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Black bean soup low in sodium but sky-high in warmth and flavor


By Murray Schulman

As the February chill takes hold and starts to seep into our bones, we start getting creative in our attempt to prepare food that warms us from the inside out. We think about hearty satisfying dishes that stay with us and warm those gloomy winter days.

As you have already guessed, I am one of those people. Most of the time it is relatively easy to come up with a good stick to your ribs meal that is ideal for a cold month like this. For me however, the selections that I make have been a bit more challenging. For six months now I have been diligent and successful at changing how and what I eat. The process has led me back to utilizing my skills in the kitchen to produce meals that check pretty much all the boxes for flavor, nutrition and edibility. This was very tough at the beginning and took quite a bit of getting used to. The results of perseverance and effort have yielded recipes like the dish that I am going to talk about here.

I suppose you could call this dish “black bean and corn soup.” This recipe got its start from a recipe I found for a Cuban-style black bean soup. That recipe called for ham hocks and added salt. I liked the overall concept. However, the dietary changes that I needed to make suggest mixing in a couple of no-meat selections each week as well as a hard-core restriction on added sodium. The only sodium that I consume is that which occurs naturally in unprocessed foods.

This sounds almost impossible, but after about the first month my palate began to adapt to this. It dawned on me that as I tracked sodium intake that nearly everything contains some sodium content in its natural state. The trick became finding natural flavor enhancers that will make the dishes I prepared at least tolerable and, in most cases, downright tasty.

Getting back to this recipe, the first concept is that dry beans take time to prepare. Black beans are one of my favorites because if you allow the time required, these beans are among the most flavorful, creamy and delicious. In addition, one pound of black beans contains only 5.2 milligrams of naturally occurring sodium while providing 106.2 grams of the good carbohydrates, zero from sugar and 39.7 grams of protein. You would be hard pressed to find a better base for a meatless main course.

The dried black beans need to be rinsed and checked for small stones and cracked or shriveled beans. Once cleaned, the beans should be soaked in unsalted water overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the soaked beans. Your prep time for this recipe may take 30 to 40 minutes, but the beans will cook for about five hours.

This soup may be served as is, or with rice, polenta, orzo or even grits. (The starch should be plated in the bottom of the dinner bowls before adding the soup. For garnish, add a good dollop of a mixture of whole-milk ricotta cheese and plain unsweetened Greek yogurt. Finish with a sprinkle of chopped red onion and chopped fresh parsley.

Italian-Style Black Bean Soup
 Dried black beans – 1 pound
 Water or unsalted vegetable stock – 2 quarts 
 Large sweet yellow onion diced – 1 large 
 Garlic chopped – 6-8 cloves 
 Olive oil – 2 tablespoons 
 Ground black pepper – 1 generous pinch 
 Apple cider vinegar – ½ cup
 Chili powder – 1 tablespoon
 Smoked paprika – 1 tablespoon
 Mrs. Dash Salt Free Italian Medley Seasoning – 1 tablespoon
 Chopped fresh parsley chopped – 3 sprigs (may substitute cilantro if desired) Frozen corn kernels – 1 pound
 Unsalted Italian-style diced tomatoes – 2 16-ounce cans

 1. Using a heavy 4-quart soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
 2. Add the onions, allowing them to just sweat. Add the chopped garlic to the onions, allowing the onions and garlic to continue to sweat 6-8 minutes. Do not brown.
 3. Add the chili powder and smoked paprika. Mix well to release the aromatics and color. Immediately add the beans that have been soaked overnight and rinsed. Mix well to incorporate the flavors.
 4. Add the liquid and stir. Bring to a fast boil and immediately reduce to a steady simmer. Cover the pot tightly and cook at the simmer
 for 2 ½ hours. (Stir once after the first 90 minutes).
 5. Uncover the pot carefully to avoid a steam burn. Add cider vinegar, Italian seasoning, black pepper and frozen corn. Stir well.
 6. Increase heat, bringing the soup just to the boil and immediately reduce heat back to the simmer. Cover the pot and continue cooking for 90 minutes.
 7. When your 90-minute timer goes off, carefully remove the lid from the pot, and stir well.
 8. Add the diced tomatoes and parsley. Bring the soup back to the full simmer with the pot partially covered to slowly begin to reduce the liquid. Continue cooking for one hour.
 9. After one hour, remove the lid and stir well. Carefully taste the soup. I added a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a pinch of black pepper and a teaspoon of dried parsley. Stir the ingredients to fully incorporate.
 10. Continue cooking for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. 

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