Black Bean Soup

Have you ever been inside a Williams-Sonoma store? I love going in those stores. They have so many useful and high quality cooking items. They can be rather pricey, but I love perusing their stores, even if I can’t afford much in them. Today’s recipe combines the luxury of Williams-Sonoma with the ease of a crockpot in the book Williams-Sonoma: The New Slow Cooker, Comfort Classics Reinvented by Brigit Binns. Black Bean Soup is what stuck out to me. I love Mexican flavors and this soup just sounded divine.

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Black Bean Soup (Makes 6-8 servings)

2 1/4 cups (1 lb/500 g) dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
1 lb (500 g) tomatillos, husks removed and halved
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 cups (40 fl oz/1.25 l) chicken stock, homemade or purchased
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) medium-dry sherry
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 smoked ham hock, about 1/2 lb (750 g)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Corn-Avocado Salsa for serving (see note; optional)
3/4 cup (4 oz/125 g) crumbled queso fresco (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the beans with water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm) and let soak overnight. Drain well.

Preheat the broiler. Arrange the tomatillos on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning as needed, until blackened on all sides, 5-7 minutes total. Transfer the tomatillos to a slow cooker and stir in the drained beans, onion, celery, carrot, pepper flakes, stock, sherry, and vinegar. Add the ham hock. Cover and cook on the low setting for 8-9 hours. The beans should be very tender.

Remove the ham hock, pull off the meat, and discard the skin, bone, and cartilage. Shred the meat and set aside.

In batches if necessary, transfer the contents of the slow cooker to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Return the soup to the slow cooker, add the reserved meat, and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Re-warm the soup on the low setting.

Ladle the soup into warm individual shallow bowls and top each serving with a spoonful of the corn-avocado salsa and the crumbled cheese, if using. Serve at once.

Add Flavor With Corn-Avocado Salsa: In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 teaspoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil. Add 1 1/2 cups (9 oz/280 g) fresh or thawed, frozen corn kernels and sauté until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. In a bowl, toss together the corn; 6 green onions, including the light green tops, finely chopped; 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced; 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro; and the juice of 1 lime. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

I did make a few changes to this recipe because of things I didn’t have. I didn’t have the sherry or the sherry vinegar so I used chicken broth instead of the sherry and balsamic vinegar in place of the sherry vinegar. Also, I didn’t have a ham hock so I just added some smoke flavoring. Next time though, I will use a ham hock. It would’ve added a lot of flavor and meatiness to the dish. If you don’t have a ham hock, smoked sausage would be an excellent substitute as well. My beans were not tender after 9 hours on low. Next time, I will put the slow cooker on high for the 9 hours instead. (I have a great crockpot refried bean recipe that has beans in a slow cooker on high for 9 hours and the beans are tender at that point so that is why I think just changing it to high from low will be sufficient to help them be more tender.) I used an immersion blender in the slow cooker to puree the beans and it worked really well and made it simpler because I didn’t have to move it out of the slow cooker. For me, the corn-avocado salsa was what made the soup. DO NOT skip out on it! It really made the flavor of the soup just perfect and added a lot of texture. I also added the queso fresco and it was delicious as well.

In short, make sure to cook it on high rather than low and do not skip out on the corn-avocado salsa. If you do these things, I promise you will have a really delicious soup with great texture. Serve it up with some hot rolls and you will have one yummy dinner. I hope you enjoy!

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