A Word from the Chef
Navy beans got their name from their use in the early 20th century with the United States Navy. These small, white beans are creamy-white in appearance and are one of over 13,000 known legumes. When these beans, like other legumes, are combined with a whole grain, like rice, the two become a low-fat protein. (2 grams of the combined legume/whole grain = 1 gram of meat protein).
I always keep a can (or two) in my pantry . When I have left over roast chicken, grilled steak or, the like, I throw it all together in a saucepan and add vegetable or chicken stock. And save those bacon drippings from your next Sunday morning breakfast. Added to this recipe, the soup becomes otherworldly! With a baguette of crusty sourdough, I have one of my favorite comfort meals!
Speaking of comfort, I hope you enjoy this recipe. No need to follow it exactly. Instead, use it as a road map on your way to creating your own masterpiece. You don’t have fresh thyme? Who cares? Use rosemary. If herbs aren’t available (or your thing), omit them entirely. Virtually any bean can be substituted. In fact, you can even try split peas.-Just decrease the amount of water and cooking time. But I suppose that’s another recipe altogether! You get my point, right. Have no fear. Cook away, my friend!
1-pound bag dried navy beans (Check for pebbles or dirt. Rinse with a colander)
6 cups chicken broth (Substitute *1 bouillon cube and 6 cups water if you don’t have chicken broth)
1 can diced tomato (14 ounce)
1 yellow or white onion, small dice (same size as the bean)
2 stalks celery, diced (same size as the bean)
½ pound ham, medium dice
2 tablespoon fresh thyme, stems removed and chopped
2-3 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
**Additional 3 cups water (reserve for last 2 hours of cooking)
Stock Pot Method
Lightly sauté onion and celery till soft in bacon fat if you have it Otherwise. Add garlic and sauté until you can smell it. Add thyme and sauté for 15 seconds. Add your chicken broth and/or water, tomatoes, ham, *bouillon cube, Worcestershire sauce, pinch of salt & pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower to a simmer. Simmer for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, add the reserved 2 cups of water and salt & pepper. Remove bay leaf and simmer an additional 2 hours.
Check beans for tenderness and taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning to your preference, if needed.
For a thicker soup, remove 2-3 cups of beans and a little liquid and place in a blender. Pour pureed beans back into the soup.
If ham hocks are available, substitute 2-3 for the ham. When the soup is finished, shred the ham hock and place back in soup. Discard the bone and any additional fat.
VEGETARIAN: Use vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock. Add 2 carrots to the celery and onions. Add smoked paprika after sautéing the vegetables. Garnish the soup with grated parmesan and/or, if you have a large piece of Parmesan rind left over, add the whole rind to the soup while it cooks. It will slowly breakdown and add a wonderful salty-umami nuance to the soup as it cooks.
Crock Pot Method
Simply add ½ the ham and the rest of the ingredients-minus the thyme- to the crock pot and set the temperature to high and cook for 6-7 hours. Add the rest of the ham and thyme. Taste for seasoning. If a thicker soup is desired, remove 2-3 cups of beans and some liquid-before you add the ham and thyme-and puree in a blender. Place the puree back in the soup, add the ham and thyme. Adjust seasoning as desired.
VEGETARIAN: Add 2-3 carrots instead of the ham. Add ½ teaspoon smoked paprika