I had a bowl of ham bone soup this morning as I wondered about what to blog next. “Ice cream might be interesting,” I thought, as I scooped up some tender, pink ham that had fallen off the bone. “Maybe I could try making injera for the first time.” A big mouthful of hickory smoke-infused beans warmed my belly. “Or I can finally get around to using that Chinese white fungus.” My spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl for the last bits of pepper-speckled goodness. I sighed my contented post-Christmas ham bone soup sigh and washed the dishes.
Three hours later I hit my proverbial forehead with my proverbial knuckles and let out a proverbial “D’oh!” Fortunately I had soup left. I’m sorry it looks a little green. Legume soups don’t photograph well, as you know if you’ve ever seen Poltergeist (the movie, not a real poltergeist, although I bet the typical poltergeist diet isn’t photogenic either).
My father started the ham bone soup tradition after we dined on a magnificent smoked ham that redefined the watery hams we’d known until then. Since then we have always bought the same ham for Christmas, and we have always made the same ham bone soup. Well, almost the same. The first soups were so thick that they ate like porridge. My parents could never seem to nail the bean to water ratio, and the soup would disintegrate into a thick mass that stuck to the spoon if you held it upside down. We still loved it. When I took over the holiday cooking, the soups thinned a bit, but I kept much of the thickness out of sentiment.
This year I decided to dump sentiment and make a decent soup that you can’t eat with a fork. It’s the best version yet. The 2006 soup contains navy beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, split green peas, and regular brown lentils. The benefit of mixing legumes is that the large beans stay whole but the smaller legumes melt into the soup and give you a rich texture without the bother of pureeing scalding soup. Just about any combination of legumes will work except maybe kidney beans which take a long cooking time that might melt the other legumes too much. You can, of course, use just one kind of legume such as the traditional split pea. Like most soups, this soup reheats well and tastes just as good, if not better, days after it’s made.
BONEHEADED HAM BONE SOUP
· 1 very meaty ham bone from a whole or half ham, preferably smoked
· 8 cups water
· 1/2 pound assorted dried beans, soaked overnight
· 1/2 pound assorted quick-cooking legumes such as split peas and lentils
· 1 bay leaf
· 1 large onion, diced
· 2-3 large carrots, sliced into coins
· Salt and black pepper
1) In a large pot, bring ham bone to a boil in 8 cups of water over high heat. Lower heat, cover the pot, and simmer the bone for at least two hours.
2) Add the drained beans, legumes, and bay leaf to the water. Cover the pot and simmer for half an hour, stirring occasionally.
3) Add the onions and the carrots, and continue simmering the soup until the beans are tender, anywhere from half an hour to an hour more. Add some water if the soup is too thick for your taste.
4) Season to taste with salt and copious amounts of fresh ground black pepper.