This recipe calls for cooking dried beans without soaking beforehand. Soaking doesn't shorten cooking time that much, so the extra step isn't really worth it. Just be sure that the beans are fresh. Many supermarket beans can be several years old, and old beans can fail to cook. If your beans don't cook up right, or you just don't want to risk it, you can substitute canned beans; see the end of the recipe for details.
The cumin I had on hand was a little faded, so I doubled the amount to make sure the flavor was strong enough. Time for a new bottle!
Black Bean and Tomato Soup
Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 large garlic cloves, halved
1 cup dried black beans, washed and picked over*
6 cups water
1 14-oz can whole tomatoes, drained
2 tsp ground cumin
1 canned chipotle pepper, rinsed, or 1 serrano pepper, coarsely chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
Heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add half of the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, and add two of the garlic cloves. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, and add the beans and the water. Discard any of the beans that float, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer 1 1/2 hours until the beans are tender.
While the beans are simmering, combine the remaining onion, drained tomatoes, cumin, chile, and remaining garlic in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Heat the remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough for a drop of the puree to sizzle upon contact. Add the puree, and cook, stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and leaves a canal when you run a spoon or spatula down the center of the pan. Stir in 1 cup of liquid from the beans, and simmer over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes until thick and fragrant. Add the tomatoes to the beans. Season the beans with salt, and simmer another 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Blend the soup coarsely using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender (cover the top with a towel to avoid hot splashes) or a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Return to the pot, and heat through, stirring.
*To substitute canned beans for the dried beans: Start the recipe as indicated, then add the 2 cans of black beans, drained, with 3 cups of fresh water (rather than 6 cups as when cooking dried beans). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Continue with the recipe as written. The flavor won't be quite as intense, but it will work.