Black Bean Soup

February 12, 2011

Friday I took an inventory of our freezer, fridge, and pantry. The pantry especially has been getting quite full of odds and ends, and the produce drawer in the fridge is also stuffed with bits and pieces of leftover vegetables. Black bean soup was a perfect fit to use up leftover fresh ingredients and pantry items, since I didn’t need to go to the store to get anything additional! I really need to start planning weekly menus again so I’m not running to the store to pick up a couple things on every single one of my days off.

The whole recipe, including prep and simmering, only takes a little over 2 hours because the beans don’t have to be soaked overnight and the chopping/prep in steps 2 and 3 can be completed while the previous steps are simmering. My favorite garnishes are a little bit of red onion, cilantro, and sour cream, as you can see in the picture. Recipe is from the January 2005 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

Black bean soup

Serves 6

Note: Dried beans tend to cook unevenly, so be sure to taste several beans to determine their doneness in step 1. For efficiency, you can prepare the soup ingredients while the beans simmer and the garnishes while the soup simmers. Though you do not need to offer all of the garnishes listed, do choose at least a couple; garnishes are essential for this soup, as they add not only flavor but texture and color as well. Leftover soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 or 4 days; reheat it in a saucepan over medium heat until hot, stirring in additional chicken broth if it has thickened beyond your liking.



  • 1  pound (2 cups) dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 4  ounces ham steak, trimmed of rind
  • 2  bay leaves
  • 5  cups water
  • 1/8  teaspoon baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon table salt


  • 3  tablespoons olive oil
  • 2  large onions, chopped fine (about 3 cups)
  • 1  large carrot, peeled and chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3  medium celery ribs, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2  teaspoon table salt
  • 6  medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2  tablespoons ground cumin
  • 6  cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2  tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2  tablespoons water
  • 2  tablespoons juice from 1 to 2 limes


  • Lime wedges
  • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Finely diced red onion
  • Diced avocado
  • Sour cream


  1. For the beans: Place beans, ham steak, bay leaves, water, and baking soda in large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; using large spoon, skim foam as it rises to surface. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer briskly until beans are tender, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (if necessary, add another 1 cup water and continue to simmer until beans are tender); do not drain beans. Discard bay leaves. Remove ham steak (ham steak darkens to color of beans), cut into 1/4 inch cubes, and set aside.
  2. For the soup: Heat oil in 8-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking; add onions, carrot, celery, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic, pepper flakes, and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in beans, bean cooking liquid, and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 30 minutes.
  3. To finish the soup: Ladle 1 1/2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid into bowl of food processor or blender, process until mixture is smooth, and return to pot. Alternatively, leave soup in pot and puree beans and liquid with hand blender to desired thickness. Stir together comstarch and water in small bowl until combined, then gradually stir about half of cornstarch mixture into soup; bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, to fully thicken. If soup is still thinner than desired once boiling, stir remaining comstarch mixture to recombine and gradually stir mixture into soup; return soup to boil to fully thicken. Off heat, stir in lime juice and reserved ham cubes; ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately, passing garnishes separately.

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