Senate Bean Soup

When I tell my customers to cook beans simply, they often nod in agreement and say something like, “I’ll just cook them with a ham hock.” My heart sinks a little. Beans are great with ham hocks, but freshly dried heirloom varieties don’t need them. Save the pork for another use, at least the first time you make heirloom beans. But I do understand the love of ham, and there are times when that old-fashioned comfort combination of beans and ham is required. This simple soup has been served to legislators at the U.S. Senate Restaurant in Washington, DC, since the early 1900s. The authentic version uses navy beans, but an heirloom just makes it better.

Author’s Bean Swapping Note: Any white bean that will break down and become creamy will work nicely here. Try marrow beans, or if you don’t have heirlooms, go with classic navy beans.–Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington

LC This Guy Knows His Beans Note

Author Steve Sando knows his beans. He’s not just a veritable bean expert, but founder of Rancho Gordo, a specialty food purveyor featuring, in his words, “glorious, old-fashioned heirloom beans.” We couldn’t agree more.

Senate Bean Soup Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 6 H
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound yellow eye or navy beans, soaked and drained
  • One 1 1/2 pound ham hock, cut crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces (you can ask your butcher to cut the ham hock for you)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnishing
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  • 1. In a soup pot, combine the beans, ham hock, water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently until the beans are beginning to soften, about 1 hour.
  • 2. Add the onion, celery, garlic, 1/4 cup parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer until the beans are soft and beginning to break down, and the ham meat comes off the bone easily when shredded with a fork, about 1 hour.
  • 3. Remove the ham hock pieces. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Dice the meat and return it to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with parsley.

Soaking note

  • I put the beans to soak in the morning, after rinsing them in lots of cool water and checking them for small bits of debris. I cover the beans with about 1 inch of cold water. I found that beans soaked for 2 to 6 hours have a better texture and cook more evenly, and it’s my preference. The quick-soak method calls for pouring hot water over the beans and let them soak for about 1 hour, then pour off the water, add new water, and start cooking. Others don’t soak at all. It’s up to you.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
John Velek

Apr 18, 2008

This was really easy to make and had an excellent creamy consistency. The ham and parsley were nice. What a great dish on a snowy day to enjoy while watching football. Again, I can’t express how simple this was. Anyone can make this.

Testers Choice
Theodore Wanberg

Apr 18, 2008

I’m a fan of all soups, ordering it in restaurants with horrible names, knowing that the soup will be wonderful. The Senate navy bean soup has been on my to-try list for years and years. We prepared it for our Super Bowl party, and the dish was the hit of our meal, eclipsing my version of Wolfgang Pucks’ recipe for Italian sausage.

Testers Choice
Steve Subera

Apr 18, 2008

This is an excellent recipe that can remind people that making beans and making soup is easy and satisfying. The ham hock makes a beautiful stock. I think pork stock is sadly neglected in home kitchens and in this soup the stock enables the minimal ingredients to develop maximum flavor after a day of rest. Also, the ideas and variations that come to mind from a recipe like this is another reason why I rank it highly.

Testers Choice
TeAntae Turner

Apr 18, 2008

In one word, comforting. This is a deliciously simple soup that’s just perfect at this cold and snowy time of year. It’s also very simple and inexpensive to make, which is a great boon in these times. I had everything on hand except the beans, parsley, and ham hock.


Comments
Comments
  1. Janet Mendel says:

    I am remembering a Senate bean soup with SHERRY? Maybe with ham, too? Maybe black beans? Anybody have that recipe?

    • Sue Epstein says:

      There are many recipes for Senate Bean Soup that call for ham. Paula Deen calls for 2 cups of diced ham in her recipe. I use veal sausages in LC’s Senate Bean Soup. You could really substitute any meat or bones or combination. I’ve never seen a recipe for it calling for Sherry but don’t see any reason you couldn’t add a little. Soup in general, and Senate Bean Soup also, is very forgiving. You can add different meats, spices or wine and it will be delicious.

      Sue Epstein

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail