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Smoky White Bean & Ham Soup

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This Southern-style smoky white bean and ham soup adapted from chef Hugh Acheson is hearty and comforting.

Smoky White Bean & Ham Soup

This rich and smoky white bean and ham soup is modestly adapted from Georgia chef Hugh Acheson’s cookbook, How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals. The book is intended for kitchen novices—Acheson wrote it with his teenage daughters, Beatrice and Clementine, in mind—but I think it’s a wonderful resource for seasoned cooks, too. This recipe, for example, begins with a lesson on how to cook dried beans, a skill every cook should have, and then shows how to transform them into a flavorful, hearty soup by adding smoked ham hocks, chicken stock, vegetables, and herbs.

I made a few tweaks to the recipe, like adding more ham and puréeing a portion of the soup to thicken it up a bit. Feel free to skip the puréeing step if you prefer a brothier soup.

What You’ll Need to Make Smoky White Bean & Ham Soup

smoky white bean and ham soup ingredients

Smoked ham hocks, or pork knuckles, come from the ankle region of the pig’s leg. In Southern cooking, hocks are often used to add a rich, meaty, and smoky flavor to soups, stews, and greens. They are available in most supermarkets and are very inexpensive. If for some reason you can’t find them, pork shank can be substituted.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Quick-Soak the Beans

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water.

soaking white beans

Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let sit for one hour.

boiling white beans

Drain the beans.

soaked white beans

Step 2: Make the White Bean & Ham Soup

Place the drained beans into a 5.5-quart Dutch oven or large pot. Add the water, chicken stock, bay leaves, quartered onion, and ham hocks.

white beans, ham hocks, onion, and broth in pot

Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour (depending on the size of the beans, it could take a bit longer).

bringing soup to a boil

Once the beans are tender, pull out the bay leaves, onion remnants, and ham hocks. Discard the bay leaves and onions, but set the ham hocks aside to cool.

white bean soup after simmering for one hour

Add the minced onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pot.

adding the vegetables to the soup

Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

soup simmering in pot

Meanwhile, while the soup is cooking, and when the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the hocks, discard any bone, fat, and tough sinew, and chop the meat finely.

chopped ham on cutting board

Use a ladle to transfer about 2 cups of the beans and vegetables, along with a bit of broth, to a blender or food processor. (If using a blender, be sure to remove the center knob on the lid and cover with a dishtowel to avoid splatters.)

a few cups of the soup in a food processor

Purée until smooth.

blended soup in food processor

Stir the mixture back into the soup.

thickened white bean soup

Add the meat and kale to the soup.

adding greens and ham to soup

Simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes more.

finished white bean and ham soup in pot

Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary. At this point, you can serve the soup or refrigerate it for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to eat, garnish each bowl with a drizzle with olive oil (if using) and a heap of grated cheese.

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Smoky White Bean and Ham Soup

This Southern-style smoky white bean and ham soup adapted from chef Hugh Acheson is hearty and comforting.

Servings: 8 servings
Cook Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours, plus plus 1 hour to soak the beans

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried white navy beans or Great Northern beans, rinsed and checked for stones
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered, plus ½ cup minced (you'll need 2 onions)
  • 2 pounds smoked ham hocks
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 (14 oz) can chopped or diced tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt
  • 1½ cups chopped kale or other dark leafy greens
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving (optional)
  • Finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving

Instructions

  1. Quick-soak the beans: Place the beans in a medium pot and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain in a colander.
  2. Place the drained beans into a 5.5-quart Dutch oven or large pot. Add the water, chicken stock, bay leaves, quartered onion, and ham hocks. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and simmer over low heat until the beans are just tender, about 1 hour (depending on the size of the beans, it could take a bit longer).
  3. Once the beans are tender, pull out the bay leaves, onion remnants, and ham hocks. Discard the bay leaves and onions, but set the ham hocks aside to cool.
  4. Add the minced onion, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the pot. Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. While the soup is cooking, and when the ham hocks are cool enough to handle, pull the meat from the hocks, discard any bone, fat, and tough sinew, and chop the meat finely.
  5. Use a ladle to transfer about 2 cups of the beans and vegetables, along with a bit of broth, to a blender or food processor. (If using a blender, be sure to remove the center knob on the lid and cover with a dishtowel to avoid splatters.) Purée until smooth, and then stir the mixture back into the soup. Add the meat and kale to the soup and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary (I usually add about 1 teaspoon more; beans require a lot of salt to bring out their flavor). At this point, you can serve the soup or refrigerate it for up to 3 days. (It will thicken up in the fridge; thin it with a bit of water, if necessary.)
  6. When you're ready to eat, garnish each bowl with a drizzle with olive oil (if using) and a heap of grated cheese.
  7. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The soup can be frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. through.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (Nutritional data is based on 2 tsp salt and does not include oil and cheese - 8 servings)
  • Calories: 468
  • Fat: 14g
  • Saturated fat: 4g
  • Carbohydrates: 46g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 11g
  • Protein: 41g
  • Sodium: 1326mg
  • Cholesterol: 73mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • O My Goodness, this soup looks AMAZING! We have a few vegetarians in the family so I’m wondering if you think I can get a similar ham hock depth of flavor by using smoked paprika and maybe adding more salt? If you think this might work how much smoked paprika would you suggest?

    Then we can serve ham on the side for anyone who wants to add it to their bowls!
    Thanks in advance for your help!

    • — Jul on December 27, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Jul, You don’t need to tweak it much — I’d add either a pinch of smoked paprika or put a Parmesan rind in the soup while it’s simmering. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on December 27, 2023
      • Reply
  • Love this soup. I used smoked necks (which don’t produce any usable meat) instead of hocks because hocks weren’t available. I also used a little less water – 4c vs 6 and some onion powder instead of minced onion because I have a fussy eater who doesn’t like onion texture. Amazing soup, and even better the next day. This one will definitely be in regular rotation through the winter months. Thanks Jenn!

    • — Aldo Chella on November 19, 2023
    • Reply
  • How many ounces is a serving of this soup?

    • — Dawn on November 17, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Dawn, I’d guesstimate that it would be about 16 ounces.

      • — Jenn on November 17, 2023
      • Reply
  • This is a WOW! As you say it is a bit of work. The end result is absolutely fabulous. thanks, Jen

    • — marti on November 1, 2023
    • Reply
  • “This soup is fantastic!!!” A direct quote from my husband tonight. Thank you for another fabulous recipe!

    • — Karen on October 25, 2023
    • Reply

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