Before going to bed, put the beans under water. No need to fuss with them, just put them in a bowl with lots of water. When you're ready to make the soup, drain them in a colander, rinse them well, and paw through them for stones. (Somehow I find that dirt clods or stones are more obvious when beans are wet.)
Black bean soup is very good all by itself. But if you want to make it look really spectacular, ladle it into bowls and garnish it—a little pile of diced onion or sour cream surrounded by chopped, hard-boiled eggs.
Serves 4 to 6
1. Sauté the onions in a little oil. Add the celery and carrot as they're diced. When the onion gets a little brown around the edges, stir in the garlic and thyme.
2. Drain the beans. When the garlic is fragrant, add the beans along with the broth, water, tomatoes, and ham hock. Bring to a simmer and cover. After a few minutes check that it's at the barest simmer, then forget about it for a couple hours.
3. Purée a couple cups of soup (mostly beans) and return to the pot (this is just to thicken the soup). Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Retrieve the ham hock, cut through, peel off, and discard the skin. Pull off the meat, cut it into pieces, and put it back in the soup. Throw out the bone. The soup is probably a little thin yet, so let it simmer uncovered until it thickens up a bit, then refrigerate. Hardboil some eggs if you want to.
5. When you are ready to serve, gently heat the soup up while making corn bread and getting garnishes ready. Just before serving, stir in the sherry. Pass the garnishes at the table.
Hard-boiled eggs—Here's my method, it works like a charm. Put the eggs in a pan and cover with cold water. Put them on a high burner. When the water comes to a simmer, adjust the burner so they don't bounce around and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the bell goes off, put the pan in the sink and run cold water over the eggs until they're cool enough to handle. Smash them on the fat end and peel. Done. (Two eggs will be enough for a garnish, but why not do a few extra for egg salad sandwiches on Monday.)
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