Black Bean Soup

One of our very favourite winter soups.


  • 8 oz / 230 g black kidney beans
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 3 cloves or ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 pt / 570 ml stock or water
  • salt
  • 4–6 tbsp good dry or medium sherry (optional)
  • 4–6 thin slices of lemon
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 4–6 tbsp soured cream (optional)


Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Next day, drain and rinse them, place them in a saucepan and cover with at least 2 in / 5 cm water. Boil for 15 minutes. Drain and return them to the pan with fresh water. Bring slowly to the boil, cover and barely simmer for 2–2½ hours, until the beans are tender.

Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the onion, and fry it in the oil in a heavy saucepan until beginning to brown. Add the cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper or chilli and cloves, and cook for 2–3 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée, and cook until the mixture thickens and darkens as the water evaporates. Pour on half the stock or water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the onions are soft.

Allow the cooked beans to cool slightly in their liquid before making a purée of them in a food processor or blender. It is best to do this in two batches, unless you have a large-capacity machine. Add the bean purée to the onion and spice mixture, together with the rest of the stock or water. Stir until thoroughly mixed, bring to the boil, and add salt to taste. If the consistency is too thick for you, gradually add a little more water or stock and appropriate seasoning, until the taste and consistency are as you want them.

There are several ways of serving this soup - with or without sherry, a thin slice of hard-boiled egg, or a thin slice of lemon, in any combination. I like to serve the soup very hot, pouring it when practically boiling into earthenware soup bowls containing a splash of sherry (or, even better, rum) so that the heat of the soup evaporates most of the alcohol, leaving the spirity flavour behind. I then add to each bowl a very thin slice of lemon, a sprinkling of finely chopped parsley and perhaps a tablespoonful of soured cream.