Oven-Cooking Dried Beans

I love cooking with dried beans, but hate the overnight soaking and simmering for 3 or more hours that often goes hand-in-hand with using them. However, I've recently begun cooking my dried beans in the oven using a pretty straight-forward method that cuts the cook time for them to just a bit more than an hour. For me, that's well worth having dried beans around and I've been enjoying them in my favorite winter soups and stews. My favorite variety is black beans. They are versatile and lend great texture, flavor, and color to dishes.

Now, rather than just give you the magic key to oven-cooking dried beans, I'm also giving you a fantastic black bean soup recipe, too. Featuring lots of great vegetables, smoked sausage, and - of course - black beans, it's a flavor powerhouse that's got perfect timing for the chilly weather that Old Man Winter has been placing at our feet. Because I'm still working with the season of many pumpkins, I've used pumpkin puree in my soup, but pureed sweet potatoes would work equally well. Either way, they provide an earthy sweetness to the soup that I highly recommend. If you want more heat to the dish, feel free to add some chili powder or cayenne pepper. Also, you could use lime juice instead of the vinegar called for in this recipe, but I actually prefer the vinegar. Try it both ways and decide what works best for you and yours. Enjoy!

South American Black Bean Soup

  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 dried chiles
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2/3 cup diced celery root
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin or sweet potato puree
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage (Ideally, something that isn't pre-cooked, but that will also do in a pinch.)
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/3 cup white or cider vinegar
  • Sour cream, optional
  • Chopped raw onion, optional
  • Chopped avocado, optional

To cook the dried beans without soaking overnight or simmering on the stove for hours, heat the oven to 325°. Put one pound of beans in a 3-quart (or larger) Dutch oven or pot with a tight-fitting lid. A clay pot is ideal. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 1 inch. Put on the lid and bake for 75 minutes. Check the beans and stir them. If they are tender, take them out of the oven. If they aren't done, put them back in for 15 minute intervals until they are, adding a cup of hot water if they seem to be drying out. This will take at most 2 hours, but will probably take less than 90 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

In the same pot used to cook the beans, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the chopped onion and garlic, and sauté until they are softened and golden in color. Add the coriander, cumin, and dried chiles. Cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the stock, potatoes, celery root, pumpkin, and smoked sausage and bring to a boil. Add the black beans, reserving one cup for later. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours or until the vegetables are all soft. Remove the smoked sausage and set aside. Remove the dried chiles and discard. Add salt and pepper to taste, the smoked paprika, and the white or cider vinegar.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it has a thick, homogenous consistency. Stir in the reserved black beans and simmer for an additional 15 minutes, uncovered.

If desired, garnish with chopped raw onions, sour cream, and avocado.

  • Yields: 8-10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 3 hours, most of it baking/simmering time

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