When I was a kid, we lived in Miami, and we had a Cuban neighbor whom I now only remember as "Mrs. Garcia." She had arrived in Miami via boat from Cuba, and I don't know where she is now, but she gave my mother her recipe for black bean soup, which I still use to this day. So wherever you are, Mrs. Garcia, thank you for this recipe. It has ruined me for all other black bean soups; nothing I've had in Cuban restaurants matches up to this.
While the ingredient list and preparation time of this classic soup are both short, the soup itself takes several hours to cook and the beans have to be soaked overnight, so I think this is best made on the weekend, when you'll be home all day to stir and season the soup as it cooks. It fills the house with a wonderful aroma, too, which is a bonus.
And last but not least: The vinegar is the secret ingredient; it makes the soup more creamy and gives it a little "tang."
I love black bean soup, so I had been meaning to try this recipe of Kathryn's for a long time. Black bean soup reminds me of my years living in Florida, where soups like this one were menu staples of many of the restaurants in my neighborhood.
This soup does not disappoint. It has the depth of flavor that beans develop as they cook, slowly — not to mention the richness from a ham hock slowly falling apart in the pot. The soup was extremely easy and quick to prepare — it took me 5 minutes to refill the bean pot and add the vegetables. It cooked, long and slow, and covered with a lid so I didn't even have to worry about the water boiling off.
The result was an irresistibly creamy soup — and a lot of it! This is one to make, eat for two days, and then freeze as a little care package for your future self. - Faith
Mrs. Garcia's Black Bean SoupServes 8 or more
1 pound dried black beans
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ham bone or smoked ham hock
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1/3 cup white or cider vinegar
Chopped raw onion
Chopped red pepper
The night before cooking the soup, place beans in a colander and wash them with cold running water. Pick out any rocks or beans that are broken or shriveled. Put the beans in a large (4 quarts or larger) Dutch oven or soup pot with a lid and cover with enough cold water so that it comes to one inch over the top of the beans. Soak overnight.
The next day, drain the water out of the pot and refill with clean cold water. Add enough water so that it comes an inch above the beans. Stir in the chopped onion, pepper, and garlic. Add the ham bone or hock, and stir in the olive oil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a generous quantity of black pepper.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any white foam, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 4 to 5 hours, until the beans are very soft and the soup is creamy, not watery. Check after 2 hours. If the beans seem dry or stewy, add another cup of water. The final consistency should be velvety and thick, and the soup should coat the back of a spoon. (The beans will soften in the first two hours. The goal is to continue cooking the soup until some of the beans break down and create the smooth, thick soup base.)
Stir in the vinegar and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, uncovered.
Serve over rice (optional) and garnish with chopped raw onions and sour cream. Also, if you like, little bits of chopped chicharrónes can be garnished on top. Add some sweet fried plantains as a side dish!
This makes a large pot of soup, but it freezes very well.
(Recipe originally published 2009-10-12)
(Images: Faith Durand)