Soup Night: Havana Banana Black Bean Soup

      Havana Banana Black Bean Soup
      From Maggie Stuckey's Soup Night

      Serves 6-8

      This version of the classic black bean soup is made simpler with canned beans, and very easy to convert to a vegetarian version; see notes below. Fresh bananas add an unusual but delicious Latin American touch.
      Side story: I once had the great pleasure of being invited to a taco feast prepared by a wonderful group of Latina women who spoke almost no English. With eloquent sign language, they urged me to try slicing bananas onto the richly flavored rice dish. I thought it seemed odd but couldn't bring myself to ignore their smiles, so I tried it and I'm telling you, it's delicious!

      2 tablespoons olive oil
      2 medium onions, minced
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      3 (15-ounce) cans black beans
      4 cups chicken broth
      1/2 pound cooked ham, in small bite sizes
      1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
      2 tablespoons white vinegar
      1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
      Dash Tabasco
      Salt and freshly grated black pepper
      3-4 ripe bananas

      1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saut 1 minute longer.

      2. Drain two of the cans of black beans, and then add them plus the third with its liquid to the pot. Mash the beans slightly with a potato masher; you want a mix of whole beans and bean pulp.

      3. Add the broth, ham, tomatoes and their juice, vinegar, cumin, Tabasco, salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer to heat everything through and allow the flavoas to blend, 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

      4. Top each serving with several slices of banana; have extra banana slices on the table so folks can add more if they wish.

      Make ahead? All the way through step 3; refrigerate.
      For large groups: Easily multiplied.
      For vegetarians: Just leave out the ham, and use water or vegetable stock in place of the chicken broth.