Latin-Style Black Bean Soup


This vibrant soup is influenced by the cuisine of Mexico’s Oaxaca state, which is famous for mole, ground mixtures of spices, seeds, and nuts that form the basis for a variety of soups and stews. For a heartier soup, remove the ham meat from the bone, shred it with your fingers, and stir it back into the hot soup.


  • 3 cups (21 oz/655 g) dried black beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 smoked ham hock, about 1 lb (500 g)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • tsp ground cloves
  • 2–3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp hot red pepper sauce, or more to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black peppercorns
  • Chopped fresh cilantro, chopped red onion, and sour cream for serving


Pick over beans and discard any misshapen beans or stones. Rinse beans under running cold water, drain, and place in a saucepan. Add water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove beans from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.

Drain beans and return to saucepan. Add 8 cups (64 fl oz/2 l) water, bay leaf, and ham hock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover partially, reduce heat to low, and simmer.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and bell pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and cloves and cook about 2 minutes longer. Add onion mixture to beans and simmer until very tender, 1–1½ hours; timing will depend upon age of beans.

Remove soup from heat. Remove ham hock and set aside for another use. Remove bay leaf and discard. Working in batches, purée half of the soup in a blender. Return soup to a saucepan with unpuréed mixture and season with lime juice, hot pepper sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Gradually reheat over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Ladle soup into warmed individual bowls. Top each serving with cilantro, red onion, and sour cream and serve right away.