Though it starts with a mix, this ham and bean soup takes on a homemade twist

Vintage Pacific NW: We revisit some of our favorite stories from some of our favorite former magazine contributors. Each week, check out timeless classics with a focus on food, fitness, gardening and more.

Originally published March 17, 2013
By Nancy Leson, former Taste employee

WHEN OUT at restaurants, I’m always tempted by razor clam soup with apple smoked bacon and elegant root vegetable veloutés served at the table. And it’s a rare week that you won’t find me at a Vietnamese pho shop, a Chinese soup noodle joint, or a Korean cafe specializing in spicy, soft tofu soup or milky-white sul lung tang with beef bones.

But sometimes I just want to stay home and stir up a big pot of old-fashioned ham and bean soup. I used to be one of those people who raised my nose in the air at the idea of ​​making a soup whose main ingredient was a packet of “ham flavored”. But I got over it after a friend shared the secret recipe for her superb beef and barley soup: All the ingredients, except for the beef, came (shhhh!) straight out of a box.

These days, I stock my kitchen with 15 Hurst-brand HamBeens Bean Soup, though I’m quick to ditch that boring flavor pack in favor of a Honkin’ Witch’s Mace. Finding a really good hock — a meaty, smoky number — isn’t always as easy as it should be. That’s why I freeze them when I find them, although there’s another solution if you like a lot of ham in your ham and bean soup: Augment a lean knuckle with a cooked ham steak, pan seared, diced, and tossed in the Soup given just before you finish cooking. Better yet, get a leftover spiral ham bone: one that has a lot of meat still clinging to it. I recently snagged one – cheaply – at a supermarket deli counter; All I had to do was ask, “Say, can you sell me that ham bone?”

Taking the time to sauté flavorful veggies instead of just tossing them into the mix (like the folks at HamBeens suggest) adds depth to the finished product, so don’t skip this step, OK? And because I can never leave it alone, I also recommend giving this all-American classic a Mexican twist by adding prepared salsa and fresh cilantro. Or you might go old-fashioned with a can of diced tomatoes and a handful of fresh thyme.

Spicy bag-o-beans soup with ham
Served 8

1 20-ounce package Hurst’s HamBeens 15 Bean Soup (or 3 cups mixed dried beans)
1 meaty leg of ham, notched
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup diced celery
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ cup (or 1 small can) prepared Mexican salsa (optional)
½ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

1. Place beans in a large saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour. drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the bacon broth: Bring the notched ham shank to a boil in 10 cups of water, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the hock from the pot, keep stock. Remove the ham from the bone and cut into pieces.

3. Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add onions and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until tender (about 3 minutes). Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the ham, bones, drained beans, salt, pepper and chili powder and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup has thickened to a consistency that suits you (about an hour should be enough).

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