Smoky Black Bean and Ham Soup

There's nothing like a good soup for lunch

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I'm trying to make things easier on myself this January. After a lovely and decadent holiday, I'm spending time getting back to routine — making lists, laying out a week's worth of work outfits and making sure I have leftovers for lunch.

Soup is a really easy work lunch. You can freeze it and reheat it in the microwave; it's usually not too heavy; it's generally pretty healthy unless it's of the broccoli-and-cheese variety. This past week, I tested a recipe for smoky black bean and ham soup, and it turned out to be a great dinner as well, especially when paired with crusty bread.

This recipe makes quite a bit of soup — probably 5 to 6 generous servings — so you can freeze individual portions and mindlessly feed yourself healthy, homemade food. The black beans absorb the fat and flavor of the ham, while thickening up a soup that is rich in vegetables and protein. I used a smoked ham hock from a local farm, which made everything that much better, but you can usually find hocks at any grocery store.

SMOKY BLACK BEAN AND HAM HOCK SOUP

INGREDIENTS:

1 smoked ham hock

1 pound dry black beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

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Salt and pepper

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 onions, chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

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6 cloves of garlic, diced

3 to 4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

3 to 4 cups broth (or water — the smoky ham hock is going to flavor this just fine)

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DIRECTIONS:

Prepare beans:

I used dry beans for this recipe because the hock is already salty and I thought canned beans would add too much sodium. If you want to use canned beans, use three cans, and just rinse them well before adding to the soup pot.

Traditionally, you soak dry beans overnight, then cook them up to two hours. I used my Instant Pot to speed up this process, adding 1 pound of dry beans to the Instant Pot with three cups of water. I cooked them on high pressure for 35 minutes, then let the pressure release naturally. It worked out well, and the beans still had space to absorb all the nice flavor from the ham.

Make soup:

Heat a large pot or dutch oven to medium high, then add a splash of oil. When oil is hot, add ham hock and brown each side. Remove ham hock from pan. Add chopped celery, onions, and carrots, plus 1 tsp salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

After vegetables begin to get soft (approximately 3 to 5 minutes), add garlic and cook another five minutes or so. Put ham hock back in the pot, and add black beans. Stir, then add 3 to 4 cups broth/water — enough to cover the hock. Let simmer on medium-low for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

After 2 1/2 hours have passed, remove hock from soup and tear the meat off to the bone. If you want, pulse an immersion blender into your soup while the hock is out to break down the beans and make things a little more thick and creamy. Put meat back into soup and cook another 30 to 45 minutes, then serve with nice crusty bread (and melted cheese if you're into that).


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