jamaican black bean soup



Soups in Jamaica are hearty. Black bean soup can be as thin or as thick as you desire. Serve it thick like a stew as a main meal with ham or sausage, or serve it thin as a soup course. The scotch bonnet pepper (or habañero can be a substitute) adds flavor as much as it adds heat, which is very mild actually, so don’t be afraid to use it. When they are available in Bangkok I buy them, and freeze the extra for future use.

Jamaican Black Bean Soup (adapted from ethnic spicy food and more)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 small scotch bonnet pepper, slit twice to release the flavors
1 1/2 cups vegetarian broth (substitute: chicken broth)
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups dried)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (shake well before opening)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced fine

Cook vegetables. In a large stockpot, bring the temperature to medium heat. Swirl in the oil. Add the chopped red onion, red bell pepper, garlic, ginger and scotch bonnet pepper. Sauté for 3-5 minutes until the vegetables are somewhat tender. Add the broth, thyme and beans. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Sprinkle in the salt and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Purée cooked vegetables. Pour half of the soup into a blender or food processor. Pulse the soup to create a chunky mixture. Pour the puréed mixture back in with the remaining soup. Add the coconut milk and stir in the cilantro. Serve hot.


  • For a main meal, grill two sweet or hot Italian or Kielbasa sausages or turkey ham. Chop coarsely. Add to soup with the purée.
  • Use dried black beans instead of canned. Put 2 cups of beans, 6 cups of water, 3 tablespoons oil in pressure cooker. Cook 25 minutes. If beans were soaked overnight in the refrigerator, cook them 3-6 minutes.

cajun seasoned whitefish with red beans and rice

Cajun seasoned whitefish, curried root vegetables, red beans and rice
Whitefish with cajun seasoning, curried root vegetables, red beans and rice
Whitefish with cajun seasoning, curried root vegetables, red beans and rice

Many cultures of the Caribbean have their own version of  what we call rice and peas in Jamaica. It is basically rice and kidney beans cooked in coconut milk  and salted pig’s tail. This version called red beans and rice,  is from the Southern US, most likely Louisiana, via Emeril Lagasse. Instead of cooking the rice with the kidney beans, meat,  and other seasonings, the rice is cooked separately. Red beans and rice is quite easy to make but time-consuming, taking up to 2 hours to make. I halved the recipe and made some adaptations

Red Beans and Rice

Prep time: 5 hours 20 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Servings: 4

1cup dried red beans, rinsed and picked over
1  tablespoon rice bran oil (bacon grease in the original recipe)
2 1/4 cups chopped ham, divided
1 cup chopped yellow onions
1/3 cup chopped Chinese celery (celery in the original recipe)
1/3 cup chopped spur chilies (green bell peppers in the original recipe)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
1  large bay leave
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1 teaspoons dried thyme  (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
1/2 cup smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
5 cups chicken stock, or water (I used 3 chicken bouillon cubes)
2 cups cooked long grain brown rice (long grain white rice in the original)
1/4 cup green onions, sliced on the bias,  optional

Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and
set aside. Meanwhile make the rice in a rice cooker and leave it on the keep warm feature until ready to serve.

Cook’s Note: I soaked the beans for 5 hours on the counter top. Then I cooked them in the pressure cooker for 8 minutes. Drain the beans and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup of the ham and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the
onions, celery and peppers to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes.

Add the bay leaf, cilantro, thyme, sausage, and the remainder of the ham, then cook, stirring, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock or water, stir well, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the liquid starts to thicken, about 2 hours. (If  the beans become too thick and dry, add more water, about 1/4 cup at a time.)

Cook’s Note: I checked the beans every 30 minutes to make sure they weren’t drying out. At first I had the heat turned to medium low, but that was too low to cook and thicken the gravy. The liquid in the pot should bubble gently, so adjust the heat accordingly. In the last half hour of cooking, prep the fish and fry it. See instructions below.

I served the red beans and rice with whitefish seasoned with Cajun seasoning. Pat two whitefish fillets dry with paper towels, then liberally sprinkle each side with Cajun seasoning. Heat  1 tablespoon oil in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the fillets. Cook on one side 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Flip and cook on the second side 3-4 more minutes. You’ll know the fillets are done when the meat flakes easily when gently prodded with a fork. Before serving, sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper, if desired.

Remove the pot of beans from the heat and with the back of a wooden spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot.

Cook’s Note: Alternatively, remove about a cupful of beans and ham and simply mash the beans in a bowl  with a fork then return the smashed beans and ham to the pot.

Continue to cook until the beans are fork tender but look firm, and the liquid in the pot has turned reddish brown and thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.

bolivian spiced grilled pork cutlets with split peas

Now that Andy is here in New York, I am determined to make sure he eats healthy. Living on his own in Bangkok has led to all sorts of unhealthy eating habits–like eating ham hocks. I brought my South Beach Diet cookbooks when I came back from Bangkok in January, so I looked up interesting Phase One recipes. This one, to my astonishment, included a ham hock and pork loin chops. I decided I would make it without ham hock and pork chop. Though I knew that I could use lean pork tenderloin instead of pork chops there is absolutely no substitute for the meaty smoky flavor of the ham hock.  I had read about the concept of umami sometimes called the “fifth taste” that rounds out the four basic tastes: bitter, sour, sweet, and salty. Umami is savory. I decided to add powdered dry porcini mushrooms because it has an earthy savory flavor. To get back the smokiness I added a few generous twists of Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning Blend. It was perfect.

bolivian spiced grilled pork cutlets with split peas

Bolivian Spiced Grilled Pork Cutlets with Split Peas

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes

Split Peas
2 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 parsnip, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon powdered dried porcini mushrooms
1 bay leaf
Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning Blend
1 1/4 cup split peas, rinsed

Pork Cutlets
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground cardamom
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
zest of 1 lemon (about 3 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1 pork tenderloin trimmed of fat and silver and cut into eighths

Make the split peas: In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, heat the olive oil. When it is hot, add the onion, celery, and parsnip. When it starts to sizzle, add the garlic. Cook until the vegetables become softened, about 3 minutes. Add the pepper flakes and cumin. Stir and add the chicken broth, umami, peas, bay leaf, and the Smoke. Let it come to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook about 45 minutes or until the peas are tender. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

Make the pork cutlets: In a small bowl, combine the cumin, cardamom, coriander, pepper flakes, lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Pound each cutlet flat, about 1 inch 1/2 inch thickness. With your fingers, work a half teaspoon of the rub onto each side of one cutlet. Put the cutlet aside on a plate and repeat with the rest of the cutlets.

I grilled the cutlets in 3 batches for 4 minutes per batch in the George Foreman grill. Alternatively, you can cook the cutlets in a skillet sprayed with cooking spray until done. The cutlets are cooked when they reach an internal temperature of 165˚F. I served these cutlets with the split peas, Tennessee-style cole slaw, and tomato-avocado salsa.

navy bean soup with onion, celery, garlic, and thyme

navy bean soup

Navy Bean Soup with Onion, Celery, Garlic, and Thyme (adapted from allrecipes.com)

Prep time: 12 hours and 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

1 lb package dried navy beans
6 cups low sodium chicken stock (best if home-made)
4 cups water
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bay leaf
2-4 stalks fresh thyme
4-6 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley as garnish, if desired
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Put navy beans in a large bowl and cover it with enough water to reach 4 inches above the top of the beans. Cover and leave out overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Combine beans, stock, water, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf and 2 stalks thyme in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer, partly covered, for 1 hour.

Discard the bay leaf and thyme stalks. Spoon out half the soup into a large bowl. Puree the soup and return it to the rest of the soup in the pot. The soup will be thickened and pale orange in color. Add enough tomato paste to the pot to get the desired red color. Simmer 45 minutes.  Add additional thyme, if desired, but this time, pull the leaves off the stalks. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley, if using.


  • Add cubed ham to the soup
  • Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock