This hearty (and historic) soup will warm you up
Cold, gloomy weather? You know what that means. Soup!
With a new Congress in session – and the US Senate preparing to hold a historic trial – what could be more timely than Senate Bean Soup?
Its flavor will earn your family’s vote of confidence. By unanimous consent.
Recipe: Senate Bean Soup
Traditionally, this soup is made with navy beans and meaty ham hock or shank. We’ve changed things up a bit by using leftover ham, along with ham base (concentrated soup stock).
This recipe calls for using dried beans. Should you soak them before cooking? Soaking cuts about an hour off their cooking time. Because navy beans take a while to cook, we usually soak them overnight (you can also quick soak; see Notes).
Total prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes. Cooking time adds about 3 hours, largely unattended.
This recipe yields about 8 servings. Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container (or you can freeze them for up to 3 months).
- 1 pound dried navy beans, sorted to remove grit, then soaked overnight according to package directions (see Notes for “quick soak” instructions; may substitute any white bean)
- ~8 cups ham or chicken stock (we make this from soup/stock base; see Notes)
- 1 tablespoon oil or butter (butter is traditional)
- 1 large onion, cut into dice of about ½ inch
- 2 ribs celery, peeled and cut into thin slices
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced finely or minced (optional)
- ~12 ounces ham, cut into bite-size pieces (or to taste)
- a handful of parsley, washed, dried, stemmed, and finely minced
- The evening before you want to make this soup, start soaking the beans according to package directions (see Notes). Or you can quick soak the beans in about an hour (see Notes).
- When you’re ready to cook: Drain and rinse the beans, then add them to a large cooking pot (one that holds at least 6 quarts). Add the stock, then bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 1½ hours (see Notes if not using navy beans).
- After the bean mixture has simmered for the required time: Place a large frying pan on medium stovetop heat. When it’s hot, add the oil or butter. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted (15 to 30 seconds), add the onion and celery. Salt to taste, then sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the ham, then cook for a minute or two. Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the soup pot.
- Continue to simmer the soup until the beans are soft and tender (navy beans will probably take about 3 hours total to cook; Great Northerns maybe 2 hours total). If you want a thicker soup, mash some of the beans with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon (you can also whiz them with an immersion blender).
- Add the parsley and stir to combine. Taste the soup, adjusting the salt if necessary.
- Dish up and serve. We often add an extra sprinkling of parsley as garnish.
- Want to use a ham shank or hock instead of leftover ham and ham stock? Just rinse off the ham shank (use one that weighs about 1 pound), add it to the soup pot with the beans, and simmer. About half an hour before serving the soup, remove the shank from the cooking pot. When it’s cooled enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, then return them to the pot.
- For this recipe, we generally use leftover diced ham, plus ham stock (or sometimes chicken stock). To make the ham stock, we use ham base – which is concentrated soup stock.
- There are pros and cons to our method. A major pro is that, because we add the ham later in the cooking process (Step 3), its flavor is a bit brighter and fresher. The con? The soup loses a bit of the body and character that you get when you make stock from scratch using a ham bone (mostly because ham base lacks the natural gelatin that the bone provides). But the difference is small enough that we’re happy using stock base.
- Adding a small amount of acid (a teaspoon or so of vinegar or lemon juice) will help brighten the flavor of the soup – and make up for the slight loss of character you’ll get by using stock base. Stir the acid component in right before serving, when you adjust the seasoning.
- You can probably find ham base in your grocery store. If not, it’s available online. The two brands we prefer are Minor’s and Better than Bouillon. Our usual reminder here: We’re noncommercial and don’t get compensated when we mention brands. We suggest what we use and like (and purchase with our own money).
- Be aware that commercial soup base can be quite salty. So adjust the seasoning in this soup accordingly.
- Speaking of salt: We use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- Once you open a container of soup base, you’ll need to store it in the refrigerator. But it will keep for months (the expiration dates on the containers tend to be conservative, in our experience).
- Navy beans are traditional in this dish, and that’s what we often use. But Great Northern beans cook faster (and we think they have better texture). You can also use cannellini beans or any other variety of white bean.
- Don’t have time to soak the beans overnight? You can do a “quick soak” (there will probably be instructions for this on the package): Bring the beans to a boil in a pot of water, simmer them for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover the cooking pot. After an hour, drain and rinse the beans, then proceed with the recipe.
- If you don’t soak the beans, you’ll probably need to cook them for an additional hour or two.
- Senate Bean Soup is a fairly austere recipe – it’s mostly just beans and ham (with a bit of onion and so forth). You can amp up the flavor and texture by adding potatoes to the mix. If going that route, cut the potatoes into dice of about ½ inch (no need to peel), and add them in Step 3. Diced carrots are also a nice addition.
- BTW, some versions of Senate Bean Soup add mashed potatoes to the mix. We haven’t tried that, but it sounds like an interesting idea.
- We sometimes add red pepper flakes to this soup for extra zest (we add them in Step 3). Not traditional, but good.
- We also sometimes season this soup with thyme or another herb of choice. Again, not traditional, but tasty.
- Why is this recipe called Senate Bean Soup? Because a version of this soup has been served daily in the U.S. Senate dining room since the early 20th century. So when you make this soup, you’ll be cooking a bit of history.
“I call this kitchen to order,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Be it resolved: This Senate Bean Soup really hits the spot.”
“I’ll vote for that,” I said. “And it doesn’t take an act of Congress to recognize that winter is soup weather.”
“There’s bipartisan agreement,” said Mrs K R. “Beans in every pot!”
No one will filibuster that.
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I love a good bean soup on a cold day! It is very warm here now so this recipe might be put on the back burner for a while. When I make it I will be thrilled I am not in the Senate! Thank you for sharing i.
Hi Anne, yeah, it's a bit warm where you are, at the moment, But you'll get a chilly day eventually, I'm sure! :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is so perfect for cold snowy weather! I also love the combo of flavours..so so yummy and comforting.
Hi Angie, it's snowing here right now, so guess what we're going to have for dinner tonight? :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, we absolutely love Senate Bean Soup! What we like about it, besides it being warming and comforting, is that it is not a nuanced dish like so many things we cook. It is straightforward, simple and good. When we make it, we do seek out a ham hock, as you mention in your kitchen notes. And I think I have to seek out one right now to make a nice big pot of this. Thanks for the delicious recipe!
I'll cast my vote for this soup! ;) It looks fantastic
Nothing better than a hearty soup on a rainy and windy day. Thanks John, I have never used ham at stock.
Hi Terry, a ham hock or shank is how we often make this, too. But we just happened to have a LOT of leftover ham in the freezer, and always have ham base on hand, so we changed things up. And this is definitely an easier way to make it. :-) Thans for the comment.
Hi Pat and Dahn, I think we're all casting votes for this!:-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, ham stock is fun to play with -- we use it in a lot of bean soups. And we make a lot of bean soups! :-) Thanks for the comment.
That's definitely a famous dish! We are eating lots of soup, but have given up red meat, including ham, because of the mistreatment of workers in the meat industry. We hope that will change soon.
I do love the soup bases and concentrates from Better Than Bouillon; maybe I could compromise and get their ham base.
be safe... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, we're not giving up meat (although we don't really eat a lot of it), but are disturbed by worker mistreatment. :-( We still make our own stocks, but are using soup base more and more -- so convenient, of course, and the flavor (of the good brands) is outstanding. Thanks for the comment.
I could seriously live on soup!! This one looks so comforting and filling!
Hi Ashley, at this time of the yer we practically DO live on soup! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Yum! One of my favorite soups. It looks hearty & tasty.
Hi Pam, don't you love its flavor? :-) Thanks for the comment.
The just-past five days of 40+ C temperatures, without AC in my case, has temporarily halted desire for hot soups in this neighbourhood. That said just love the name and the promise both it and the look of the bowl bring.- have made ham stock from scratch and shall keep your teaching on file till the latter is brewing next time around . . . .may you be well . . .
Hi Eha, that's hot! Too hot for soup, particularly without AC. But no worries, the seasons will soon change and this will better suit the weather. :-) Thanks for the comment.
i bet this soup is an aid to digestion (she says politely). gotta love your beans!
Hi Sherry, it is indeed that (he responds, politely). :-) Thanks for the comment.
Great way to use up the leftover holiday ham in the freezer. Fun tidbit to know a little bit about the history of this cozy soup and its name. I vote this to be on the menu this week! Delicious
Hi Bobbi, isn't this a great way to use leftover ham? It snowed here today, so perfect weather for this dish! Thanks for the comment.
Wow, I must admit I've never made soup with ham base or stock. I guess that's what happens when you're making pean and ham soup with a ham hock but I don't think you can buy it here in Australia! Anyway, it sounds delicious. I love ham and I love beans so this would be a clear winner around here!
I never even thought about the US Senate even having a dining room. With that said, this is one good looking bowl of soup.
I had no idea there was such a thing as Senate Soup. Although when you mentioned where the name came from, it seems to have rung a bell. I wonder if I've reached a state where my brain is so full, that in order to remember anything new, it's overwriting older information. :-) Anyway, I like the look of this soup's texture. It seems refreshing.
This is a big favorite in our house. Making this soup is a bigger reason for me to cook a ham at Christmas than to eat the ham!
Hi Katerina, we love making soup with a ham hock, but gotta admit it's easier using ham base. Anyway you make it, this is a great soup! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Lea Ann, they have heir own dining room! Actually there are several restaurants in the Capital building -- lotta people work there who need feeding. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jeff, white beans and ham just aren't as popular as they used to be, I guess, which may be why we don't hear too much about this soup these days. Worth reviving, though -- it's good. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rosemary, we're basically the same -- it's leftover ham that we like (because of all the neat things you can do with it), not the ham itself! :-) Thanks for the comment.
A delicious combination of flavors and such an easy soup to throw together! Love it! It's soups like this that make we want to go buy a big smoked ham so I can have leftovers and a big old ham. Going into my soup list for the near future. Thanks John!
A hearty bean soup is always welcome :)
Hi MJ, we love soups like this! Lotta flavor for not very much work. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Taruna, agree! Particularly since it's really cold today. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, I love a good bean soup, and I'm in the mood for a brothy soup just now. Unfortunately, Mr Delightful prefers thick soups, so I'll have to put some mashed beans in his portion.
Hi Jean, we like both brothy and thick soups. Probably brothy more, though, which is how we made this. :-) Thanks for the comment.
It does look like a good comforting bowl of soup.
Hi Nammi, it is, it is! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Yes, beans in every pot! I love soup season!
Hi Judy, we love soup season, too! :-) Thanks for the comment.
What an odd name. I've never heard of it! But, it looks good! I like the idea of the ham base. Smarter than using chicken broth! Great photos!
I might publish another type of beans soup too very soon! Yours looks very delicate, with a light broth but a lot of flavours :)
Hi Himi, we love using soup base -- so easy. And pretty good quality (although you do have to find a brand you like). Thanks for the comment.
Hi FT, the more bean soups the better! We love them. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi R, it's good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks fantastic - so warming, and such great flavours. Super for a cold winter day, and the history is interesting too!
Hi Beth, we have really cold weather at the moment, so we're craving this! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Your timing is perfect for the soup, John! Both politically and meteorologically. My only problem is we never have ham, so I will need to find some ham bones and chunks of ham to purchase to make this. Looks incredible! Thanks for the recipe.
Hi David, we can buy ham chunks here, which is what we sometimes use. Or one of those ham steaks, I guess (I've never actually bought one of those -- suppose I should some day). Really, though, ham shank is pretty meaty and that's what we usually use when we aren't using leftover ham and ham base. Thanks for the comment.
Now, if only the entire Congress could enjoy this comfort dish and live in harmony ever after. I know, wishful thinking! ;)
Hi Carolyn, yeah, I don't think harmony is in the cards, alas. :-( Thanks for the comment.
I'm all for the 'quick soak' method- saves a lot of time!There's a few politically named recipes out there- how about the 'Watergate Salad' (or maybe we should leave that recipe alone- ha ha)!
Hi Fran, totally forgot about the Watergate Salad! Think we'll give that a miss. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I’ve been keeping a large batch of cooked navy beans in the freezer, really cuts down the cooking times for bean recipes. We live the Better than Bouillon base, I always have chicken and beef, had no idea there was a pork one too. This soup looks like the perfect dish for the polar vortex we’re currently in.
Hi Eva, we often cook a big batch of beans, too, and freeze them. Better than canned (which aren't at all bad, actually), and very convenient. Love soup base -- so easy to use. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I like this clear soup, looks totally warming! Tip to make your own stock and to instantly prepare beans for cooking is surely helpful as I always forget to soak it overnight!
Hi Aarthi, we usually forget to soak overnight too! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love all of the heart warming flavors you've incorporated into this soup. Plus, the ham elevates the flavors so effortlessly!
Hi Heidi, ham is always a nice addition. :-) Thanks for the comment.
My mom used to make Senate Bean Soup. It was my dad's favorite! It will be perfect for dinner with the freezing temps arriving this weekend!
Hi Liz, definitely a good recipe for freezing weather! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Ham hocks and beans! that the perfect combo with any soups
Hi Raymund, perfect combo, huh? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I like the name of this soup. I love beans and ham soup, it's one of my favorites. Good tips. This is perfect for the cold winter weather.
Hi Dawn, we can never resist ham and beans - such a terrific food pairing. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Yum! That looks delicious, John...it's hard to beat a good, hearty bowl of bean soup on a cold February day! I think I will toss in a smoked ham hock for those 3 hours. Thanks for the recipe!
Hi Pat, good as soup base is, you can't beat soup made with a ham hock! Just better flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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