You see, unlike Cook's Illustrated, I would never claim to have "the perfect" anything with a recipe. And in all honesty, I don't think they should either (but they do...if you are interested in more on this topic, read this post). So, I have taken their recipe for Black Bean Soup, from January 2005, and improved it.
Doesn't that look wonderful?
I started with some really amazing beans from Rancho Gordo. I found out about the wonders of Rancho Gordo beans from Alosha's Kitchen when Melissa did this post about her Rancho Gordo love. I read the comments and it was unanimous that the beans are fabulous. Well, if you know me, that was too much to resist. So, I got online and ordered a variety of beans and some chili powder. Great company, Rancho Gordo! I say this being in the mail order business myself, as part of our retail store. They were just super to deal with and I hope you will give them a shout and order some beans too! I can't wait to cook more.
On to the soups. Here are the recipe ingredients from Cook's Illustrated:
|1||pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over|
|4||ounces ham steak , trimmed of rind|
|2||bay leaves |
|1/8||teaspoon baking soda|
|1||teaspoon table salt|
|3||tablespoons olive oil|
|2||large onions , chopped fine (about 3 cups)|
|1||large carrot , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)|
|3||ribs celery , chopped fine (about 1 cup)|
|1/2||teaspoon table salt|
|5 - 6||medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)|
|1/2||teaspoon red pepper flakes|
|1 1/2||tablespoons ground cumin|
|6||cups low-sodium chicken broth|
|2||tablespoons lime juice , from 1 to 2 limes|
|minced fresh cilantro leaves |
|red onion , finely diced|
|avocado , diced medium|
Oh, yeah...don't try to get on to get the recipe from that site. You have to be a paying member. Or you can get a 14 day free trial, but you have to give them a credit card. Cook's Illustrated is like my mother, she doesn't share well either.
Okay, so here's my theory about bean soups and what I see as a major flaw in the Cook's Illustrated recipe. If you have to use a thickener, you started with too much liquid to begin with. The key is to give the beans the amount of liquid they need. As they absorb the liquid, they will tell you when they need more. You only give them as much as they need to get tender, and after that, as much as you want to achieve the thickness you desire.
It's perfectly great to remove a portion of the soup and puree it. That just makes it creamier. I didn't do that for this recipe. I wanted to see those beautiful beans in their full glory.
Another flaw in their recipe, as I see it, is their choice of liquid. Water? Low Sodium Chicken Broth? How boring.
Here's my adaptation:
1 pound dried black beans (2 cups), rinsed and picked over
Water enough to cover beans with 2" over the top of the beans
1 huge or 2 large onions, generous chop (about 3 cups)
2 carrots, generous dice (about a cup)
3 ribs celery, generous dice (about a cup)
1 tsp salt
5-6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 12 ounce bottles of lager (I used Yuengling lager)
1 32 ounce box vegetable stock
1 hunk of tasso*
2 shakes of hot sauce (I used Marie Sharp's)***
Red onion, chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves
Beans: Cover with water and soak for 4-6 hours, until tender. Discard soaking water. You can do a quicker method by putting the beans and water in a pot with a tight lid and simmering them briskly for about 1.5 hours until the beans are tender. Still, ditch the soaking water.
Soup: Dump everything into your stock pot, with the exception of one bottle of lager which you will use as your reserve liquid to be added as needed. It looks like this starting out:
Cook, covered, at a low heat for about an hour. Remove the lid (now is a good time to taste it and adjust your salt, if needed) and continue cooking on low heat and adding lager, as needed, for about 1.5 hours. I was off work, so I let it slowly simmer most of the afternoon.
Remove the ham (it will be falling apart), pull it apart with a fork, add it back to the soup.
Ladle the soup out and garnish!
Hey, I'm sure it's not perfect (can't everything be improved upon?), but it was pretty darned good!
Feel free to change it up to suit your tastes!
And join me as I dine on some Pretty Darned Good Black Bean Soup! ;)
- *Tasso is cajun ham, read the link, and I got a chunk of it from a friend who brought it to me from Louisiana. The cajun seasoning and the smokiness of the meat is perfect for this soup. Here's a site where you can buy it. Absent that, I would throw in any ham piece or a spicy sausage.
- **Guacamole is a favorite of mine. I'll post my recipe soon. There are some good ready made ones out there, such as Wholly Guacamole. Diced avocado works well too.
- ***Marie Sharp's is a hot sauce made from habanero peppers. Fear it not! I promise it's not too hot! I just recently got a bottle as a gift from a friend...I'm hooked.