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.