Friday, October 30, 2009

Easy Ham and Bean Soup - Great for Fall

Before I started the busy week last week, I decided to cook up a big batch of bean soup. High in protein and low in fat, this turned out to be a healthy way to have a quick meal. Plus, once it was made, I could just heat it up and go. Here's how I made it:

1 bag of dried beans
1 Ham shank
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
celery (I used some from a leftover mixed veggie tray, approximately 3 stalks.)
carrots (Same as above, about 3 or 4 full sized carrots)
2 bay leaves
olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 smoked pork chops ( about a 1.5 pounds.)

You can chose just about any dried beans for this, or a mix of different kinds. I used navy beans because I am particularly fond of them. There is a market here in town that has a fantastic meat department and they also carry some local produce, including Michigan grown dried beans. They cost a little more than beans at the local megamart, but I like knowing they were locally raised and my purchase supports Michigan farmers. This market is also where I got the meat for my soup...

This soup is really flexible, in fact, you could leave the meat out all together and go with a vegetarian option. Another choice would be to add a small style pasta at the end for a bean and pasta soup. In my case, I had gone to this market specifically for their ham, unfortunately, they were out - but they had some at the smokehouse and it would be in the next day. Frankly, that was the best answer they could have given - now that's a real butcher! Since I didn't want to wait until the next day, I got the smoked pork chops instead, and let me tell you - they were awesome!

The first step is to rinse off the dried beans and sort through them. (Small rocks can occasionally get in batches of dried beans.) Then soak the beans overnight.

The next day, chop up the carrots, celery, garlic and onion. Put a small amount of olive oil in a big soup pot and cook the veggies cook lightly over low heat in a little olive oil. Toss in a small amount of salt (you can always add more later, but wait until you know how salty your ham is,) some fresh ground pepper, and the bay leaves. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the ham shank.

Some information on ham shanks and ham hocks: Real hams have bones. This may be shocking to some of you who are used to the boneless pre-shaped kinds, but those are to ham what bologna is to steak. Artificial hams have been processed and then squeezed into a ham mold and died pink. A true ham is a cut of the hind leg of a pig. The shank is the section of the bone that ran through the ham. A hock is the sort of "handle" at the end. Ham shanks and ham hocks tend to be less expensive cuts of meat. My ham shank cost $2.59 a pound, and it was a pound of smokey, salty, hammy goodness that made an amazing broth! Now, a shank has a big bone running right through the center so there isn't a ton of meat, (which is why I bought the pork chops,) but for flavor - hocks and shanks are fantastic!

Now drain and rinse the beans. Put the drained beans in the soup pot with the veggies and shank and add 6 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to medium low heat. (You want regular bubbles, but not a full rolling boil.)
Cook until the beans are tender. It was 2 hours for me.

One note here on cooking times - I told you what I used, but I always recommend paying attention to the manufacturer's suggested cooking times when it comes to beans, rice or pasta. They know their product best. As you get to the end of the cooking time, check regularly to see if they are done. Personally, I love these long cooking recipes because they are just so easy. I can put everything in one pot and let it cook while I go off and do other things, making sure to swing by and stir occasionally, of course.

When the beans are tender, remove the ham shank and set it on a cutting board to let it cool. Meanwhile, cut up the pork chops into soup bite sized pieces. (Since they are smoked, they're already cooked, which is why I waited until the end to add them. No sense over cooking them.) Once the pork chop is added, cut all the meat off the ham shank, discarding fat and bone. (Hint: ham bones can be kept and cooked again to make great stock. I like to keep them in the freezer in a freezer bag until I have enough to make a new batch of stock.) Once all the meat is added, cook for another 20 minutes, just to let all the flavors meld.

And that's it! It is fabulous with fresh pepper added at the table! YUM!

This recipe made a ton of servings. I don't know how many, but I am guessing 10 or 12. Some I froze, but most I ate. It is a great fall soup - very warming and very filling. All told with buying the beans, chops and shank, I spent about $10. For ten servings of soup - that comes out to only a $1 per serving! The soup takes awhile to make, but once made, it was less than 3 minutes to heat it up, perfect for on-the-go meals, and so, so much healthier than fast food!

So, what is your favorite busy week food?

Photo by: Roger Smith
via flickr

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