I was studying medieval history at the University of Valladolid, and my family in Miami had sent me a few pounds of dried black beans, which are not easy to find in Spain. I decided to surprise some good friends from Havana and make black bean soup, one of the great dishes of their hometown. To my bewildered embarrassment, they congratulated me on the lovely red kidney bean soup in the style of Oriente, my home in Cuba. Then they proceeded to set me straight: “Never, never, never do you use tomatoes in a Havana black bean soup.” And never, never, never did I forget the lesson.
The soup sometimes gets some of its deep flavor from ham hocks or bacon, but many Cubans prefer to make simpler, but equally flavorful, vegetarian versions. In two recipes that appear in classic 1950s cookbooks, the beans get their flavor from the traditional aromatic cumin-and-oregano-scented sofrito cooked with olive oil and canned roasted peppers. I’ve adapted the idea, adding freshly roasted peppers at the end and an extra drizzle of olive oil at the table to enhance the natural earthiness of the beans and give the soup a silken, aromatic finish. Ají dulce, the tiny Caribbean pepper that Cubans call ají cachucha, is a key ingredient of the vegetarian black bean soup from Havana and the western provinces of Cuba.
If you want to double the recipe to feed 12—the ideal amount for a Cuban Christmas Eve party with roast pork and a side of white rice—cook the beans in an 8-quart pot with 4 quarts water.–Maricel E. Presilla
LC Rice Really Satisfies Note
Here’s what the author says about serving the soup as a satiating something: “When Cubans eat black beans as a soup, in a bowl by itself, they normally add a generous spoonful or two of steamed white rice. But more often they ladle the soup over the white rice or serve it by the side of the rice. If you want to garnish the soup, I recommend a dollop of homemade Mexican or Central American crema, which is a nontraditional touch, or some chopped white onion and parsley.”
Havana-Style Black Bean Soup
- Quick Glance
- 40 M
- 3 H, 15 M
- Serves 4 to 6
- For the beans
- 1 pound (2 cups) dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
- 3 quarts (12 cups) cold water
- 1 small (about 6 ounces) yellow onion, peeled
- 1 small (about 4 ounces) green bell pepper, cored and seeded
- 1 bay leaf
- For the sofrito
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 small (about 6 ounces) yellow onion, peeled and minced
- 1 medium to large (about 8 ounces) green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and minced
- 10 Caribbean sweet peppers (ajíes dulces) or 1 Cubanelle pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- To finish the soup
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 large red bell pepper, fire-roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped (optional)
- Cook the beans
- 1. Place the beans, water, onion, green pepper, and bay leaf in a 6-quart heavy pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until the beans are tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, adding more water if necessary as the beans cook. The soup should be brothy yet creamy. (Cooking beans is not an exact science; you must check the water often.)
- 2. Discard the onion, pepper, and bay leaf and lower the heat to medium-low. Ladle about 1/3 cup beans into a bowl and mash them with the back of the ladle or a spoon into a coarse purée and set aside. Keep the soup at a simmer while you make the sofrito.
- Make the sofrito
- 3. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté until light golden, about 20 seconds. Add the onion, green pepper, Caribbean peppers, and bay leaf and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the reserved mashed black beans and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
- Finish the soup
- 4. Stir the bean-enriched sofrito into the pot of beans, then stir in the vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary; the soup should be aromatic with sweet, tangy notes. Add the chopped roasted pepper, if using. Keep the pot over medium-low heat, cover partially, and simmer until creamy, 30 to 45 minutes. (The soup tastes even better the day after it’s made. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat at a very gentle simmer. The soup can also be frozen for up to 3 months, which is why I always at least double the recipe.)
- 5. Remove the bay leaf and ladle the soup into bowls. If desired, plonk the bottle of olive oil on the table and invite everyone to drizzle some over the soup.