It’s been a long winter, but finally spring seems to have taken over. The air is warming up as the thick April rainclouds descend, and Easter candy is on sale at the drugstore. As we say goodbye to the cold, here’s one more thick-and-hearty soup to give it a proper farewell.
I was initially going to use a long-bookmarked recipe for Cuban black bean soup as an excuse to (finally) inaugurate the slow cooker I bought last year. But when I eventually got around to taking it out of the box, I discovered that there wasn’t enough counter space for it in my small kitchen, and no unoccupied outlet near enough to plug it in. So my little slow-cooker is sitting, unloved, in a corner until I figure out what to do with it. (It doesn’t help that I’m actually a bit scared of slow-cookery, having never done it in my life. But that’s a story for another day.)
So I made this soup the old-fashioned way, burbling and steaming in a pot on a back burner while I lounged on the couch with my laptop and a mug of tea. It took less time than I expected for the beans to turn from hard and bouncy to soft and spoon-mashable, and then to start rupturing and giving up their muddy starchiness to the soup. In about three hours, what began as a mess of beans and vegetables turned into a creamy black pool studded with red and green bell pepper skins. The real surprise, though, is an enormous splash of vinegar stirred in right at the end; it seems like a lot, but rather than make the soup brassy and acidic, the vinegar somehow intensifies the sweetness of the beans and the peppers. Add a swirl of sour cream (or, in my case, full-fat Greek yogurt) and a torn handful of cilantro, and presto: a smoky-starchy comfort food meal in a bowl.
I decided to keep this one meatless, but it’s certainly not a requirement. The recipe I adapted calls for a ham hock, which would be a gorgeous and indulgent addition if you can get your hands on one. If you’re not inclined to chase down a bone, though, you could decrease the initial dose of oil to 1 tbsp and render a few chopped-up strips of bacon to cook the vegetables in.
Oh, and, of course, this is yet another recipe that benefits from a long hibernation. Make a lot, freeze a lot. Even in April, there are plenty of rainy nights that call for soup.
Cuban Black Bean Soup (serves 6-8)
Adapted from The Kitchn
Note: You can adjust the amount of water depending on whether you like a thicker or thinner soup. If you decide during cooking that the soup is getting too thick, just add a little more water.
1 lb dried black beans, rinsed and picked over for stones
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium white or yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 – 2 quarts water, or enough to cover the beans by an inch or two
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, or to taste
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime’s worth)
Sour cream, crema, or Greek yogurt for finishing the soup (optional)
Chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish
Place the beans in a large bowl with cold water to cover. Soak the beans overnight, then drain and rinse them.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, green and red bell peppers, and a pinch of salt, and sweat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is starting to turn translucent. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano, and saute for another 30 seconds to a minute. Add water, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, bay leaf, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine.
Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, skimming off any white foam that comes to the surface. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 3-4 hours, checking every hour or so, until the beans have started to break down and the soup is creamy and thick. If the beans start to get too thick or dry before they’ve softened completely, add more water, a cup at a time.
When the beans are the right consistency, stir in vinegar and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until the flavors have melded. Stir in lime juice. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each bowl with a swirl of sour cream or yogurt (if desired). Sprinkle with chopped cilantro or parsley, and serve warm. Leftover soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for about 4 days, or frozen for 4-6 months.