A Hill of Beans

by Mark R. Vogel

        Beans belong to a large family of plants known as legumes.  Legumes have pods with edible seeds.  Other common legumes include peanuts, peas, and lentils.  The black bean is one variety out of hundreds, of the common bean.  Beans were one of the earliest staples in the human diet.  Archaeological evidence reveals that the black bean was being consumed as far back as 5,000 B.C. in Mexico and Central America where it originated.  Today the black bean is highly popular in numerous dishes throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

        Most beans can be found in dried form.   This necessitates either soaking them in water for a number of hours or boiling them prior to cooking to soften them.  Being more of a purist, I would almost always steer you toward foods in their most natural form.  But beans are one of the very few products, (tomatoes being the other), that remain delicious and similar to their unfabricated state after being canned.  Thus, I almost always use canned beans in my recipes and forego the added step of soaking them.  Furthermore, I recommend Goya beans, as in the following recipes for black bean soup and black bean salad.




One large onion, chopped

4 poblano peppers, chopped

One long hot pepper or two jalapenos, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil, as needed

Two tablespoons chopped garlic

1 ½  tablespoons tomato paste

1 ½  tablespoons cumin

1 ½  tablespoons chile powder

Two teaspoons paprika

Two teaspoons coriander

1 teaspoon achiote

Three pints beef stock

Six (15.5-oz) cans Goya black beans


            Sauté the onions and peppers with salt and pepper, in the olive oil until they start to get soft.  Add the garlic, tomato paste, cumin, chile powder, paprika, coriander, and achiote, and sauté three minutes more.  Add the stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Puree two cans of the beans, including the liquid, in a blender, and add to the soup.  Drain the excess liquid from the other four cans and add them whole to the soup.  Simmer for a half hour uncovered.  Assess the concentration of the soup and simmer for additional time if necessary.  Add additional salt and pepper if necessary. 

            As usual, let’s discuss the ingredients.  This recipe will produce a fairly spicy soup.  To cut down the heat, you can replace the long hot peppers or jalapenos with poblano or bell peppers.  Poblano peppers are similar to bell peppers but are less sweet with only a smidgen of heat.  I think they work better in spicy dishes.  If your supermarket does not carry them you can use bell peppers.  The long hot peppers and jalapenos can be found in all supermarkets. 

            Notice the recipe calls for CHILE not CHILI powder.  Chile (with an “e”), powder is ground chile peppers and is hot.  Chili (with an “i”), powder is a mixture of ground chile powder and other spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic, etc.  Chili powder can always be found in the spice section of any supermarket.  Chile powder is more elusive.  Use Chili powder if you can’t find the real thing or want to cut the heat level a bit.  Since it’s a mixture of spices, it is usually less hot than chile powder which is solely ground chile peppers.  To make your own chile powder, buy a large number of hot peppers.  Place them in your oven on aluminum foil or a sheet tray at two hundred degrees, and leave them in overnight.  In the morning they should be dry enough to grind in a spice mill. 

            Note that the recipe calls for stock and not water.  Stock will give the soup greater body and depth of flavor.  You can certainly use water, but depending on your palate, you may wish to increase some of the spices.  Use water if you want a lighter soup, are counting calories, or do not have the time to make a pot of stock.




Two (15.5 oz) cans Goya black beans

Four plum tomatoes, chopped

One small onion, chopped

Three jalapenos, (for hot) or one poblano or bell pepper (for mild), chopped

One small can (about 8 oz.) corn

Three tablespoons olive oil

One tablespoon of either red vinegar or lime juice

Chopped cilantro leaves and stems to taste

Two teaspoons chile powder

Two teaspoons cumin

Salt to taste

Drain and rinse the beans.  Chop the tomatoes, onions, pepper, and cilantro, and then simply combine all the ingredients.  As with the soup, use hot peppers and chile powder for heat, poblano/bell pepper and chili powder for less heat. 

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