This post is for you, dear Red Ant, and all the other people who have ever asked me for the recipe for this stew — which I usually call “soup” since it doesn’t seem like a stew to me.
The recipe I’m sharing today is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s not fancy or hard to make. It’s soup, so it’s simple — a meal all in itself. You can make it start to finish in 30-45 minutes and serve it right away, or let it simmer on the stove for hours until the wonderful aroma drives your family mad. I’ve never had known anyone to turn their nose up at this soup. In fact, people usually devour a bowl or two (or three) and then look around hopefully for more.
It comes from my current favorite cookbook, The Splendid Table’s “How to Eat Supper.” The link will take you to Amazon where you can buy the book for $23, which I highly recommend that you do. It is genius. I love the radio show, love the cookbook, and I LOVE YOU Lynne Rossetto Kasper! MUAH!!
Wow, sorry, got a little carried away there. :) Back to the soup. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of it to share with you, but I know if you give it a try you will not be disappointed and you will probably make it again and again for company, for your family, or just for yourself. It’s that good.
I’m going to first give the recipe exactly as it’s written in the book, and then I’ll share the minor edits I’ve made to it.
Cuban Black Bean Stew
1 or 2 meaty smoked ham hocks (about 1-1/2 pounds)
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
3 whole cloves
2 medium to large onions, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
1 small to medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small to medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Two 14-ounce cans chicken or vegetable broth
6 large garlic cloves, coarse chopped
3 bay leaves, broken
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 to 1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 generous tablespoons tomato paste
Three 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 limes, halved or about 1/2 cup sherry, wine, cider, or palm vinegar
1 cup chopped mild onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
1. Trim the meat away from the ham hock bone, cutting it into small pieces. Don’t be too fussy; leaving some on the bone is fine. Film the bottom of a 10-quart stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the meat, bone, cloves, onions, bell peppers, and salt. Saute for 8 minutes stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are sizzling and there’s a brown glaze on the bottom of the pan (the vegetables need not brown, and take care not to let that glaze blacken).
2. Add a little of the broth along with the garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and tomato paste. With a wooden spatula, scrape up the glaze as you simmer the mix on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Then add the beans and the remaining broth. Adjust the heat so the soup bubbles gently. Cover the pot tightly, and cook for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the juice from 2-1/2 limes or 1/3 cup of the vinegar. Taste the soup for seasoning. Adjust salt, pepper, and lime juice or vinegar to taste.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls, topping each serving with a heaping tablespoon of chopped onion and a little fresh coriander. Have the hot sauce on the table. In Cuban style, you could ladle the stew over rice.
For some reason, I don’t think much of bay leaves. They look weird, and I don’t know what they could possibly contribute to my soup. Therefore, I leave them out. Doesn’t mean you have to.
I use ground cloves, not whole cloves, because I have only limited space for spices and ground cloves are more versatile than whole.
Sometimes I skip the bell peppers for reasons of laziness alone. This is bad, I know. But I never skip the onions, except for the one time I had to because I didn’t know I was out of onions until I’d begun making the soup. And I want you to know that it was not the same soup. So make your own decision about the bell peppers, but please DO NOT skip the onions. This is serious bizness.
The lime juice/vinegar thing at the end is more important than you would think. It really takes the soup over the top. I also like to serve the soup with lime wedges so people can get all the limey goodness they want.
It just occurred to me that if ham isn’t your thing, the soup could be really good with chicken. Hm. But I haven’t tried it, so proceed at your own risk.
OK, that’s it.
Now go make some soup!