Beans are more than just a nutritious staple of the pantry. Yes, in many cultures its main purpose is just that. But besides being filling, beans are also flavorful in so many recipes—it's easy to find so much comfort in a big bowl of bean soup or stew. Beans can even make an entire meal just by themselves or when paired with another staple of Latin cuisine. Rice and beans anyone?
Black beans or frijoles negros, one of the most popular beans in Latin cooking, can be found in the cuisines of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Black bean soup is one of my all time favorites, especially when it's seasoned in just the right way—a little hot and spicy.
This recipe for black bean soup is prepared in the classic Cuban style, but instead of simmering the beans along with a ham hock, I just use water to keep it vegetarian. But my secret ingredient is a packet of Sazón, which adds lots of flavor while still keeping the soup meatless. I love using Sazón in other recipes for beans as well as rice.
Black Bean Soup
1 pound black beans, soaked overnight
10 cups water
1 packet Sazón
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
cooked white rice, for serving
chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro, for garnish
Strain beans from soaking liquid. Add to a large pot with water. Add Sazón. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to low. Simmer until beans are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.
Warm oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté until vegetables are crisp-tender. Clear a spot in the pan and toast cumin for 2 minutes.
Transfer vegetables into pot of beans. Add oregano and bay leaf. Continue to simmer until peppers are tender. Mash a cup or two of beans to thicken the soup. Add vinegar and season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve with rice in bowls garnished with chopped tomato, onion, and cilantro. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.