Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ham Hock Bean Soup

Went chasing after a memory today. All this talk about moms, comfort food and cold weather got me thinking about my mom's navy bean soup. While she's looking through her bazillion cookbooks for the recipe she used, I decided to forge ahead and see what I could come up with. What I found was Ham Hock Bean Soup. It had all the required elements, and it seemed a lot like the one I remember. Not that I've ever made it. Mom made it, we ate it and loved it.

This would be the first soup I've ever made. How bizarre is that? There are so many things like that, basic things, that I've never cooked before. I feel like such a newbie in the kitchen sometimes. But now I can say that I've made soup! The Hubs thought it seemed like a really involved and complicated recipe. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I don't know... never made soup before! There were lots of different stages to this soup, to be sure, but it was pretty straightforward. And it was pretty delicious too. There were no complaints when all was said and done. The house smelled fabulous all afternoon, and we both had seconds. I'm sure there are shortcuts, but I don't want to know about them.*

We all grew up hearing that "soup is good food". And it really is. But not from a can. Or a jar. Soup from scratch takes time, and it's main ingredient is love. Cheesy... yeah, bear with me though. Because it's true. If it wasn't, I'd just grab the can opener and be done with it. Most soups are made from a few simple, even humble, ingredients (it almost doesn't get much humbler than a ham hock, not in my kitchen anyway), most of which are already in the pantry. That leaves: time. And to spend that much time preparing food means putting love into it. You must love the process or the people who will be nourished by it. Or both.
  • Ham Hock Bean Soup, page 61, Sunset: Homemade Soups, 1986** (similar recipe from Cooking Light: Hearty Navy Bean Soup )
Notes: The day before starting the soup, I soaked the beans for 6 hours, then drained, rinsed, and drained again. Stored them in the fridge until I was ready to use them. Used homemade chicken stock that my sister made during one of her visits (I won't say how very long ago that was, let's just say it wasn't made in this kitchen), dried beans from the bulk bin at the store, and my own dried rosemary (from that same other residence). Tried to chop the dried rosemary into smaller pieces and it flew around like a cloud of confetti! Don't chop... just crumble into the pot! Used a stick blender directly in the pot instead of trying to pour half into a blender like the recipe suggests. I may not use it often, but that stick blender has more than earned the real estate it takes up in my kitchen cupboard.

The recipe made 6 servings. I divided up what we didn't eat; two servings in the fridge and two in the freezer. I do wish it had made more, for all the work that went into it. But now that I've done it, it won't seem like so much effort the next time.
Realized the next day that I forgot to add the salt and pepper at the end. It didn't need it! While the pepper might add a nice extra note, the ham hocks were plenty salty and neither of us noticed any absence of flavor.

*Do you know that the only packaging that I had to open, was the plastic wrap over the foam tray from the ham hocks? If I'd purchased them from a proper butcher counter, they probably would've been wrapped up in paper instead. When all was said and done, the only things I had to throw in the trash were to do with the ham hocks: the aforementioned packaging, the bones, skin, and fat. Since I'm going to make this again and am not willing to forgo the ham hocks... I'd better find an "old school" butcher counter! As for the rest: the produce bags get reused, and the veg scraps went into a bag I keep in the freezer for future vegetable stock.

**Now I know this isn't mom's recipe because of the publishing date. It tasted a whole lot like her soup though, and sensory memories like that don't lie.
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