December 27, 2010

Black Bean and Ham Soup

We had lots of leftovers from our early-Christmas ham.  A lot of the ham was sliced up for sandwiches, but I used a good chunk of it - and the ham bone - to make up a big pot of black bean soup with ham.  There was one big obstacle to my making the soup, though:  lack of a recipe.

I used to have a pretty good recipe for black bean and ham soup, but when I went to make up my soup, I couldn't locate that recipe.  That kind of bothered me - and I haven't given up looking, as I do want to find that old recipe - but with no other option, I decided to just wing it this time around.

Aside from the obvious ingredients - black beans and ham - I decided to go with a basic mix of vegetables (onions, carrots, celery), plus some extras for flavor.   I had some chilis, and while I decided against chopping them up as an ingredient - I was wanting something that tasted like a soup, not watered-down chili - I decided to use them to flavor the soup but remove them before serving.   Beyond that, decided to just go with some basics for seasoning, and cornstarch to thicken the broth a bit.

The results were... okay.  Not great, but not bad, either.  The beans were well-cooked - tender, but not split open or half-dissolved.  The ham provided rich flavor, and the jalapenos and pepper flakes gave the broth a slight undercurrent of heat.  Served up with some sour cream and a bit of chopped cilantro, I liked it fine enough, but clearly it could use some improvement.   Suggestions, anyone?

Black Bean and Ham Soup

2        pounds dried black beans
1        ham bone with about 3 cups ham attached
2        jalapenos, halved and seeded
2        large onions, minced
16      cloves garlic, minced
3        bay leaves
5        tablespoons salt
2        tablespoons olive oil
2        stalks of celery, chopped
2        large carrots, peeled and chopped
2        tablespoons ground cumin
4        tablespoons dried oregano
1/2     teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2        teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
4        tablespoons cornstarch
          chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream (to garnish)

Put the beans, ham bone, jalapenos and 30 cups of water in a stock pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes or so, then skim any scum from the surface of the water.  Add one chopped onion, 10 cloves of minced garlic, bay leaves and salt and cook about 2 hours. 

Remove the ham bone from the pot and cut meat into small hunks; discard bones and fat.  Stir the meat back into the pot.  Remove two cups of beans and a bit of broth to a bowl and mash the beans, using a potato masher or fork.  Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the remaining onion along with the celery and carrot.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft.   Push the vegetables to the side of the skillet, add cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and 6 cloves of minced garlic to the middle of the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.  Stir all the contents of the skillet together, then stir in the mashed beans and liquid, along with black pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, then transfer the skillet contents to the pot.  Stir to mix and cook another 20 minutes or so to allow the flavors to blend. 

At the end of that time, check seasoning, adjust with additional salt and pepper, if needed, then serve, providing sour cream and cilantro at the table to garnish to taste.

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