All beans are versatile, not only yielding up their own subtle flavors and textures, but also providing the ideal neutral vehicle for combining with and absorbing intense flavors. But black beans may be my all-around favorite bean. Their beautiful glossy blackness has something to do with it, plus their small size and firmish texture make them very appealing.

Black beans are wonderful in salads, chilies and chunky soups, but they also puree into a creamy smooth soup and a zesty spread or dip.

BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH CHOPPED VEGETABLE GARNISHES

If you serve this scrumptious soup over a scoop of hot cooked white or brown rice, it becomes an even heartier meal. Garlic-cheese toasts would also be a welcome addition.

Serves 2 (can be doubled)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small stalk celery, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 teaspoons dry mustard

3 cups drained cooked black beans (two 15-ounce cans)

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon good-quality chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons sherry

½ teaspoon liquid hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup chopped fresh tomato

½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt

1/3 cup sliced scallions

¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium-large saucepan or soup pot. Add onion, celery, garlic and mustard and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add beans, vegetable broth, cumin, chili powder and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree soup until quite smooth. Return to pot, add about 2 cups water, and stir in sherry and hot pepper sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes until heated through. Soup should be quite thick, but not so thick that it mounds on a spoon. Thin with additional liquid if necessary.

Put tomatoes, sour cream, scallions and cilantro in small bowls and pass at the table to use as garnishes.

ZESTY BLACK BEAN SPREAD

My sister made this spread (or dip) for a recent party and reported that it was maybe the best of its kind she’d ever tasted. Let this recipe be a guide, and add more or less heat (from the jalapeños) and spice (from the vinegar, Worcestershire, chili powder, cumin) to suit your taste.

Makes about 1 cup

1½ cups drained cooked black beans (one 15-ounce can)

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 small pickled jalapeño (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon good-quality chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the beans, garlic, jalapeño, vinegar, Worcestershire, sugar, chili powder, cumin and paprika. Process thoroughly to make a smooth puree. If the mixture is too thick to puree smoothly, add a tablespoon or 2 of water. Season with salt to taste.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend, or for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips or fresh vegetable crudités (such as cucumber, carrot or jicama sticks, strips of red or green bell pepper) for dipping.

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Chowderland” (2015). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at:

facebook.com/brookedojny


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