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Black Bean Soup with Salsa Cream

Black Bean Soup with Salsa Cream
The compound responsible for a chili's "fire" is called capsaicin. Although capsaicin is largely concentrated in the chili's ribs, or inner white membranes, some of the heat is transferred to the attached seeds and flesh as well. To remove most of the ribs and seeds from a fresh chili, using a small, sharp knife, slit the chili lengthwise, cut around the stem end and pull the stem away, removing the clinging seeds with it. Then, using the knife, scrape away any remaining seeds and ribs.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried black beans
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño chilies, seeded and minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried coriander
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 8 cups water
  • 1⁄2 small ham hock or ham bone
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh cilantro, plus 6 to 8 sprigs
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the salsa cream:

  • 1⁄2 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbs. purchased fresh salsa
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Pick over the beans, discarding any misshapen beans and stones, and rinse well. In a large pot, combine the beans with cold water to cover by 3 inches. Soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Alternatively, for a quick-soak method, bring the beans and water to a rapid simmer (but do not boil), then simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain the beans and set aside.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chilies to taste, garlic, bell pepper, cumin, coriander and oregano. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and the mixture is very aromatic, 7 to 10 minutes.

Add the beans, water and ham hock, cover partially and simmer over medium heat until the beans are soft, 1 to 1 1¿2 hours. Remove from the heat and discard the ham hock.

In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches, leaving some texture, and return the soup to the pot. Alternatively, process with a handheld blender in the pot until the desired consistency is reached. Add the lime juice, minced cilantro, salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, thin it with water. (If you prefer a velvety consistency, puree the soup until smooth, then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan.) Reheat gently over medium heat.

Just before serving, make the salsa cream: In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, lime juice, salsa, salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish each bowl with the salsa cream and a cilantro sprig. Serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Soup, by Diane Rossen Worthington (Simon & Schuster, 2001).