Black Bean Soup

Last summer, for the first time, I grew Black Turtle Beans. The plants looked just like climbing green beans. It took willpower to let the pods dry out on the vines, but after the leaves shriveled, there was something beautiful about the muted colors and spotted husks.



It was a chore to shell the beans, but they they felt wonderfully silky in my hands, and the plink-plink as the beans dropped into the bowl rewarded my efforts. They were the most beautiful beans I had ever seen.


The harvest from an entire tower of bean plants filled only half of a quart jar.



I put them into the pantry, waiting for the right day in the winter to make soup. Certainly, this week of polar freeze, ice and snow qualified! I didn’t need much: onion, garlic, carrots, parsley, broth, spices and one smoked ham hock. I’ve yet to find a local source for the hock, so I bought a Wellshire Farms product at Whole Foods because Wellshire Farms has decent animal husbandry standards, and besides, their ham hock is delicious. Since the ham hock is the predominant flavor in this soup, it does make a difference to buy the best one that you can.



Although dried beans look like they last forever, the truth is that age takes its toll. Older beans take longer to cook and have a grittier texture. Dried beans usually require and overnight soaking, but since my black beans were only four months from harvest, I didn’t bother. I pulled out my slow cooker; the beans would be just right after a day in the crockpot. You don’t need a fancy slow cooker. An inexpensive model works fine.

I started the soup by pouring oil into the crockpot so that it covered the bottom by a thin layer. I added chopped onions and covered the pot. This cooked on high, and developed flavor, while I prepped the remaining ingredients. Next in were diced carrots and a few garlic cloves, minced.

Beans bought from the supermarket are harvested using huge machines. Dirt and rocks get scooped up. Threshing, also by machine, separates the beans from the husks, and sifts out dirt, but not all pebbles are found and discarded before packaging. So dried bean recipes call for giving them a good washing and look over. Because I plucked my beans off of the vines, I knew that no rocks were lurking. However, I did immerse the beans in a bowl of water. Bad beans, and bits of husk, floated to the surface, which I skimmed off. I then gave the beans a quick drain in a colander and tossed them into the slow cooker. I poured in two boxes of organic chicken broth, stirred in two teaspoons of ground cumin and a touch of a hot pepper flakes (grown by my friends at Sweet Autumn Farm) and tucked in the ham hock. I didn’t add salt because I didn’t know how salty the hock was. As it turned out, no additional salt was needed. I covered the slow cooker and walked away.

Six hours later, I had soup, and it was very, very good.

I ladled it into a bowl, added some bits of meat cut off of the hock, dolloped on some sour cream, and generously garnished with minced fresh flat leaf parsley.



When I woke up this morning it was 15°F. I know what I’m having for lunch.


  1. That looks and “smells” so good! I will have to try it. After Christmas I had a leftover ham bone, and I made a split pea soup. It smelled so good cooking all day. That’s the only saving grace about these frigid days!

    • Mmmmm! Split pea and ham soup is one of my favourites too!
      Most soups are also good done in a pressure cooker. Less time, but you don’t get that lovely build-up of something tasty cooking for later!

  2. Looks delish. Thanks for the tip on welshire meats. My new years resolution is to tru and eat only humanely raised meats. Its tough to find, luckily I do not eat a loy of meat, but I need it for the dog, since I make most of her food. A good goal for the new year.

  3. You know, I have never been a bean fan. But I keep getting people telling me I ‘have’ to try black beans. That they’re ‘good’ beans. Is their flavor that different?

    • They are different. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that they “don’t taste brown.” You might like a black bean salad. The lemon juice in the dressing helps to cut the bean-y-ness. I’ve got a good recipe in my book 1,000 Lowfat Recipes. (It’s still for sale via Amazon, or you could try your local library.)

    • Robin, beans were an acquired taste for me, too. I started with black beans because I liked the firmer texture and slightly less earthy taste. I try to undercook my beans a bit so they never become mealy. Seasoning with with aromatic veggies, a bay leaf and a touch of olive oil never hurts. And Terry’s black bean salad recipes in 1000 Low Fat Recipes are both very tasty. I love the book for lots of other things as well.

  4. I agree with you on inexpensive slow cookers. I dropped mine and it shattered into many pieces (especially the glass lid). I got a new one at the grocery store on sale for $19. It works beautifully. Has a knob for off, warm, low and high. All I need. I like Nieman Ranch pork too.

  5. I grew a 10 foot row of Italian black-eyed peas (Dolico or dall’occho) and harvested almost a full quart jar. The peas are tiny! It was fun to thresh them and let them run through my fingers. Very silky. I haven’t cooked them yet but your recipe sounds delish. Do you let your hens pick at the ham bone?

  6. That soup looks divine — but I am a little surprised that you don’t use your own chicken stock. You might try Pete & Jens or Codman farm for your ham hock. They don’t always have them but they are wonderful when they do. But Wellshire’s Virginia ham is one of my guilty pleasures. I have some Rancho Gordo black beans in my pantry, so I think I know what’s for supper.

    • Most supermarket chickens have bones that don’t have enough flavor to make broth making worthwhile. When I buy a pasture-raised chicken, I do make broth, but it doesn’t last long! (And I like to save it for when someone has a bad cold.)

  7. Thanks for the tip on starting the onions in oil in the crockpot! Good way to keep it simple (i.e. fewer dirty pots and pans!) :-)

    • It takes a lot longer than sautéing, but as you said, one less pan to wash. Besides, this is a no-rush soup, so let the onions cook and take your time with the prep.

  8. My mother used to make black bean soup just for big family Thanksgiving dinners. Hers was pureed, I guess, because it was a horrid brown mushy concoction that tasted just like it looked. Since we were brought up to eat what was put before us, the four of us little girls would just sit there staring at our bowls with tears running down our cheeks. After a while, she would compromise: we could have the turkey, etc. if we ate ONE SPOONFUL. It took me about 50 years to be able to put a spoon of black beans in my mouth, and even now, I can only eat them cold, in a salad. Not sure if I am brave enough to try this soup, although it looks delicious.

  9. Your soup looks delicious! I’m part Hispanic so black beans are definitely on the menu. I love making a large pot of black beans and serving them over rice with chopped raw onions. Hint…..add some white vinegar to your black beans for added flavor.

  10. I wanted to make this yesterday but of course couldn’t find anything besides a watery ham at the supermarket. I’ll have to try Trader Joe’s and see what I can find.