My first apartment in New York was on East 83rd Street, on the same block as an Italian restaurant called Erminia, which the Zagat Guide described as “cave-like,” “transporting,” “romantic,” and “very expensive.” We never went, but my roommates and I walked by it often, on our way to the Mexican restaurant around the corner on Second Avenue, where we stuffed ourselves with free chips and salsa and drowned our editorial assistant woes in pitchers of frozen margaritas.
The cheapest thing on the menu was the black bean soup. It also happened to be quite good. Not entirely smooth or chunky, it was a mix of blended and whole beans, and had just enough chipotle spice to make those margaritas a necessity. It was filling, too–enough to count as a real meal. I haven’t been back to that Mexican restaurant in more than 10 years. Who knows? It’s probably not even there anymore. But that black bean soup is still the version I measure all others against, and I’m usually disappointed.
I figured it was about time to quit being lazy and just figure out how to make Lucy’s Perfect Black Bean Soup myself. There are dozens of recipes out there for black bean soup. When I found this one, it was sliding into a great pair of jeans. It was a perfect fit, everything I had been looking for.
Normally I’m a huge proponent of salting as you go. It builds flavor and you end up using less overall. But since canned black beans and vegetable broth can be very salty, in this particular recipe it’s best to taste you soup and season it at the end. I serve big bowls of this with cashew sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro. For a “loaded” version, you could add minced red onion or chopped scallions, diced tomatoes or jalapeño, salsa, and crushed tortilla chips. This soup freezes beautifully. If you are making the cashew sour cream, note that you will need to soak your cashews overnight. You could also start soaking them in the morning and then make the soup for dinner.
Quick Chipotle Black Bean Soup
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts (10 cups)
Adapted from Bon Appetit
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained, 1 cup liquid reserved
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle chiles
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cashew sour cream (recipe follows)
Chopped fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until completely soft and beginning to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and cumin and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the beans, reserved bean liquid, vegetable broth, diced tomatoes and their juices, and adobo sauce. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens slightly, about 20 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is mostly smooth with some chunks remaining. (Alternatively, puree half the soup in a blender, then stir it back into the pot.) Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of cashew sour cream and a sprinkle of cilantro or parsley.
Cashew Sour Cream
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup whole raw cashews, soaked in water overnight or for at least 8 hours
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Large pinch kosher salt
Drain the cashews and transfer them to a blender. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 cup of water. Blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth and creamy. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.