Who needs a solid warm-up? Yup, right here. It’s still winter.
To combat the never-ending chilly-ness, I have been living on soups. Easy-to-make, filling, nourishing, warming, and inexpensive – a big pot of hot lovin’ is the ideal way to make it through these last winter days.

This black bean soup is a favorite recipe of mine. I made it up on day at work, last winter I believe, and it was a real winner with the customers and the staff. The beans make it hearty and incredibly satisfying, and the vegetable ingredients are flexible – really just use what you have on hand.

The secret to this soup however, is cooking the beans from scratch. Yup, I said it. It’s time people.
Cooking beans from dried is a lot easier than you think. For some reason, everyone seems to be thrown off by the whole ‘soaking’ thing, and the idea that they may have to think about cooking something in the near future as opposed to whipping up a dish spontaneously. I get that. But the all-of-15-seconds it takes to put dried beans in a bowl and cover with water is about as difficult as velcroing your shoes. Ugh! Followed closely by the agonizing task of filling a pot with water and turning the heat on. I know, it’s a lot.
Can we get over this silliness? Thanks.

I’ve come up with a list that should further help to inform (convince) you that dried beans are your friends, because I really feel strongly about these little guys.

1. Cost – has anyone noticed how expensive canned beans are?! I mean, it’s kinda crazy. I think the number one reason to use dried beans in place of canned ones is the amount of money you’ll save. It’s like a bean sale everyday of the year – five for the price of one.
2. Health – dried beans are healthier because you cook them yourself and control exactly what goes in them. They are not sitting in can-captivity with ridiculously high levels of sodium, additives like calcium chloride, and the potential of being exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) through the can lining. Ever read the ingredients on a bag of dried beans? Beans.
3. Taste – honestly, once you cook your own beans, you’ll never go back to canned ones – you’ve been warned. The flavour and texture of home-cooked beans is light years beyond anything that has been sitting in a tin for months (or years). And instead of the completely mushy consistency that we often associate with beans (no wonder kids hate them!), dried beans cook up to a wide range of textures from al dente (for salads) to well-done (for soups and dips), depending on what you’re going to use them for.
4. Less waste – for the amount of food you get from a can of beans, the waste is huge. By purchasing dried beans you are doing a great service to the environment, as there is no mining for metal involved, no tree cutting or paper milling, no toxic inks, and no energy for recycling.
5. Variety – it is pretty difficult to find a can of Christmas Lima beans at the grocery store, isn’t it? How about Flageolets? Anasazi? Lupini? The beauty of buying dried beans is the enormous selection you’ll find! A whole world of legumes will be open to you and your lucky palette. Chickpeas, I still love you, but Jackson Wonders and Steuben Yellows got ya’ beat.

Cooking black beans from dried
2 cups dried black beans
6 cups water
2 Tbsp. sea salt (optional)

1. Place black beans and plenty of clean water in a large bowl and let soak overnight, or for at least 8 hours (Sarah B. tip: if it’s a workday, soak in the morning before going to work; if it’s the weekend, soak them before going to bed at night).
2. After soaking, drain and rinse the beans very well, making sure to remove any stones or debris that may have slipped into the batch.
3. Place beans and 6 cups clean water into a large pot. With the heat on high, bring beans to a boil, then reduce to simmer. At this point, there may be some foam that sits on top of the water– remove it with a slotted spoon.
4. Cook beans just until tender (this will vary greatly on your own beans, but for black beans you’re looking at approximately 40-45 minutes. The good news is, for this soup it doesn’t really matter how long you cook them for, as you will be pureeing a portion of them anyway.) Add salt and let beans sit in the salty water bath for another 10.
5. Remove beans from stove and drain with a bowl underneath the sieve to catch the cooking liquid (this is an important step for the soup).

Yay! You just cooked beans.

Note: this is the method for most bean cooking, with slight variations in cooking time depending on the bean variety. You can add salt if you like, but it’s not totally necessary. I find that if I am cooking beans for a salad for instance, it’s a very important step, as the beans won’t taste of much individually if they are not salted during cooking. In a soup or dip, you can season to taste at the end.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Soup
Serves 6-8

4 cups cooked black beans (from 2 cups dried)
4 cups cooking liquid or vegetable broth
1 large red onion
3 leeks
8 cloves garlic
1 large sweet potato
4 carrots
½ head of celeriac (celery root)
2 Tbsp. ghee/oil of your choice
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground corriander
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. crushed chilies
3 large tomatoes, diced or 1 small can tomatoes (14.5 oz / 400 gr.)
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
sea salt

1. Heat ghee/oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add spices. Stir until fragrant.
2. Add chopped onion, leek, and salt. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables begin to wilt a bit. Add garlic, the rest of the chopped vegetables and tomatoes. Stir occasionally.
3. Using a blender, immersion blender, or food processor, puree 2 cups of the cooked beans (approx. half the total amount) with 4 cups of the reserved cooking liquid (or vegetable broth). Add this liquid to the pot of vegetables along with the remaining whole, cooked black beans.
4. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
5. Season to taste. Add the juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, maple syrup, and cilantro.
6. Serve immediately with a drizzle of cold-pressed olive oil, cilantro, and a chunk of cornbread (this recipe is wonderful!) Store leftovers in the fridge; freezes well.
(p.s. this is even better the next day.)

I hope that this soup gives you a very good excuse to try cooking beans from dried sometime in the near future. It really is incredibly simple, and I feel one of those satisfying culinary activities that perhaps takes you one step out of your comfort zone, but certainly one step closer to your food.

Copyright 2012 My New Roots

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