Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simple Black Bean Soup

A pot of chili is pretty easy to whip together and goes a long way toward enhancing a fall sports tailgating experience or warming up a dreary fall evening. I hate to admit this, but lately, even a pot of chili seems like a lot of work. It’s really quite shameful.

And so I returned to this old soup recipe that I think I had clipped from a box of Saltine crackers many years ago. Like maybe 15 years ago. Seriously. I no longer seem to have the original clipping, but the soup still tastes as good as I remember it. And it’s really very simple to make for all its heartiness and good flavor. Once you chop and sauté and onion and some garlic, the rest is pretty much just pouring beans, broth and salsa out of cans and jars, running a blender for a few seconds, and waiting around for the soup to cook.

I did cook dried black beans for this soup, but you could certainly use the more convenient canned beans, too. I’m sure that’s what I used to do when this was one of the few recipes I had been brave enough to tackle. I just happened to have the dried beans this time. I also still happen to have fresh chile peppers from my garden, but you could use crushed red pepper flakes to spice up your soup is that’s more convenient.

Of course, you can control the spiciness as much as you want by selecting the salsa to match your tastes. I used a simple tomato and pepper bottled salsa that was labeled "medium" in heat. You could make it super-spicy with "hot" salsa or mild or fruity or whatever. You could also make this a vegetarian, or even vegan soup by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.
This recipe is my go-to black bean soup, partly because it is so delicious, but also because it requires very little effort. There is no shortage of black bean soup recipes out there, however, and you can pick and choose from among the ingredients in as many of them as you want to make your own custom concoction. Just don’t neglect the recipes on all those ingredient packages. They, like this one, just might be pretty darn good.

Black Bean Soup with Salsa
Adapted from a recipe on a box of crackers (I think)

I used reduced-sodium chicken broth and home-cooked black beans to make this soup. If you are using other products that might contain more salt, you may wish to reduce the added salt in the recipe. Taste for salt at the end and add more if needed.

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 small to medium fresh chile pepper, minced
4 ½ cups, or about 3 (16 ounce) cans, black beans, drained
2 cups chicken broth (I used low sodium)
3 cups prepared salsa
2 Tbs lime juice 

1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and chile pepper. Cook and stir about 1 minute more.

2. Meanwhile, place about half the beans and 1 cup chicken broth in a blender. Process until smooth. Pour into the cooked onion mixture. Stir in remaining beans, salsa and remaining chicken broth.

3. Bring to a low boil and simmer about 30 minutes or until everything is very tender. Stir in the lime juice. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings. This soup freezes well.


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