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~ A Hearty Fifteen Bean, Ham & Vegetable Soup ~

PICT2018I don't make this soup after the Easter holiday just because it is the perfect use for the leftover ham, not to mention the flavorful ham bone.  I make it because I love it and so does my entire family.  I always make a big batch of it too.  I portion and freeze it, to have on hand all year long. If you have a big enough pot, you should consider doing the same.  That being said, for your convenience, I have written my recipe to be easily cut in half or quartered.

PICT2020While this soup is comfort food at its best on a cold Winter evening, some of my fondest memories of bean soup are eating it (out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon) on Summer evenings at church picnics, backyard barbecues, block parties, family reunions and my father's workplace's annual company clambake.  These are all reasons why you'll find me serving it at my summer picnics, including over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.  They always served it with Nabisco saltine crackers too, which got crumbled into the soup and  thickened the broth, making it yummier with each bite.  Nowadays, I use Nabisco soup crackers -- they save on crumbling time.   

The bean soup of my childhood is what I modeled my recipe after:  a slightly-thick broth loaded with chunks of smoky-flavored ham, potatoes, carrots and celery.  My recipe differs from this slightly, in that:  instead of using just dried or canned white beans, I purchase premixed, one-pound bags of dried bean soup mix, sometimes labeled as "fifteen bean soup mix".  The manufacturer's of these mixes make it very convenient for me to add a lot of different textures, color and flavor to my soup by combining dried:  black beans, red beans, kidney beans, navy beans, great northern beans, baby lima beans, large lima beans, pinto beans, green split peas, yellow split peas, black-eyed peas, red lentils, green lentils, brown lentils and cranberry beans. Some manufacturers also include a seasoning packet in the package, which I discard in exchange for using my own spices.  I choose to buy these premixed bags of beans, because I average using about two pounds of mix per year (which makes 16 quarts of bean soup), but, feel free to buy one-half or one pound of each item on the above "bean" list and mix them yourself.

PICT1925 Before you make the soup you must address the soaking of the beans.  

2  pounds prepackaged, dried, fifteen bean blend, discard seasoning packets

2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

4  quarts cold water

~ Step 1.  Place beans in a large colander and sift through them with your fingertips.  Remove anything that looks foreign:  little twigs or stones sometimes make their way into the bag.  Under cold running water, thoroughly rinse the beans. 

PICT1941~ Step 2.  Transfer the rinsed beans to an 8-quart stockpot, add four quarts of water and the red pepper flakes.  I do not soak my beans overnight. Instead I use my own method of quick-soaking, which works like a charm every time:






~ Step 3.  Bring the bean mixture to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat and vigorously simmer for exactly 3 minutes.

Every 1 minute of simmering beans is equivalent to 3 hours of soaking them.  

(Note:  The alternative to this method is to soak the beans in 4 quarts of lukewarm water, 12 hours or overnight, in the covered stockpot.)  

Remove beans from heat, cover and set aside for 3 hours.  During this three hour period of time, prep the following ingredients for the soup broth:


1  fully-cooked ham bone (You can still make bean soup if you cooked a boneless ham, so if you don't have a ham bone, don't fret.)

2-4  pounds 1/2"-3/4" cubes of fully-cooked ham

1-1 1/2 pounds thick-sliced bacon, diced

1  pound each:  diced yellow or sweet onion and celery

1-2  ounces minced garlic cloves


8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or canned broth

8  cups beef stock, preferably homemade, or canned broth

8  cups liquid reserved from soaked beans

4  medium-sized bay leaves

2  teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1-3  teaspoons sea salt, to taste

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

PICT1966 ~ Step 4.  Place the diced bacon in the bottom of an 18-quart stockpot and fry the bacon over medium-high heat until very crisp, about 10-12 minutes. (Note:  If you are making a smaller batch of soup, fry the bacon in the bottom of whatever size stockpot you are using.)  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the drippings and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

PICT1968 ~ Step 5.  Add the diced onion, celery and minced garlic to the hot bacon drippings in the bottom of the stockpot.  Adjust heat to saute. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and translucent, about 8-10 minutes.





~ Step 6.  Return the drained bacon to the sauteed vegetables.  

Using a large slotted spoon, transfer all of the soaked beans to the stockpot.







~ Step 7.  Add the ham bone, bay leaves, thyme leaves, salt (to taste) and pepper.

Note:  The amount of salt you add will depend upon your stock/broth.  I almost always make my soups using my homemade stocks, which I have seasoned accordingly, so when I make this soup, I only add about 1 teaspoon of additional salt.

Add the chicken stock and beef stock, along with 8 cups of liquid from the pot of beans.

Why do I add both chicken and beef stock?  Because it is a great balance of flavor.  In this soup recipe, using all chicken stock is a bit too "light-flavored", while all beef stock is a bit too "heavy-flavored".  This is the perfect compromise.

Bring to a boil over high heat, partially cover the pot and adjust heat to simmer gently for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  While the broth is simmering:

~ Step 8.PICT1980  Peel and slice 5 pounds of carrots, into 1/4" coins, then...





... peel 5 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes and slice them into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.








~ Step 9.  After the broth has simmered for 45-60 minutes, add the coined carrots, cubed potatoes and ham cubes to the simmering liquid.  Partially cover, adjust heat to simmer gently and continue to cook an additional 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This last step is optional, but this surprise ingredient adds a nice burst of texture to the soup:

PICT1997 ~ Step 10.  Stir 2, 16-ounce bags of frozen corn into the simmering soup.  Return the soup to a simmer and continue to cook, about 15-20 additional minutes.

Technically, the bean soup is now ready to serve, however, as it goes with many soups or stews, it is actually better if removed from the heat, covered and allowed to steep for an hour or two or overnight (overnight is best).  Serve immediately, then:

Portion remaining soup into food storage containers and freeze.  I like to freeze my soup in 2-quart size containers, which are perfect for 4-6 servings of soup any time of the year.

PICT2028 Hearty Fifteen Bean, Ham & Vegetable Soup:  Recipe yields 16 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  colander; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 18-quart stockpot w/lid; paper towels; large slotted spoon; vegetable peeler; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  This soup really does freeze perfectly.  That being said, when reheating it, be prepared to add a bit of extra chicken stock or broth, as the beans continue to absorb liquid if soup is stored in the refrigerator for a day or two.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


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