Cuban Black Bean Soup

bowl-of-black-bean-soup½  lb. medium-sized dried black beans OR
2 (14.5-ounce) cans black beans, drained
½ lb. Italian sausage, hot or mild, casings removed
1 medium-sized onion, diced
½ red pepper, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t ground cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t oregano
¼ t cayenne pepper (optional)
6 C chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 (14.5) can diced tomatoes
Sea salt to taste
Garnish: sour cream, chopped cilantro, diced avocado

If using dried beans, sort the beans to remove any pebbles or dirt. Rinse and soak them in a large pot with cold water to cover by 2″. Cover and let sit 4-12 hours. Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Place beans in a pot, add 6 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1-1 ½  hours, partially covered. Add more water during cooking if needed. Test for tenderness after one hour. Drain and chill up to 3 days.

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the sausage. Break the sausage into smaller chunks as it begins to cook. After a minute or two, add the onion, red pepper, celery and garlic. Mix well, add all the seasonings, cover and cook  8-10 minutes over medium-low heat.

After the vegetables have softened, add the black beans and chicken broth. Cover and continue simmering another 20-30 minutes. Ladle out 2 cups of the soup into a blender or food processor, making an effort to avoid any sausage chunks. Puree, then return the smooth soup to the pot. Stir through to thicken the soup. Add the tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes or up to an hour, on a very low simmer. Serve with sour cream, chopped cilantro and diced avocado, if desired.

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