Cuban black bean soup ranks with France's steak frites and Italy's spaghetti with red sauce as a national obsession. It is a touchstone dish of the Caribbean. Usually made from dried beans (and definitely worth the extra time when you have it), the dish can nonetheless be adapted to a streamlined model with canned beans.
To make up for the lack of long simmering, do a highly-flavored sauté as we do here with onions, peppers, cloves, garlic and spice, then blend in your canned beans with some liquid, and give everything a short time on the stove.
The soup blossoms even more with a rest off the heat. An overnight stay in the refrigerator gives you fuller flavor.
This soup demands a finish of onion and lime juice or vinegar (sherry vinegar is our pick).
Cook to Cook: We use a 10-quart pot because we want the broader cooking surface at the bottom of the pot. Cooking that all-important sauté on the larger surface discourages steaming and helps build up a flavor-packed brown glaze on the bottom of the pot. That glaze is a key to the soup's success.
Don't worry if the vegetables don't brown. The glaze is the thing. This, and the pork, creates the heart of the soup. If you have only a 6-quart pot, do step 1 in a big sauté pan, then combine the sauté with the beans and broth in the 6-quart pan.
Soup holds 4 days in the refrigerator and freezes up to 3 months.
1 to 2 meaty smoked pork hocks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3 whole cloves
2 medium to large onions, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 small to medium green sweet pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 small to medium red sweet pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 recipe Cheater's Homemade Broth, or 2 14-ounce cans low sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarse chopped
3 bay leaves, broken
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 to 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 generous tablespoons tomato paste
3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 limes halved, or about 1/2 cup sherry, wine, cider or palm vinegar
1 cup chopped mild onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
1. Trim the meat away from the pork hock bone, cutting it into small pieces. Don't be too fussy; leaving some on the bone is fine. Film the bottom of a 10-quart stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium high. Stir in the meat, bone, cloves, onions, peppers, and salt. Sauté 8 minutes (stirring occasionally), or until the vegetables are sizzling and there's a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan (vegetables need not brown, and take care not to let that glaze blacken).
2. Add a little of the broth along with the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and tomato paste. With a wooden spatula, scrape up the glaze as you simmer the mix on medium high for 3 minutes. Blend in the beans and the remaining broth. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover the pot tightly, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the juice from 2-1/2 limes, or 1/3 cup of vinegar. Taste soup for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper, and add more lime or vinegar to your own taste.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls, topping each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chopped onion and a little fresh coriander. Have hot sauce on the table. For Cuban style, you could ladle the stew over rice.
From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, 2008.
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