Black bean soup

Topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and some fresh chives, this black bean soup is perfect dinner party fare.

The Garden of Eating
Homemade black bean soup with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and fresh chives.

This delicious soup manages to be both hearty and refined thanks to the addition of a little bit of cream and Marsala at the tail end of cooking. Topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and some fresh chives, it's perfect dinner party fare. I made this batch using the last of the black turtle beans from last summer's garden – our first foray into growing dry beans and one we plan to repeat this summer.

Not only was it easy to grow the beans, it was also fun to harvest them. You let them wither and dry right on the vine before you pick them. We discovered that popping the beans out of their dried husks is downright addictive and we all got in on the fun – kids, included.

The hardest part of making this soup is just to remember to soak the beans overnight the day before you want to get cooking.

The ingredients are simple pretty simple – some veggies and herbs, beans, water or stock, and a few other flavorings such as Marsala, brown sugar, and cream.

Start by sweating the onions, carrots, garlic and celery in butter or oil then add the tomato paste, herbs, and bell pepper and cook for a few more minutes before adding the beans and liquid to the pot. I also added a ham bone because I have a bag of them in the freezer from cousin Norah's pigs but you can omit that if you prefer a vegetarian version or don't have anything porky on hand.

You can use plain old water or you can use stock. I used some homemade vegetable stock, some water and some of the liquid I'd saved the last time I cooked black beans.

TIP: Do you freeze your bean cooking liquid to use as a base for future soups, stews and chilis? If not, try it – just let it cool down completely, then pour it into a yogurt container, label it and pop it in the freezer.

Once you've got it all in the pot, you simmer away for quite awhile as the beans soften up. After about an hour, add some salt and cook some more. Then you puree some of the soup using an immersion blender. I've said it ad nauseum but it bears repeating yet again – if you don't already have an immersion blender, you owe it to yourself to get one right now.

Add the lemon juice, cream, wine [editor’s note: optional] and black pepper and simmer it a little longer. When you're ready to serve it, top each bowl with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream, some chopped chives and a little finely chopped parsley.

Like anything made with beans, this soup will taste even better the next day so if you can make it ahead of time, do. Or just enjoy really good leftovers the second day.

The recipe below is adapted from the black bean soup recipe in Deborah Madison's wonderful tome, “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” – one of my very favorite cookbooks. Hats off to Deborah for her recent induction into the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook Hall of Fame!

Black Bean Soup with Cream
Serves 6

2 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 ribs of celery, diced
3 large carrots, diced
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 large bell pepper (any color), diced
1 ham hock or pork bone (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoons tomato paste
2-1/2 quarts water, stock or bean cooking liquid
2-3 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup Marsala, Madeira or sherry [editor’s note: can substitute with cooking wine or sherry, or omit]
1/2 cup cream or half-n-half
Chopped parsley as a garnish
Chopped chives as a garnish
Crème fraîche

1. Drain the beans and melt the butter or heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.

2. Sweat the onions, carrots and celery for 2-3 minutes then add the spices, bell pepper and tomato paste, stirring it around the pot, and cook for another 5 or so minutes. If you're using a ham bone or other porky product to add flavor, add it now.

3. Add the beans and the water, stock or bean cooking liquid and bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered for 1 hour.

4. Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt and cook for another 15-30 minutes, until the beans are quite soft. Remove the bay leaves and ham bone and puree about 2/3 of the soup using an immersion blender. Add the lemon juice, brown sugar, Marsala (or Madeira or sherry) and cream and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed.

5. Serve warm topped with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream, a sprinkling of chopped chives and parsley.

Related post on The Garden of Eating: Slow-Cooked Pinto Beans with Pork Belly and Skillet Cornbread

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