 1 large bay leaf, torn in half
- 1/8 tsp baking soda (this helps the beans retain their color)
Combine soaked, rinsed beans with the rest of the above ingredients in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming the foam from the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the beans are tender (but not falling apart). Add an extra half cup water if necessary to keep beans covered until they are finished cooking. Discard bay leaf. Remove the ham bone or steak (the beans will have colored it black), and reserve. Pour beans (with their cooking water) into a large bowl and set aside.
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 5-6 medium cloves garlic, minced (1 1/2 Tbsp)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
- 6 cups chicken stock (or low-sodium canned chicken broth)
- 2 Tbsp corn starch (or tapioca starch)
- 2 Tbsp water
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
In the same pot you cooked your beans (no need to wash, but make sure it’s dry or your oil will pop as it heats), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and cumin, and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the beans and their liquid, and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer 30 minutes.
To finish the soup: In a blender or food processor, ladle 1 1/2 cups of the beans and 2 cups of the liquid. Blend or process until smooth, then return to the pot. In a small cup, stir together the water and cornstarch; add half of this to the soup and let simmer a few minutes. If the soup is not thick enough, add the rest of the cornstarch mixture and let simmer another minute. Chop the reserved ham into 1/4-inch pieces, and add to the soup along with the lime juice (off-heat). Taste for seasoning.
We topped ours with avocado, finely chopped red onion, and a drizzle of plain whole-milk yogurt. Other options are chopped fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and sour cream. Serve immediately.