Growing up in a middle of the road, Ashkenazi home in north Manchester, there were only two types of beans in our culinary repertoire: baked beans and butter beans (and a few has-beens, but we won’t go into that). Baked beans were a symbol of assimilation but butter beans frankly were a step too far— mealy, stodgy and unpleasantly ubiquitous in chicken soup – and so uncompromisingly large!
Later, I discovered that beans meanz more than the hated butter bean. Beans are cheap, nourishing, and form a large family that includes cannelloni, flageolets, pinto, haricot and broad beans, and the addictive, earthy ful medames from Egypt, all of which need strong flavours of onion, tomato, olive oil and herbs to make robust stews, vibrant soups and casseroles.
Black beans would certainly have been looked upon with suspicion in our household, but I fell in love with their meaty, slightly sweet, full flavour when visiting the Cuban Jewish community in Florida, where I also gained a taste for Shabbes guava pastries. Black beans with rice and this spicy thick soup are Cuban staples, although I’m not sure they were ever served in the legendary kosher Havana restaurant gloriously called “Moishe Pupik”— I kid you not. Still, sour cream gives the soup a haimishe feel. As we all know, everything tastes better with sour cream.
● 1 small onion, chopped
● 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
● 1 tablespoon olive oil
● Half a teaspoon chilli powder
● 1 teaspoon dried oregano
● 1 tablespoon ground cumin
● 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
● Vegetable stock
● Small bunch of fresh coriander, washed and chopped. Reserve a few sprigs.
● Salt and black pepper
● To serve – sour cream and chopped avocado
● Soften the onion and pepper in the oil, transfer to a saucepan, add the chilli powder (add more or less depending on how spicy you like your soup), oregano and cumin. Cook for 1 minute.
● Add the drained beans and enough stock to just cover the vegetables. Cook for about 20 minutes.
● Take out half of the beans and set aside. Blend the rest of the beans together with the liquid, vegetables and most of the fresh coriander.
● Reheat the soup, adding the reserved beans. Adjust the seasoning, divide between two bowls and serve with dollops of sour cream, chunks of avocado and the reserved fresh coriander.