I grew up eating black bean soup. My mother’s family is from Annapolis, Md., and everyone would croon about the soup at Middleton’s Tavern. It’s really good soup—it’s made with stock and, probably, a hunk of some sort of smoked pork that gives the liquid a velvety texture.
Annapolis has a rich history as a tidewater port town and, like all port towns, gathers culinary traditions from many places, including Africa. I’d be willing to bet that centuries ago an African cook brought that black bean soup recipe to the restaurant, stewing beans with scraps of pork for hours and hours. The place has been in business since 1750 and is famous for the soup.
Of course, it’s a real trick to make a vegetarian version of such a meaty stock. Water works, sure, but you’ll never get that collagen mouth feel from water or even vegetable stock.
I spent a long time looking for the answer and finally found it when I looked to the source—not Annapolis but Africa. I’ve had African-style vegetarian coconut curries that use the thickening power of coconut milk to bring a beautiful viscosity to the soup, similar to that of a collagen-heavy broth but minus the meat.
Black Bean–Coconut Soup
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves separated
2 cups water
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
In a medium-heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot, then stir in the onions and garlic along with 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in the cilantro stems, water, beans with their liquid, and coconut milk, and bring to a simmer. Simmer the soup until the cilantro stems are tender, about 5 minutes.
Puree the soup in batches, then season with salt and pepper to taste and serve topped with the cilantro leaves.