Rediscover black bean soup with good garnish; read the secret to making soup that’s not sludgy

A bowl of black bean soup topped with sour cream, red onion and fresh slices of avocado and chili pepper. Curry sauce mix recipe Black bean soup recipes have a tendency to turn out sludgy or bland, but the trick is to season generously, and puree sparingly (Jessica Emily Marx/The New York Times)

Start asking food people how to make the best black bean soup, and all roads will quickly lead to Steve Sando.

Very few can claim the title “celebrity bean grower,” but Sando of Rancho Gordo in Napa, California, is just that.


Curry chicken sauce recipe He began by raising beans in his home garden and was immediately impressed (and overwhelmed) by their high yield. Curry sauce with coconut milk recipe To manage the overflow, he began selling them at the farmers’ market in nearby Yountville. Recipe for curry sauce with coconut milk (Sharp-eyed food lovers will see where this is headed.) Yountville is home to the famed restaurant the French Laundry; Sando’s beans found their way into the hands of its chef, Thomas Keller. Curry sauce recipe with coconut milk The rest is history.

I’d never thought about why black bean soup is so much more savory than white or red, but Sando knew immediately. Creamy yellow curry sauce recipe “Only black beans make that inky broth,” he said. Recipe for thai red curry sauce “Then they have that creamy center and fudgy, earthy flavor. Authentic curry sauce recipes indian They are really special.”

Clearly, a person who appreciates beans so richly was right for the job of helping redeem black bean soup. Recipe for thai green curry sauce The American classic can be a perfect dish: big-tasting, filling, nutritious, easy to prepare and very possibly vegetarian. Easy coconut curry sauce recipe But it has an unfortunate tendency to turn sludgy or bland, or both. Chinese curry sauce recipe from takeaways I set out to find a recipe that would resolve those issues.

The first matter is the type of bean used. Recipe for chinese curry sauce Sando, who has 10 farmers in the Pacific Northwest growing dozens of varietals, raises at least three or four kinds of black beans, like the giant Ayocote Negro and the Black Valentine, a wine-dark kidney. Chinese curry sauce recipe uk But, he said, plain black turtle beans are the best for soup. Chinese curry sauce recipe easy They are the staple bean in much of southern Mexico and the one associated with classic Brazilian feijoada and Cuban frijoles negros. Coconut red curry sauce recipe Basic frijoles de olla, or pot beans, should be swimming in liquid, not sitting in sludge, and the same is true for black bean soup. Thai curry sauce recipe buffalo wild wings The velvety, aromatic broth — called sopa negra or caldo de frijol — is prized by experienced bean cooks.

Like all dry beans — whether called borlotti or fagioli, cranberry or cannellini, alubias or frijoles — turtle beans are of American origin, first cultivated in Central and South America. Bww thai curry sauce recipe These dry or “common” beans have tough outer pods that protect the beans as they mature. Bw3 thai curry sauce recipe Other members of the bean family, such as favas, limas and cowpeas, grow in almost every part of the world. Recipe for chicken kitchen curry sauce The Spanish saying “en todas partes cuecen habas,” which figuratively suggests that everybody has the same problems, more literally means “people everywhere cook beans.”

Many New World beans caught on in Europe and beyond, but black beans have stayed stubbornly American. Indian chicken curry sauce recipe In the past, cooks in the United States treated black beans the same way they did other vegetables for soup: boiled them into submission, then ground them until smooth, in hopes of removing as much texture as possible. Chicken in curry sauce recipe A New York Times recipe from 1879 instructed readers to boil the black beans for three to four hours, then rub them through a colander “into a sort of paste.” This kind of soup was smooth and murky, and often thinned with cream, but it was considered elegant enough to serve with sliced lemon and sieved egg.

Sometimes, the problem with black bean soup is too much taste, and it becomes necessary to cut the beans’ intensity. Chicken kitchen curry sauce recipe This can be done with acid, like lime juice or vinegar; with the freshness of herbs, like oregano, bay leaves or the traditional epazote; or with heat, like roasted poblanos or chipotle chilies.

The transformative power of a can of chilies should not be underestimated. Coconut curry simmer sauce recipe For the uninitiated, chipotles in adobo are a world away from bland, canned jalapenos. Tikka masala curry sauce recipe They are a smoky, fiery Mexican elixir that, like Thai curry paste or tahini, brings a blast of flavor and regional character to any dish.

Chipotle chilies themselves are ripe jalapenos that are dried, then smoked. Kikkoman thai red curry sauce recipes The adobo — a rough translation here would be “marinade” — is a paste of tomatoes, vinegar, onions, garlic and oregano, sometimes with spices like coriander and cumin. Thai red coconut curry sauce recipe The chilies and adobo are sealed and cooked in the can, trading their flavors back and forth, into a rich, tangy mass. Recipe for basic curry sauce A few teaspoons of this mixture is an extraordinarily easy shortcut to a tasty pot of beans, especially when you let its flavors bloom by adding it to the pot early on. Basic curry sauce recipe uk Beans, like potatoes, can happily absorb a lot of salt and spice, but go slowly.

The other shortcut to flavor here is the sofrito, aromatics and vegetables softened in hot oil that will flavor the cooking liquid and thus the beans. Brown curry sauce recipe The sofrito in this recipe is not traditional for black beans; it contains carrots and chilies in addition to onions and garlic, and it is deglazed with red wine. Beef curry sauce recipe But it is extensively time-tested, having been cooked regularly by myself and many others since 1994, when a version was first published in the cookbook “Bobby Flay’s Bold American Food.”

If you choose not to puree it, this recipe can be served as pot beans instead of soup, on top of white rice or as a side dish for a dinner of quesadillas and avocado salad. Irish curry sauce recipe For soup, pureeing some of the beans gives it a luxurious mouthfeel, like a cream soup. Golden curry sauce recipe Either way, your leftovers (which will thicken overnight) can be mashed and cooked in oil (or lard, to be strictly traditional) to make refried beans.

I can already hear some of you asking if this can be made in a pressure cooker. Chicken kitchen mustard curry sauce recipe Yes, but Sando advises against pressure because it forces the beans to absorb all the liquid, making them pudding-y instead of soupy. Recipe for mild curry sauce If you don’t mind the loss of the broth, by all means use the pressure cooker, but keep some extra stock on hand. Spicy red curry sauce recipe A pudding problem can also arise if you puree too many of the beans: Their starches will flow into the liquid and turn it to mud. Green thai curry sauce recipe Go slowly, and don’t let the immersion blender get away from you to go careening around the pot.

Empty the can of chilies into a blender or food processor. Mussels in curry cream sauce recipe Puree until smooth, scrape into a container and set aside. Easy curry sauce recipe for chips Put on a teakettle of water to boil and keep hot.

In a large, heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Basic curry paste recipe Add carrots, onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes.

Pour in wine and let simmer until pan is almost dry and vegetables are coated. Vegan curry sauce recipe coconut milk Add jalapenos and cook, stirring, just until softened, 2 minutes. Curry powder sauce recipe coconut milk Push the vegetables out to the edges of the pot and dollop 2 teaspoons of chipotle puree in the center. Red curry sauce recipe coconut milk Let fry for a minute and then stir together with the vegetables.

Add beans, stock, oregano and bay leaves. Curry sauce recipe chicken kitchen Stir, bring to a boil and let boil 10 to 15 minutes. Thai green curry sauce recipe coconut milk Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as needed to keep the soup liquid and runny, not sludgy. Recipe for red curry paste Continue cooking until beans are just softened and fragrant, 1 to 2 hours. Curry paste recipe with curry powder Add salt and pepper and keep cooking until beans are soft.

Meanwhile, make the pickled onions, if using: In a bowl, combine sliced onions, lime juice and a sprinkling of salt. Indian curry sauce recipe with curry powder Let soften at room temperature until crunchy and tart, about 30 minutes. Recipe for basic indian curry sauce Drain and rinse with cold water. Coconut curry sauce recipe rainforest cafe Squeeze dry in paper towels and refrigerate until ready to serve. Coconut curry sauce recipe for chicken If desired, chop coarsely before serving.

Adjust the texture of the soup: The goal is to combine whole beans, soft chunks and a velvety broth. Red coconut curry sauce recipe Some beans release enough starch while cooking to produce a thick broth without pureeing. Spicy curry paste recipe If soup seems thin, use an immersion blender or blender to puree a small amount of the beans until smooth, then stir back in. Spicy indian curry sauce recipe Continue until desired texture is reached, keeping in mind that the soup will continue to thicken as it sits.

Heat the soup through, taste and adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, drops of red wine vinegar and dabs of chipotle puree.

Serve in deep bowls, garnishing each serving with a dollop of sour cream, a scattering of pickled onions and a flurry of cilantro leaves if you like.

Note: If chipotle chiles are unavailable, use 1 tablespoon each ground cumin and ground coriander.

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