Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.*

It’s been freezing here in Boston for the last week or so, which has put me in serious comfort-food mode.

I’ve had a few days off, and have been able to flit in and out of the kitchen, tending to hearty, slow-cooking dishes. (Hehe…Hooray for vacation! I’m just sad it has to end.)

This is a fantastically warming soup that’s perfect for winter nights. I used dried beans because I prefer their texture to canned. That means I started the night before by soaking the little guys.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Rich flavor (no stock!)

I built layers of flavor by sauteing diced bacon ’til it was crispy—then cooking sweet onion and carrots in the bacon fat until lusciously caramelized and brown.

A quick deglaze with orange juice adds a hint of sweetness that nicely balances the salty, smokey bacon. A good amount of ground chipotle and garlic give the soup some serious kick. (Not a heat lover? Just add less chili.)

I did all of this specifically to develop a deep fIavor base for the soup, because this recipe calls for water—not stock.

A fresh batch of diced carrots, some fresh orange zest and juice, and a handful of minced cilantro added at the end brighten up the soup.

The end result is spicy, smokey, a little bit sweet, and subtly fragrant with orange. If you prefer the classic chili/lime combination, you can totally substitute in lime juice and zest for the orange here.

The finished soup also thickens in the fridge. Reheat it in a bowl with a side of fluffy white rice and some freshly chopped mangoes—or add a little water or orange juice to thin it out a bit.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: A note on salt

Don’t add any until the end.

You’re using a fair amount of bacon, so your soup will already have plenty of salt built in. Better to wait ’til the end to see if you think it needs an extra sprinkle. (After all, once you put it in, you can’t get it out.)

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Ridiculous praise for my big red pot

Use your largest, heaviest bottomed pot to make this. I started out in a smaller pot, but then wound up transferring my soup to my 7-quart Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Round French Oven.

I absolutely love this thing.

I got a great deal on it maybe 10 years ago. It still wasn’t cheap, but it’s held up better than almost any piece of kitchen equipment I own, so it was definitely an investment that paid off. (Amazon has it on sale for $259 right now, which is 36% off the $405 list.*) I make almost all my soups and large casseroles in it, and also use it to roast chickens, etc.

OK, enough about the pot

Get to the recipe, Mouse! Yep, yep. Here you go.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro

1 lb. dried black beans
6 rashers (strips) of bacon, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
15 baby carrots, diced
3/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tsp. – 1 Tbls. ground chipotle chili (depending on how hot you want it)
1 Tbls. garlic powder
8 cups water
1 fresh bay leaf
3 Tbls. minced cilantro + a little more for garnish
1 navel orange, juice + zest
kosher salt

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro, part 1: Soak the beans the night before

The night before you want to make this soup, you’ll need to soak the beans to rehydrate them.

I like dried beans over canned. They’re a little more work in that you need to soak ’em, but when I have the time, I definitely prefer the slight toothiness they have to canned beans, which can be mushy before you cook them.�

So, grab your beans! Any old 89-cent bag of dried black beans from the grocery store will do.

Dump them out into a large bowl.

Now, bags of dried beans usually come with some unwanted, extra treats. Pick through the beans well, and pull out any twigs or little stones. You won’t find a ton, but there will likely be a half-a-dozen or so.

I’m talking about this stuff (the stuff that’s about the size of a bean, so it gets missed in the packaging process):

When you’re done, rinse the beans.

Fill your bowl with water a few times and pour it out, holding your hand at the edge of the bowl to keep the beans from escaping.

Then fill the bowl up with water, so that the beans are covered in about 4 inches of water.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave it in a cool place on your counter overnight.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro, part 2: Make the black bean soup

After your beans have soaked overnight, they will have about doubled in volume. The water will also be kind of muddy looking because it’s leached some of the color out of the beans. That’s just fine.

Drain your beans. They should be more of a deep purple, not black.

Set the beans aside while you make the flavor base for the soup.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Make the soup base

Set your largest, heaviest bottomed soup pot on the stove. Put your diced bacon in the pot.

Set the pot over medium-high heat.

Fry the bacon, stirring occasionally until the bacon is crisp and brown.

You want the bacon to look about like this:

Scoop out a spoonful or two of the bacon and set it aside to drain and use as a garnish for your finished soup.

At this point, pour off (and save for other uses!) some of the bacon fat, if you like.

Add the diced onion and about a third of the diced carrots to the pot.

Stir to combine and coat the veggies in the remaining fat.

Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are transluscent and browning.

The bottom of your pot should be coated with yummy brown bits.

Turn the heat down to medium.

Pour in the orange juice. (Watch your face and hands. There will be a poof of steam.)

Scrape at the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to loosen all those brown bits.

Toss in the garlic powder and ground chipotle. Now, I used a full tablespoon, because I love hot food. If you don’t, definitely add less.

Stir to combine. The mixture will be really thick, as a lot of the orange juice will have evaporated�leaving you with concentrated, orange-y goodness.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Put the soup together

Toss in the beans.

Stir to combine well. It’s not the prettiest looking stuff right now, but just you wait. 😀

It was at this point that I realized that I should have used my trusty�and much bigger�french oven. No big deal…I quickly transferred the mixture to my larger pot.

Pour in the water.

Toss in the bay leaf and give the pot a stir. It should look about like this:

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Simmer and bubble away

Raise the heat to high to bring the soup to a boil.

When it’s boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Your goal is to keep the soup simmering, but not boiling.

Simmer covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Finish the soup

After 2 hours, uncover the pot. Keep the heat on low. Your soup should look about like this:

The broth will be thicker, but still on the thin side. The beans should be cooked through without being mushy (i.e. they’ll still have a little bite to them). Taste one to be sure.

With a wooden spoon, smoosh a bunch of the beans against the inside of the pot to break them up, like this:

This will help to thicken the soup as it finishes cooking. Toss in the rest of the carrots (I chopped mine into a slightly smaller dice) and the minced cilantro.

Stir to combine.

Zest your orange with a microplane or the smallest holes on a regular old box grater. Be careful to get only the orange rind, not the bitter white pith beneath it.

Toss the zest into the soup pot.

Once you’ve zested it, cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice right into the soup.

(If your orange isn’t very juicy, just add a splash of regular orange juice to the pot here. The goal is to brighten up the soup a little with fresh orange flavor.)

Give the soup a stir to mix the juice and zest in.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Simmer the soup one last time

Cover the pot again and simmer it for maybe another 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are cooked through. Stir occasionally, and lower your heat if you find that the soup is sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Smokey Black Bean Soup with Orange & Cilantro: Serve & enjoy!

After about a half an hour, your soup should be done. Everything should be cooked through, and it should be wonderfully thick. Taste your soup and correct the seasoning with a little salt or cilantro as you see fit.

Serve garnished with crispy bacon and minced cilantro.


*Amazon pricing for the big red pot is accurate as of the posting date/time of this article, but is subject to change. Please double-check all info before ordering.

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. Thanks, ladies! :D Bunny--Oh, let me know how it comes out with turkey bacon? If it's really, really lean, you might toss in a tiny bit of olive oil when you add the onion & carrots. +Jessie
  2. I am totally making this soup now! Already dicing onions and carrots. And, since I live in Los Angeles, I'm picking oranges right off my tree... By coincidence, I soaked black beans last night, with the idea of making a soup. Its like your read my mind, hungry mouse! Thank you. Now, I just need to create a cocktail to go with it... perhaps that will be my next blog post! xo
  3. I only know how to cook clear chicken broth with black beans (as with any Chinese soup, it is always clear soup) but this looks great. Black beans and orange juice...interesting combination. Worth giving it a try and love the added chili too.
  4. You got me again. I am SO making this tonight. Maybe there will be leftovers (nah, not likely). And I'm in lust with that Le Creuset French Oven... just the thing for a nice cassoulet, non?