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
- 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
- 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.
- 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:
- Tuscan-Style Pinto Bean Soup with Kale from Lisa's Kitchen
- Black Bean Soup from Herbivoracious
- Rustic Lentil Soup from Leite's Culinaria
- Pinto Bean Soup over Rice with Red Chile and Cheese from Leite's Culinaria
Testers ChoiceTesters Choice
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.
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.
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.
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.
Senate Bean Soup Recipe © 2008 Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington. Photo © 2008 Sara Remington. All rights reserved.