Lively, hearty black bean soup with ham hocks
Lots of big flavors– cumin, garlic, celery, red bell pepper, tomatoes, jalapeño pepper, and smoked ham hock– blend into a satisfying soup with a Southwestern kick.
This has been a strange winter. But strange or not, it’s still winter, and that had me thinking soup. This soup started with a remembered ham hock not getting any younger in the freezer. My first thought was black-eyed peas, but there was also a bag of dried black beans in the pantry with similar faded youth issues. So black bean soup it was.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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The prolific Anonymous once said, “Success has many fathers, while failure is an orphan.” Black bean soup must be successful indeed. Its origin has been credited to Mexico, Michigan, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America, Europe… Lydia over at Soup Chick even makes a delicious sounding Korean-style black bean soup. Most versions I found when I started thinking about making it took their inspiration from the American Southwest. So did I.
This is a great soup to make a day ahead. It gets better when allowed to rest in the fridge and let the flavors blend. Speaking of flavors, the many potent ingredients– cumin, garlic, celery, bell pepper and even the smoked ham hock– each add their distinctive flavors without taking over the dish. And the jalapeño pepper, while only subtly affecting the taste, brings needed heat. With the volume of soup this recipe produces, the pepper doesn’t make it fiery– it just delivers a tingly kick, giving it another layer of interest.
Black bean soup with ham hocks
Serves 4 or 5 as main course
1 pound dried black beans, soaked (see Kitchen Notes for fast and slow soaking methods)
1 smoked ham hock, 3/4 to 1 pound
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (see Kitchen Notes)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, peeled and diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (see Kitchen Notes)
sour cream (optional)
chopped cilantro for garnish
Place soaked beans and ham hock in large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven. Add water and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1-1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan or skillet. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, carrots, and celery. Toss to coat with oil and sweat vegetables for four or five minutes, stirring frequently. Clear a space in center of pan, drizzling in extra oil if needed, and add garlic and cumin. Cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat and toss vegetables to combine. Set aside.
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