Black bean soup in the slow-cooker

One of the meat-free meals I cook with some regularity is black bean soup. It’s hearty, healthy, and especially great in the winter months. I’m tired of paying the price for canned beans, but I’ve tried to make it from scratch before, and it wasn’t exactly a success. I always seem to mess up the timing when I use dry beans.
Well. As it turns out, one of my favorite recipe bloggers has also been trying to make better friends with dried beans and her crock pot. I just saw this recipe over on the Smitten Kitchen blog, and it looks like she’s solved both of my problems. I appreciate these notes from a very seasoned cook, because so many slow-cooker cookbooks focus on foods I wouldn’t exactly consider healthy, nor would I particularly want to try. I’ve also noticed many recipes are just WRONG when it comes to timing.

Anyway, you know I had to rush right out and get myself a fresh bag of beans, because this is an absolutely perfect Sunday meal. With any luck, there would be enough leftover to feed the husband Monday night, since that’s when I have aerials class and he’s usually on his own.
Anyway, here’s her recipe, bits in italics are details I changed:

Black Bean Soup with Chipotle and Toasted Cumin Seed Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appetit

She says: “A big note about cooking times: The original recipe says 6 hours. Mine were done at 2 hours 45 minutes. Do black beans vary wildly in cooking time? Do slow cookers vary wildly in cooking time? These are all pressing questions. Check your beans at 3 hours, and holler at me in the comments if your cooking time ends up being much longer.” (go to the link above if you want to send her a comment!)
(I’m going to just say this right now. Apparently, she has the mother of all slow cookers, because at 6 hours, my beans were still pretty hard. I cooked it another 3 before it was right.)
Yields 6 main course servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium-size red onions, chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped (I used one red and one yellow pepper, because it’s what I had on hand)
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 16-ounce package dried black beans
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle chiles from a can (this gives it a solid kick, dial back if you are wary) (I used fresh jalapenos. With fresh, you probably want to double the amount)
7 cups hot water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
cilantro, dried and fresh

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and both bell peppers and sauté until beginning to brown, about eight minutes. Add garlic and cumin; stir one minute. Transfer mixture to 6-quart slow cooker. Add beans and chipotles, then 7 cups hot water. (add 2 tbs dried cilantro here as well. Also, I added the salt here. I found last time that much like with potatoes, putting the salt in while the beans are cooking means I can use less overall. I’m not sure if other people have the same luck.) Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 3 hours. [See note up top.]

Transfer two cups bean mixture to blender; puree until smooth. Return puree to remaining soup in slow cooker. Stir in lime juice, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste; we found we needed more salt. Ladle soup into bowls. Spoon dollop of yogurt into each bowl. Sprinkle with toasted cumin seed cream (below) and serve. (garnish with a lime wedge and more fresh cilantro if desired. yes, we like cilantro in this house.)

Do ahead: This soup keeps great in the fridge, and even thickens a bit. In a good way!

Toasted Cumin Seed Crème Fraîche
Hacked from Bobby Flay

1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 cup crema or crème fraîche (or make your own crema, make your own crème fraîche, or swap sour cream or yogurt, for a close-enough taste) (I used sour cream because we had it.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the cumin in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Toast until lightly golden brown. Place in spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until coarse. Stir it into the creme and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

I wrote this post while the soup was i n it’s initial 6 hour cook cycle. Reading through the comments on the original post, I think I’ve not only figured out my problem, (crock pot is only half full) but solved a huge mystery as to why most of my other bean cooking attempts failed. Pretty much every recipe I’ve tried involved tomatoes. Apparently acidic foods prevent the beans from softening! Who knew? Next time I make a chili, I’ll just use pre-stewed tomatoes and put them in after the beans are soft. Woo!


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