The best black bean soup recipe I’ve tried – and with what’s left it’s easy to create a second meal using black beans as a topping along with melted cheese and green onions in twice-baked potatoes.

The soup is a hearty meal in itself and will satisfy both the meat lovers in your life and vegetarians alike. Chipotle chill powder adds a lovely smoky heat but don’t be put off from making this if you don’t like spicy foods, just reduce the amount you use.

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

Spicy, Painted, Black-Bean Soup

You will need:

• Chicken broth, 30% sodium reduced, 6 cups

• Bay leaf, 1 large

• Black beans, 3 x 19oz cans, drained & rinsed

• Olive oil

• Sweet Vidalia onion

• Garlic, 3-4 cloves

• Chipotle Chili Powder, ½ to 1 teaspoon

• Ground Cumin, 1 teaspoon

• Coriander, 1 teaspoon

• Dried oregano, 1 teaspoon

• Red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon

• Crushed tomatoes, half of a 28oz can

• Sugar

Garnish

• Plain Greek yogurt

• Avocado

• Green onions (scallions)

• Grape tomatoes

• Fresh lime

This is an easy soup to put together if you just do a bit of prep. beforehand: drain and rinse the black beans, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic; set out the containers of dried spices and red wine vinegar along with ½ teaspoon, teaspoon and tablespoon measures.

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot set over medium-high heat; add the bay leaf and the black beans. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered (the soup will have thickened). After 30 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

Meantime, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet and cook the onion gently for 10 minutes but do not allow to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Then add each spice in turn, stirring each time to combine and continue to cook over low-to-medium heat until the onion mixture has softened completely.

Pour in the red wine vinegar to deglaze the skillet then stir in the crushed tomato (reserve the other half for use later) and a pinch of sugar. Add the onion/spice mixture to the beans, stir to combine then cook for about another ten minutes or so to allow the flavours to meld.

Make an easy salsa by combining chopped avocado, chopped green onions (scallions) and chopped grape tomatoes in roughly equal amounts then season to taste with sea-salt and a generous amount of freshly-squeezed lime juice.

Remove the soup from the heat and when it has cooled slightly, carefully puree half of it using an immersion blender (or, if you prefer a smoother texture continue pureeing the soup). Re-heat and serve.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with Greek yogurt (use chopsticks if you have them to swirl it into a pattern) and top with avocado salsa. Some corn bread on the side and a beer or two would complete the meal. Enjoy!

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes

Twice-Baked Potatoes with Black Beans

After it sits, the black bean soup gets thicker and looks and tastes more like chill so it is perfect alongside stuffed, baked potatoes on a cold winter’s night. You will need:

• Baking potatoes, one per person

• Butter

• Shredded cheese (I used a tex-mex combination)

• Green onions (scallions), chopped

• Leftover black bean soup

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Rinse and dry the potatoes, pierce the skin a few times with the tip of a sharp knife and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for about an hour or until squeezing them gently on the sides reveals they are soft.

Remove the potatoes from the oven but leave the heat on.

Make cuts in each potato lengthwise then carefully squeeze the sides to open up the cut and push up some of the potato. Using a spoon, carefully remove as much potato as you can and put it into a large bowl.

When all the potato flesh is in the bowl, add butter, salt and pepper, grated cheese and chopped green onions (scallions) to taste.  An exact recipe is not necessary here but do taste as you go along – once it tastes the way you want, you’re done.

Now carefully refill each potato skin with the mashed potato mixture, top with grated cheese and return to the oven for about 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the potato is piping hot.

Meantime, heat up the soup in a pot on the stove.

I usually place a potato on each plate then pour over the soup and top it with extra shredded cheese and/or chopped onions; it tastes great but is not quite as pretty to look at. Alternatively, as in the photo, you could set the potato on top of the soup and garnish with extra toppings.

Baked Bone-in Ham in Coca-Cola

Baked Bone-in Ham in Coca-Cola

Baked Bone-in Ham in Coca-Cola, serves 6-8

Make it for a crowd, for a special occasion (Thanksgiving anyone?) or just a family meal; this recipe is so easy and delicious you’ll want to make it again and again. It comes from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful tome How to Eat and like her I was so intrigued when I first heard about it that I had to try it. The addition of onions tempers the raw sweetness of the Coca-Cola, the cola/onion broth in turn infuses the ham with flavour and keeps it incredibly moist. Just be sure to use a good quality, bone-in-ham, preferably from your butcher. You will need:

• Bone-in ham, 5-6lbs

• Onions, 2 medium, peeled and halved

• Coca-Cola, 2 litre bottle (NOT diet coke)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Place ham in a large roasting pan, add the onions and pour over the coke. Cover tightly with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 2-3 hours or until the ham is completely heated through and steam is rising from the pan. Carefully transfer the ham to a chopping board (but do NOT throw away the juices) and allow to sit before carving.

When the cola broth has cooled down, remove and discard the onions. Cover and store the broth and any leftover ham, including the bone, for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Slow-simmered Navy Bean Soup

Slow-simmered Navy Bean Soup

Slow-simmered Navy Bean Soup, serves 4-6

The sweet broth left over from cooking the ham is too good to waste so here it forms the base of a delicious, hearty main-meal soup. I use canned beans rather than fresh as they are more tender and frankly because it makes less work. You will need:

• Leftover Coca-Cola broth, about 6 cups

• Ham bone with some meat attached

• Canned navy beans, 2 x 29oz cans (I used Eden brand)

• Vidalia sweet onion, 1 large *

• Carrots, 2 large

• Celery ribs, 2

• Bay leaves, 2

• Leftover ham

Pour the leftover cola broth into a large pot then add the ham bone and rinsed, drained canned beans.

Peel and chop the onion and carrots; trim then chop the celery and add the vegetables to the pot. Add bay leaves; season with salt and pepper. (The beans I used had no salt added so the soup needed a little more seasoning; adjust according to the brand you buy and to your personal taste.)

Simmer for an hour, uncovered, over medium-low heat. Shred a good handful of leftover ham then add to the pot and continue to cook for another hour or so until the soup has thickened slightly and the meat is literally falling off the ham bone.  Remove the bone, shred the meat from it into the soup then season to taste again if necessary.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

* You might ask why I wouldn’t just use the leftover onion from the cola broth and it’s quite simply because after the ham has cooked, that vegetable has very little taste; the soup needs the full flavour of a fresh onion.