I wanna get serious and acknowledge two things right from the top.
First of all, Mickey has lapped me and Meir in Step 2 of the Soup D’état Guidelines (1. Make soup 2. Document soup 3. Have fun). I’ve definitely been focusing more on Steps 1 and 3, and really appreciate the commitment Mikey’s made to regular posts.
Secondly: most of the best soups you have ever eaten contained bacon.
Bacon’s smoky, fatty, meaty, salty allure cannot be denied. And yet, it cannot be consumed by so many of us: the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Jain, the Weight Watcher, and the Strident Vegan, just to name a few.
This dietary prohibition strikes an especially sore nerve when making that Soup of Soups: Black Bean.
Native Philadelphian, (past) Food Network personality, and fellow Yalie Dave Lieberman practically rubs your face in it with his homage to New Haven’s Atticus (NOT vegetarian) version, asking for 10 strips of that cured and smoked pork. Dude (may I call you Dude? Mr. Dude?), of course that soup is going to be amazing. It’s got ten strips of bacon in it. You could put ten strips of bacon in a pot with a freezing cold gravel and that soup would be very fussable!
And so, like a Cook’s Illustrated Test Kitchenoid, I enter the Black Bean Fray with a guiding question: how do you achieve a flavorful, hearty black bean soup without bacon?
A quick preface. Bacon or no bacon, make sure the rest of your soup game is on point: sauté diced carrots, onions, and celery for sweetness, and prep up poppin’ accoutrements like crisp sliced radishes, creamy avocado, tortilla crunchies, bright cilantro, zesty green onion, limesss, and generous dabs of cooling crème fraîche.
Now onto the possibilities for vegetarian flavor punches. You’ll recall our experience with tare from our voyage into the great ramen yonder. But for black bean glory, you will need all zee secret umami weapons.
Shrooms (N’ Soy)
I marinated chunks of shiitakes in soy sauce for double the umami fun and that oh-so-special flavor booster: salt. Didn’t have to add any additional salt at the end.
Tomatoes have a lot of natural umami. That’s why some people like to eat plain ketchup packets, a habit that is totally chill and definitely not weird at all. You can chase that Pomodo(ro) Dragon with raw diced tomatoes, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, or the holy grail of tomatoes: sun-dried tomatoes. Slice ‘em up tiny and only you will know what’s making your soup taste so GOOD.
As our tradition teaches us: one for you, one for me. I find a black lager like this one is rather good as a cooking liquid: sturdy enough to add dimension but not too heavy or overpowering. And tasty to sip while everything simmers.
Animal Products (not bacon)
Strident Vegans, cover your ears. A smoked cheese like Gouda or cheddar works wonders atop this soup. And Parmesan rinds inside can really round things out, as a recent unblogged potato leek foray aptly demonstrated.
If all else fails, use the nuclear option: