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Easy Black Bean Soup

When friends express concern over cooking dinner for us, thinking that our diet must be terribly exotic and exciting, I usually make a joke about how we actually just eat a lot of beans and rice. While that may be a slight exaggeration, we do, in fact, cook up a pot of beans almost every week.

I don’t usually have anything specific in mind when I start the long simmer to tender bean perfection. And that’s the beauty of it. A pot of beans is a well of potential. They can be cooked with aromatics for a side dish, refried for tacos or burritos, drained and sauteed with other vegetables, added to a salad, turned into a dip, or consumed in dozens of other ways.

Almost every culture has a bean heritage to draw inspiration from--the Japanese have devised more ways of eating the soybean than you can shake a stick at; in India, dal transforms beans of every ilk into a creamy, intensely savory stew; in the American south, field peas and pinto beans are as revered as cornbread (and often served alongside). Discerning why beans are so important to so many cultures would be marvelous fodder for a food studies graduate student, but the reason I adore them is their incredible versatility.

Black bean soup is nothing new, and this one isn’t going to awe you with a surprising twist or “secret” ingredient. This is a pretty pared down recipe--I like the beans to stand alone, and for something like this, the garnishes are really where it’s at. My favorites are avocado and salsa, but scallions, crushed tortilla chips, chopped red onion, and sour cream are excellent as well.

Other bean dishes you might enjoy: Fennel and White Bean Salad, Pasta e Fagioli, Vegan Chili

Easy Black Bean Soup
4 to 6 servings

Soak overnight:
     1 pound black beans
The next day, bring the beans to a simmer in their soaking water (if you prefer, you can discard the soaking water and cover with fresh water, but I’ve never noticed a difference). Simmer, partially covered, until completely tender. Watch out for foaming with black beans--if boiled, they can foam up dramatically and overflow the pot.
In a soup pot, heat over medium heat:
     2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Add and cook until softened, about 5 minutes:
     1 large onion, chopped
Add and cook for another minute or so:
     4 cloves garlic, minced
     2 serrano peppers, seeded if desired, and minced
     1 teaspoon ground cumin
     1 teaspoon dried oregano (if possible, use Mexican oregano)
     1 teaspoon salt

Add the cooked beans and their liquid to the pot. There should be enough liquid to cover the beans but not so much that they are very watery. The exact amount isn’t as important as the consistency. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for 15 minutes. Remove a ladleful of beans to a small bowl and mash them with a fork. Stir back into the soup and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste the soup and season with salt. Serve in bowls with:
     Sliced avocado
     Hot sauce (our favorite is Valentina)
     Lime juice

Make it faster: I like to think that most things worth having are worth taking a little time on, but I get it--you’re in a hurry, and this is dinner. You can always use canned black beans for this recipe. Simply substitute 4 cans of black beans for the dried and add enough water to cover. Using canned beans definitely puts this recipe in the “30 minutes or less” category.


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