Have you ever looked and looked (and looked?!) for the perfect way to make a certain something? At Last! Black Bean Soup became my "only" black bean soup recipe, gracious! more than 20 years ago now. The recipe originated with the late writer Laurie Colwin and has become one of my "signature" recipes.
"This is now my favourite!" ~ mym(e)
In the seven years I masqueraded as a Texan, I looked and looked (and looked) for a great black bean soup to make at home. After several uninspiring batches, at last! I came upon this recipe, one worth making and adapting again and again.
The original recipe came from Laurie Colwin, the food and fiction writer who died too young in 1992. She wrote a monthly column for Gourmet magazine where I was a brand-new reader. She was already gone by the time I discovered her but since she wrote ahead, her columns continued to appear after her death. I read each one with building sadness, knowing the columns also come to an end. And I felt cheated: her work deserved to continue a long time.
As it turns out, the work of Laurie Colwin lives on. Her books remain in print and contain simple home cooking at its finest. Check your library for copies of Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. Reading, you too may feel as if you’ve lost a friend.
FOOD BLOGGERS LOVE LAURIE COLWIN Turns out, I'm not the only one who still misses Laurie Colwin – to say nothing of Gourmet magazine, which also too-soon passed. I wrote a piece for BlogHer, Before There Was Dorie, There Was Laurie: Laurie Colwin, That Is. You'll find links to other Laurie Colwin recipes there too.
EVOLUTION OF A RECIPE Over time, I've adapted Laurie Colwin's recipe for black bean soup to suit my own style and kitchen in the twenty-some years I've been making it. Laurie specified two cups of dried black beans; that's fourteen ounces of beans, a bag is 16 ounces, so I chuck in the whole bag. She used a smidgen of corn; for both color and texture variation, I like quite a lot. She called for vegetable stock; I use the always-on-hand chicken stock and a totally-worth-making-special ham stock.
The next change I'll experiment with is to hold out half the corn and half the sweet potatoes, adding them in the last hour or so for more distinctive color and texture.
AT LAST! BLACK BEAN SOUP RECIPE
Total preparation time: 7 – 9 hours
Makes 14 cups
QUICK COLD SOAK
- 16 ounces dried black beans
- 3 cups cold water
NOW JUST DUMP!
- 1 - 2 ham shanks or ham hocks, optional but recommended
- 4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock (ham stock is especially good)
- 28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
- 1 16-ounce bag frozen corn
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 small unpeeled red or 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced or 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced, optional but recommended
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Juice from 1 lime (don't skip the lime!)
- Salt and pepper to taste
QUICK COLD SOAK Place beans in colander. Sift through with fingers, discarding shriveled beans and foreign objects. Wash thoroughly and sift through again. Place beans and cold water in a four-quart (or larger) dutch oven and soak for one hour. (Yes, an hour! No need to soak overnight! It works, I promise!)
NOW JUST DUMP! Put the pot onto the stove on medium high. As the pot heats up, add all the remaining ingredients (except the lime juice and seasoning) and stir. Bring it to a boil.
CONTINUE ON THE STOVE Cover and reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer. Cook 5 – 7 hours or until beans are soft and fully cooked. While cooking, stir occasionally, adjusting heat and adding additional stock as needed. Taste as you go along, adding salt and pepper as needed.
~or~ CONTINUE IN THE OVEN Cover and let slow cook in the oven for 4 hours at 300F or for 8 hours at 200F. (A combination also works, 2 hours at 300F and 6 hours at 200F, very convenient for making in the evening and cooking overnight!) Check occasionally to see if extra liquid is needed and for seasoning but in my experience, in the oven, it's not.
~or~ CONTINUE IN A SLOW COOKER I know I've made this in the slow cooker before but have no particular notes about how it goes. That said, this recipe seems well-suited to a slow cooker, I would recommend 4 hours on High or 8 hours on Low. Because slow cooker performance varies so much, please stay close and watch how it goes.
TO FINISH Remove the ham shanks and let the meat cool. Pull the meat off the bone and shred into the soup, discarding the fat. Before discarding the bones, if you used ham shanks, do enjoy the bone marrow with a tiny spoon: cook's treat! Laurie Colwin then recommends puréeing about 2 cups of soup in a blender or a food processor (I use an immersion blender right in the pot, it works fine) to add back into the soup. That said, I don't find this necessary; especially in the oven, the beans become quite creamy. Now, most important, squeeze in the lime juice, it makes ALL the difference!
MAKE-AHEAD BLACK BEAN SOUP I make this soup ahead of time all the time, it reheats beautifully though some times does need additional liquid.
NOW JUST DUMP!
Once the black beans soak for an hour – yes, just for an hour, it works, I promise! – just dump in the remaining ingredients and let it cook. This makes At Last! Black Bean Soup so extra-easy to make.
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