Smoky Red Bean Soup

Smoky Red Bean Soup


The smokiness comes from ham hocks. And all you do is get the pot bubbling, then walk away.
TIME 1¼ to 2 hours, mostly unattended
MAKES 6 to 8 servings
1½ cups any dried red beans, rinsed and picked over
2 or 3 smoked ham hocks or 1 ham bone
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium to large carrot, chopped
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a pinch dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Method
1 Put the beans and 8 cups water in a stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the ham, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so the mixture bubbles gently but steadily.

2 Cook, stirring once in a while, until the beans are very tender and just starting to break apart and the meat is falling from the bone, 60 to 90 minutes depending on the bean and whether or not you soaked them. Add more water as needed, ½ cup at a time, to keep the mixture soupy during cooking.

3 Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, stir, and turn off the heat. Remove the hocks (or bone) from the pot. For a smoother, creamier texture, press down on the soup in the pot with a potato masher to break up some of the beans.

4 When the meat is cool enough to handle, pull it from the bone, chop it, and return it to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, stirring frequently and adding a little more water if it seems too thick. (Or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days; reheat before continuing.) Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

Variations
  • Beefy Bean Soup: No smokiness, but even meatier. Instead of the ham, use about 1½ pounds bone-in chuck steak or 1 pound beef stew meat.
  • Vegetarian Smoky Red Bean Soup: Skip the ham and add 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimentón) with the vegetables in Step 1. If you like, add 2 cups chopped peeled or unpeeled potatoes or turnips for the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Tips
  • Kidney and pinto beans are the most widely available red beans, but you can make this soup with almost any bean: Try pink, black, or white beans or even chickpeas. Many soups are even better the next day, and that’s especially true for this one. To reheat, put the pot over medium heat and stir frequently until the soup is bubbling hot. Or warm individual bowls in the microwave on high; just be sure to stop and stir once or twice.
  • If you can’t find either ham hocks or a ham bone, substitute ½ pound chopped bacon or pancetta; neither will need to be removed.

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