Originally posted October 16, 2014. Updated June 2015.  

When I worked at a nonprofit organization in Harlem, New York, we served lunch to our clients on-site three days a week. The cook who worked there had been serving lunch to our clients for about a decade. She was a soft spoken woman who had been cooking her whole life and didn’t use recipes to prepare meals. She cooked by instinct, by taste, smell and appearance (a skill I’m constantly working on!). When my colleague became the nutrition director, she wanted our clients to eat foods that not only tasted good but were also nourishing and balanced. After all, we serving an HIV positive community of folks who came from Harlem and surrounding areas. We explored ways to modify ingredients she was using and explore new recipes to offer our clients. One recipe that didn’t need much tinkering was one of my favorites, her black bean soup.

Unfortunately, I never had the time to sit and watch Marie-Ange prepare her soup, but I always took a second serving of it when she prepared it! For the past 10 years I’ve searched for a soup that came close to hers and earlier this year, I found one. This Food Network recipe from Dave Lieberman was quick and simple and it was a hit in my annual soup-themed cooking class at work…but I wanted more! I wanted more vegetables, less bacon and I wanted avocado. So, I took this recipe and modified it every time I made it at home. The results kept improving. I stopped here!

My kids lovingly call this dish “Mama’s Mud Soup” because, well…it does look like mud, but mud never tasted so good in a bowl! Although mud does have some pretty nourishing minerals, you wouldn’t want to ingest it, so lucky for you, I’ve got some incredible nutrition going on in this soup. Here are a few food facts about some of the ingredients in my nutrient-rich black bean “mud” soup:

  • Black beans are not only a healthy source of plant-based protein (8 grams in 1/2 cup–same as an ounce of meat), they’re full of satisfying and heart healthy fiber (8 grams in 1/2 cup) and cancer-fighting antioxidants. According to The Bean Institute, beans are rich in lignans, which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers and the flavonoids in beans may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Most of the carbohydrates in beans comes from resistant starch, which means they digest slowly and make them a healthy choice for people dealing with insulin resistance, diabetes and high triglyceride levels. Beans also happen to be one of the lowest priced and healthiest foods we can include in our diets.
  • Low in calories and loaded with nutrition, red bell peppers add some sweetness and color to the soup. Did you know that one cup of this powerhouse vegetable packs in 470 percent of our Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C and 170 percent of our DV for vitamin A? Feel free to use jarred red pepper in place of fresh, if unavailable.
  • Mushrooms add that umami or earthy flavor and thick, meaty texture to the soup. Mushrooms are one of the few foods with Vitamin D and according to the Mushroom Council, they’re a good source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

I love the flavor and aroma of pancetta, which is an Italian bacon made of pork belly. I’ve had no problems finding diced pancetta in the deli section at my local grocery store. Most of the time it’s packaged, portioned out and cut for me! You can omit it and make this a vegetarian dish…but the flavor from the pancetta makes this soup outstanding! My immersion blender is perfect for making the soup smooth and velvety, but be sure not to go overboard with the puree process otherwise that rustic, homemade look and feel gets lost. Feel free to be generous with the lime and cilantro–I do and it’s fabulous!

Black Bean “Mud” Soup

Recipe by Christy Wilson
Servings: 8-10
Time: 30 minutes


  • 4 oz pancetta (Italian bacon), diced
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion (1½ – 2 cups diced)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or 2 tablespoons tomato sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1, 32 oz box low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14.4 oz) can Italian seasoned diced tomatoes (or fire roasted)
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cans black beans, drained and quickly rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 1 bunch (at least 1 cup) chopped cilantro
  • Juice from 3 key limes, or more to taste (I add about 5 and more at the table!)
  • Grated cheddar cheese, sliced scallions and sliced avocado for garnish (optional)


  1. Add pancetta to a warm large heavy pot. Cook over medium heat until bacon cooks and starts to give up its fat, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add onions and peppers and cook for about 3 minutes until onions are translucent. Next, add mushrooms and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until you smell the garlic and the mushrooms begin to soften. Stir to combine all vegetables.
  3. Add tomato paste, cumin, paprika and chili powder. Allow the paste to melt into the vegetables. Notice the paste and seasonings will coat the vegetables.
  4. Add broth, canned tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce to the pot then stir in beans. Increase heat setting. Once ingredients come to a boil, lower heat to keep the soup simmering for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. While ingredients simmer, rinse cilantro and pick leaves off of thick stems. Coarsely chop leaves and stir in all but a few tablespoons (for garnish) into the soup after it has been simmering and thickens. Stir in lime juice.
  6. Take your immersion blender and puree all (or most) of the soup directly in the pot.*
  7. Top soup with grated cheese, sliced scallions, sliced avocado and cilantro.

*If you do not have a hand-held immersion blender, carefully transfer soup to a blender or food processor to puree ingredients. Add blenderized soup back into the pot and serve as directed.


Nutrition information per serving:
Calories: 230;  Total fat: 4.5 gr; Saturated fat: 1.5 gr; Trans fat: 0 gr; Cholesterol: 10 mg; Sodium: 420 mg; Carbohydrate: 33 gr; Dietary fiber: 10 gr; Sugar: 3 gr; Protein: 14 gr; Vitamin A: 20%; Vitamin C: 45%;  Calcium: 10%; Iron: 20%

This soup is a fantastic way to add lots of vegetables and fiber into your diet.

Beans are a low priced nutrition power-house!

Immersion blenders are a convenient and safe way to puree hot foods right in the pot.

Garnish soup with cheese, green onion, cilantro and an extra squeeze of lime juice!