Senate bean soup is named pretty literally. It’s a soup that’s been served to legislators at the U.S. Senate Restaurant in Washington, DC, since the early 1900s. It seems back then the elected officials in Washington, DC, were a little more concerned with eating modestly since they were on the taxpayers’ dime. Although make no mistake, this recipe may come together with pantry staples, but its flavor errs on the extravagant side. –David Leite

*What’s the difference between white beans?

When you see “white beans” in a recipe, it could mean Navy, baby Lima, Great Northern or cannellini beans. So how do you know what to pick? It turns out that, while they have their differences, the short answer is that they can be use interchangeably quite easily.

Navy beans (also called pea beans) are quick-cooking, mildly flavored and get soft when cooked. They’re perfect for pureeing or thickening a dish. Baby Lima (butterbeans) are soft, small, creamy, and starchy. Their rich, buttery texture makes them perfect for eating on their own or in casseroles or soup. Great Northern beans hold their shape well, take on the flavors of the foods they’re cooked with, and are commonly used in French cassoulets. Finally, cannellini beans are the largest of all, with a meaty texture that keep their shape well.

A brown bowl half-filled with senate bean soup with a spoon resting inside the bowl.

Senate Bean Soup

5 / 3 votes
Senate bean soup is a winter classic made with navy beans, a ham hock, and a handful of pantry ingredients that somehow meld together into a sum that’s far, far superlative to its parts.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories390 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time6 hours


  • 1/2 pound dried navy beans* (or pretty much any variety of white bean)
  • One (1 1/2-pound) smoked 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 flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for garnishing
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  • Rinse the beans in lots of cool water and gently run your hands over the beans, checking them for small bits of debris. Pour the beans into a pot and cover with about 1 inch of cold water. Let the beans soak for anywhere from 2 to 6 hours. Drain the beans.
  • 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.
  • Add the onion, celery, garlic, 1/4 cup parsley, 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.
  • 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.


Instant Pot Senate Bean Soup Variation

To make this Senate bean soup in your Instant Pot, do not soak the beans. Decrease the water to 5 cups and cook on the manual setting for 45 minutes. Let the Instant Pot release naturally.
Heirloom Beans Cookbook

Adapted From

Heirloom Beans

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 390 kcalCarbohydrates: 37 gProtein: 30 gFat: 14 gSaturated Fat: 5 gMonounsaturated Fat: 6 gCholesterol: 62 mgSodium: 208 mgFiber: 15 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2008 Steve Sando. Photo © 2008 Sara Remington. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This Senate bean soup 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.

This is an excellent recipe for Senate bean soup that can remind people that 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.

In one word, comforting. This Senate bean soup 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. I had everything on hand except the beans, parsley, and ham hock.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. The recipe calls for ham hocks, but it does not state whether they are smoked ham hocks or unsmoked (fresh or raw). Which do you use as it will make a big difference in the flavor of the soup. Thank you.

    1. I keep kosher. Can I use smoked turkey in place of a ham hock? That is the only ingredient I need to change.

      1. We haven’t tried it that way, Jodi, so we can’t say for certain, but I think using a smoked turkey leg would work fine. I’m not sure how well the meat would hold up after simmering for that long, so you might want to remove the meat first and add it back in closer to the end.

  2. I remember in the 1950s my Mom cut a recipe from the newspaper for Senate Bean Soup. She made it right away, and many times after that. The only difference is it directed you to bake it in the oven for 6 hours. If my memory serves me right, and that is questionable(!), the oven temp was 250 degrees F.

    1. Kay, this is an oldie but a goodie. Baking at 250 degrees isn’t questionable because it’s a high enough temp. But for 6 HOURS?! I wonder if the beans were mush?

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

    1. 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