Cuban Black Bean Soup

When me and Heikki were travelling in Cuba, black bean soup was one of our favorite vegan foods. Staying at casas particulares, renting extra rooms from people’s homes, we had the advantage of sampling Cuban home cooking the vegan way. We could always explain what vegan food was, and could be sure that our beans had no added meat or lard in them.

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This is the only picture we have of the soup, and the actual food is hardly visible. What can be seen is that we cooked it on the wood stove at the cottage, next to the rutabaga cubes that we fried at the same time. Aesthetically, this dish really is just dark brown, thick, and mushy, so I actually think the photo still reveals more than a picture of a bowl would have been capable of.

We served this soup as a starter for the Christmas dinner, and it came out pretty much like the one our hospitable hosts Noris and Israel cooked for us in Habana; thick and filled with the deep flavor of black beans, with an added smokiness from smoked red paprika.

This is what we used for the soup:

  • 1 big onion, cubed
  • 10 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 l water
  • 1 l black beans, soaked overnight (400 g dry beans)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon dried crushed chili
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • lemon wedges and fresh cilantro to serve

First, we rinsed the beans and let them soak overnight, covered with plenty of cold water. Then we fried the onions and garlic in the olive oil until they were translucent, being careful not to burn them. On medium heat, this should take about 7 minutes. Then we added the red bell pepper to the soup pot, fried it for a few minutes, and added the rest of the ingredients, except for salt. It’s best to let the beans soften before adding salt, because it can make their skins a little chewy.

Now, we brought the soup to a brisk boil, let it bubble for some 15 minutes, and then lowered the heat to let it simmer gently for about 3 hours. After about an hour or so, I added the salt. Since we cooked it a day ahead, we refrigerated the soup and reheated it the next day before dinner. The taste of the soup benefits from the long simmering time and gets even better when reheated. Nevertheless, if the cook is really hungry, the soup should be ready to eat after an hour and a half of simmering.

We served the soup with lemon wedges so that everyone could squeeze fresh lemon juice in their soup. There was also a bowl full of chopped cilantro on the table, so that each diner could sprinkle their bowls with as much of it as they liked.

There were four of us at the Christmas dinner, and this recipe left us with a lot of leftover soup for the remaining holidays.

 

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