Recipe: Black Bean Soup

By on September 27, 2012 in Recipes with 2 Comments

Let me just say that I have never been disappointed with a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and this one is no different. Black Bean Soup can easily be a bland, unappetizing bowl full of greyish liquid. But this recipe produces a soup with a complex and fresh flavor that tastes like it was made in a professional kitchen. As an added bonus, the recipe is super easy to make and leftovers keep well (although they may need to be thinned by a little chicken broth).

I made just a couple of slight alterations to this recipe. The recipe called for 4 ounces of ham steak but the smallest prepackaged piece I could find was 6 ounces. I decided to add it all rather than waste 2 ounces or try and figure out what to do with it. I also added a little less garlic than the 5-6 cloves the recipe calls for. But if you are a garlic lover and don’t mind chopping that many cloves, I say go for it.

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of cumin, which seems like a lot, but it’s really the perfect amount. It blends right in with the sautéed vegetables and along with the ham steak, gives a wonderful smokiness to the soup.

The addition of baking soda helps the beans retain their black color and prevents the soup from turning an unappetizing grey color as so often happens with black bean soup. How does it do this? The baking soda turns the broth to a more alkaline pH which prevents the anthocyanins in the black bean coating rom turning a lighter color as they would at a more acidic pH.

With Cook’s Illustrated you not only learn about cooking techniques, but you learn science as well!


Black Bean Soup


  • 5 cups water
  • 1 pound dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 6 ounces ham steak, rind removed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice


  • lime wedges
  • cilantro
  • red onion
  • avocado
  • sour cream
  1. Place beans, water, ham, bay leaves, and baking soda in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any foam off the surface with a spoon. Stir in salt, reduce heat to low, cove with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until beans are tender. If beans are still not tender at this time, add 1 more cup water and continue to simmer until tender.
  2. Remove bay leaves and discard. Remove ham steak and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, and celery and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once vegetables are softened and lightly browned, turn heat to medium-low and add garlic, red pepper flakes, and cumin. Cook stirring constantly for about 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in beans, bean liquid, and chicken broth. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Transfer 1 1/2 cups beans and 2 cups liquid to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return to pot.
  6. In a small bowl, stir together cornstarch and water until thoroughly combined. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into soup. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring every now and then. Once soup has come to a boil, remove from heat and stir in lime juice and diced ham.
  7. To serve, garnish with lime wedges, cilantro, avocado, red onion, and sour cream.

Yield: 6 servings

Source: slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

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  1. Julia says:

    I just recently made Mexican mashed black beans (sort a healthier version of refried beans), and I had to spice them up quite a bit to avoid blandness. That’s a very good tip to use ham steak, I bet it added good flavor.

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