Speedy Ham-and-Bean Soup

marthaschueneman January 15th, 2014, 7:14 AM
Martha Schueneman
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ham_bean_soupOne of my most cherished possessions is a cookbook my mother gave me shortly after I was married. It’s a handwritten collection of the dishes she made when I was growing up. Many of these recipes are ones her mother made.

My mom’s recipe for navy bean soup—my grandmother’s, probably—requires dried beans, a hambone, and days to make. First, it takes two people a long, long time to eat enough ham to get to the bone. And the beans are better if they’re soaked overnight. And then the soup improves if it stands overnight.

Sometimes, though, my craving for a hearty bowl of Navy Bean Soup catches me unprepared. When it’s bitterly cold, I want soup now—or tonight for dinner at the latest.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go soupless. Canned beans and a ham steak are my speedy shortcuts. I won’t tell you that my 20-minute version is as good as my mom’s four-day version, but according to my son, if canned bean soup is a 3 (out of 10) on the Soup-O-Meter, this is “at least an 8.”

Mom’s soup calls for carrots; I omit them because they take too long to become tender, but if you have some leftover, feel free to toss them in when you add the liquid. I’ve found that peeled, crushed garlic cloves added to the simmering liquid but removed before serving add a wonderful depth of flavor.

I cook the soup just long enough to heat the liquid, but if you have the time to let it simmer longer, the flavors will only improve. Serve this with crusty sourdough bread and a green salad.

Navy Bean Soup with Ham (serves 4)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 ham steak (8 to 12 ounces), trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1½ cups beef stock (or 1½ cups water and ½ teaspoon beef soup base)
  • 1½ cups V-8 or tomato juice
  • 1 can (15 to 16 ounces) small white beans
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then add the ham and sauté until slightly browned around the edges. Pour in the beef broth and juice, then stir in the beans and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Fish out the garlic cloves. With the back of a spoon or a potato masher, mash some of the beans. Taste for seasonings. It probably won’t need salt, but you may want to grind some pepper atop before serving.


  • [...] Check back soon for Navy Bean Soup with Ham. [...]

  • I didn’t have a ham steak and used a pork chop instead with the bone. It was great! Thanks for the recipe!

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