Black Bean Soup
['1 1/2 cups dried black beans (10 oz), picked over and rinsed', '8 bacon slices (7 oz), chopped (1 cup)', '1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3/4 cup)', '1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3/4 cup)', '1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic', '1/2 teaspoon finely chopped seeded fresh jalape&241;o chile', '1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled', '1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf', '1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled', '3 qt reduced-sodium chicken broth (96 fl oz)', '3/4 teaspoon white pepper', '2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro', 'Accompaniments: sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro', 'Accompaniments: sour cream and chopped fresh cilantro']
Cover beans with cold water by 3 inches in a bowl and soak at room temperature at least 8 hours, or quick-soak (see cooks' note, below). Drain well in a colander.
Cook bacon in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a small bowl and pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot. Reserve 2 tablespoons chopped bacon for topping, then return remaining bacon to pot and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, chile, oregano, bay leaf, and thyme and sauté, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
Add beans, chicken broth, and white pepper and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Discard bay leaf and stir in cilantro.
Serve soup topped with sour cream, chopped cilantro, and reserved bacon.
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