Pot liquor from cooking beans and leftover ham packs this humble soup with flavor

  • Served with a crusty baguette, this Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup is delectable.

    Served with a crusty baguette, this Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup is delectable. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 12/28/2022 6:30 AM

Did you have ham on Christmas? One consultant in The Washington Post estimated that 15% of households did in 2019. I would guess that number went up this year, given the impact of avian flu on turkey farms and the subsequent price increases. If you did, I hope you saved the hock or hambone because it lends itself to a flavor-packed soup.

If you didn't, you might still be in luck. Many grocery stores put unsold seasonal items on sale after the holiday so that you could snag a bargain ham.

 

After cooking a pot of beans, the remaining liquid is called "pot liquor" or "potlikker." Two foodie magazines called it "liquid gold" because of how tasty, aromatic and versatile it is. Here, it's used in soup, but it is also good for sauces, gravy and vinaigrette.

Good Mother Stallard beans are unusual and delicious, but you can use readily available cannellini beans in this recipe for Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup.
Good Mother Stallard beans are unusual and delicious, but you can use readily available cannellini beans in this recipe for Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

Traditionally, white beans, like cannellini or great northern, are used in ham and bean soup. But I grew some beautiful heirloom beans this summer called Good Mother Stallard. They are large, round, maroon beans with white speckles and are reportedly the best-tasting bean out there. Because these were freshly dried beans, I cut the soaking and cooking time considerably. Next time, I will reduce the soaking time further to extend the time they simmer with the ham hock.

I (loosely) followed this recipe from Cooking Light by Robin Bashinsky. It calls for cooking the carrots and greens separately in a skillet, so they remain bright and don't get mushy.

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This recipe lists kale, but I used a mixture of kale, spinach and chard. I also used at least twice as much as listed in the ingredients. I also threw in some rosemary since I have a good-sized potted shrub spending the winter inside. One of the wonderful things about soup is that you can improvise and substitute wildly and still end up with something delicious. So feel free to use oregano instead of thyme, add some celery with the carrots, or give it a little heat with dried chili flakes or hot sauce. Serve it with a green salad and a crusty baguette, and you have a luscious, satisfying supper on a cold winter evening.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

A quick sauté keeps the vegetables bright and soft, but not mushy.
A quick sauté keeps the vegetables bright and soft, but not mushy. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup

1 pound dried cannellini beans

10 cups water, plus more for soaking beans

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 fresh thyme sprigs, tied with kitchen twine

2 bay leaves

1 large yellow onion, halved

2 pounds smoked ham hocks

1 teaspoons salt, divided

2 cups sliced carrots

6 garlic cloves, sliced

4 cups sliced lacinato kale

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Place beans in a large bowl or container, cover with cold water to four inches above the beans. Let stand overnight at room temperature, then drain.

Bring beans and 10 cups water to a boil in a large Dutch oven, skimming the surface occasionally. Add cup (4 tablespoons) of olive oil, thyme, bay leaves, onion and ham hocks. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover and simmer for 1 hour 45 minutes or until beans are tender.

Remove pan from heat. Remove thyme, bay leaves and onion; discard. Place ham hocks on a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bone; discard bones and any visible fat or gristle. Shred ham into bite-sized pieces. Place 3 cups of the bean mixture in a bowl; mash with a fork. Stir ham, mashed beans and remaining teaspoon of salt into the remaining bean mixture.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add carrots; cook 4 minutes or until slightly tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add kale; cook 2 minutes or until wilted, stirring occasionally. Stir carrot mixture into soup.

Serves 6

Adapted from a recipe by Robin Bashinsky, Cooking Light

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