One long-ago stormy night when the snow prevented my planned marketing trip, I threw together this vegetarian black bean soup in desperation from the few ingredients at hand. To my surprise, it turned out rich, dark, and savory, and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. It’s low in fat, high in fiber, and relies on shelf-stable staples, so you can make it even when the fridge is bare. But don’t wait for a pantry emergency to make it; it’s too good to put off for long.
Simple black bean soup is fast to put together, though it needs to simmer for a while. Like most soups, it improves overnight in the fridge, so it’s a cinch for casual dinner guests. With warm bread and salad, it’s a hearty winter’s meal. Every time I serve this soup to company, someone asks for the recipe, which is a trifle embarrassing, since it’s so stupidly simple.
All measurements are approximate; feel free to improvise.
Elsa’s simple black bean soup
2 large yellow onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1 tsp butter or olive oil
oregano, crushed rosemary, cumin, black pepper, a bay leaf
2 TBS tomato paste
1/2 cup dry sherry or red wine
~ 6 cups cooked black beans (2 28-ounce cans, or ~2 cups dried beans, cooked)
~ 14 ounces canned whole tomatoes (you can substitute diced tomatoes or tomato puree)
water as needed
optional: two more cloves, pressed or minced
optional: lemon wedges
note: “Salt to taste” is a tricky cooking instruction, but here it’s the only one possible. If you use canned beans and salted tomato products, you may not need to add any salt at all. If you’re using low-sodium canned foods or home-cooked beans and fresh tomatoes, you may be surprised how much salt it takes to sharpen the flavors.
In a large soup pot over medium-low heat, heat butter and oil (and a sprinkling of kosher salt, if desired). Add onions, herbs, and spices, and tomato paste, tossing well to coat, and cook until the onions start to soften and the tomato paste becomes fragrant. Add sherry and red wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.
Add tomatoes and beans and, if desired, the additional garlic. (I like to puree the soup with an immersion blender after simmering, then add some reserved beans for texture. If you want to do this, add half the beans now and reserve half for later. If you prefer the soup chunky, add all the beans and be sure to dice the tomatoes before adding them. If you prefer the soup completely smooth, add all the beans now and puree everything later.)
Add a scant pint of water, turn heat to low, half-cover the soup pot, and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally. (If you’re standing in the kitchen to stir frequently and make sure it doesn’t scorch on the bottom, you can keep the heat medium-low and have your soup ready sooner. Otherwise, turn it to the lowest possible heat.)
When the soup has thickened nicely, it’s time to puree, if you so desire. First be sure to fish out the bay leaf.
Here’s a secret to save your immersion blender: before you immerse it in a tomato-ey pot, lightly coat the business end and the shaft with cooking spray. Instead of staining the tool with the familiar slick orange of tomato residue, the soup and the oily spray will wash off easily.
Then stir in the reserved beans and let heat through. Now your soup is ready to serve, to refrigerate, or to freeze — or it can simmer along happily for a good long while, with the occasional splash of water to keep it thinned down.
I like simple black bean soup served with a lemon wedge, to spark up its deep, earthy flavors; The Fella prefers it without. (As you can see, Ploobie was game to try it.) It’s marvelous with a sprinkle of Parmesan or Jack cheese, a few slices of scallion, or a dollop of sour cream… or all three.