If you’re feeding a family of four or more and don’t have at least one recipe in your arsenal that begins, “Open a can of…” let’s face it:  you’re sunk.  This particularly can-tastic soup is one of my favorites.  It’s quickly and easily made with ingredients that are already in my pantry, and I actually prefer its simple flavors and creamy texture to other, more complicated black bean soups I’ve cooked in the past.  We like it with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt (for a dairy- and soy-free option, try the coconut “nogurt”  recipe, below) and sweet potato quesadillas on the side.

Easy black bean soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups, serving 6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

3 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock (boxed or canned broth is fine)

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Salt, to taste

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme, and cumin and cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes with their juice, beans, stock, and Tabasco*.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Ladle about 1/3 of soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Stir puree back into pot.  Season with salt as needed.

* Our kids are not big on spicy food, so I don’t add the Tabasco to the whole pot.  Instead, I add a dash or two to the grown-ups’ bowls just before serving.

Coconut “nogurt”

Creamy and tangy, a little like sour cream and a little like yogurt, I use it as a dairy- and soy-free substitute for yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk in cooking.

Yield:  2 cups

1 15-oz can lite coconut milk

1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice (from about 1/2 lemon or 1 lime)

5 tsp. cornstarch

4 tsp. granulated sugar

Whisk ingredients together in a small saucepan until well-blended.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to prevent lumps.  Let cook about 1 minute, until thick and glossy.  Transfer to a pint container and press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the surface of the nogurt (to prevent a skin from forming).  Let cool at room temperature until lukewarm, then refrigerate until cold.  Nogurt will thicken as it cools.  Stir well before serving.