black bean soup

It is wise to keep in mind that pots and pans are like sweaters: you may have lots of them, but you find yourself using two or three over and over again.

One of my favorite food writers is Laurie Colwin.  She wrote two books about home cooking– aptly titled “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking”. She also wrote five novels, which explains the sub-titles of these food books — “A Writer in the Kitchen” and “A Writer Returns to the Kitchen”.  Sadly, she passed away in 1992 because of a heart attack at the age of 48. Young deaths are not only devastating for family and friends (for them, all deaths are), but if the person happens to be someone like Laurie Colwin or Steve Jobs, they also leave a feeling of we-wanted-more-of-you in their readers and fans. I want Laurie Colwin to write more food books (and Steve Jobs to make more beautifully designed gadgets), but the only option I have is to re-read Home Cooking and More Home Cooking over and over again (and to introduce Apple products in my life gradually, so that there is always something new to feel excited about). And every time I do, I can’t help but think about the pareto-inefficiency of life.
Yesterday, I was reading Colwin’s essay about black beans in More Home Cooking. This is how it starts:
I had my first taste of black bean soup on a cold winter Saturday when I was sixteen years old. A friend, home for the holidays from a very glamorous college, gave a lunch party and invited me. Seated at her table, I felt that I — mired in high school and barely passing geometry — had died and entered a heaven in which people played the cello, stayed up at night discussing Virginia Woolf, saw plays by Jean-Paul Sartre, and went to Paris for their junior years abroad. But it was the black bean soup that changed my life.”
You see why I like her?

Anyhow, after reading this chapter, all I wanted to do was make black bean soup. I am not a recipe person, especially while making soups. I look at what I have in the fridge and the pantry and take it from there. But two things I never use are: canned beans and ready-made stock. They both taste awful. I realize that cooking beans from scratch takes time, but I really do feel that the result is so much tastier and healthier than using pre-processed beans. And if you do find yourself to be a beans-lover, why not buy a pressure cooker instead of using the ugh!-inducing canned stuff? I feel the same way about ready-made stocks. I have tried several different brands and I always find them to have a really strange flavor that interferes with the taste of other fresh ingredients. So, unless you have homemade stock/broth, you are better off using water. Laurie Colwin agrees that “canned broth is usually pretty awful and should never be used in anything in which its flavor is paramount“, but according to her beef broth from a can is fine in black bean soup.  I still recommend that you stick to plain-old water!


  • Black beans
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Cumin seeds
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Cilantro


  • Preparing the beans: If I know in advance that I am going to cook beans, I soak them in cold water overnight. But sometimes life takes you out for dinner and you get back home late and forget to soak them. On such occasions, I boil some water, pour it over the dry beans, cover them for an hour or so and they’re ready. If I am being really lazy and don’t want to soak them at all, I just pressure cook them a little longer than I would otherwise. For soups though, I prefer not to use the pressure cooker. So, let’s start with soaked black beans.
  • Finely slice the onions, mince the garlic and chop the tomatoes.
  • Heat a little oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add cumin seeds and once they sizzle, follow with red pepper flakes, onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes.
  • Add the beans, tomatoes, salt and enough water to cover the beans. You can add more water later.
  • Once the soup comes to a boil, turn the flame down to low, put on the lid and let the soup simmer for several (4-5) hours until the beans are soft. Keep stirring every once in a while and add more water if needed.
  • Once the beans are cooked, adjust the seasonings, garnish with cilantro and EAT!
  • Like dal makhni, I like to purée a cup or so of the soup in a blender and then mix it in with the rest. This gives a really nice texture.
  • You can add a little lime juice/ yogurt/ buttermilk/ sour cream/ crème fraîche to give it some tang.
  • Feel free to add other vegetables like carrots, potatoes, leeks and celery and spices like coriander powder, bay leaves etc.

Hope you are having a SUPER sunday!

One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.


4 thoughts on “black bean soup

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