Known to many southern and soul food enthusiasts, beans play a very important part of our diet. The fact that dried beans are cheap makes them a significant star at every meal. Thank goodness there are hundreds of varieties of these legumes and they come in all sizes, colors and varying shape which are woven into our history. Farmers plant beans along side grain, in harmony, as each helps the other to grow. Beans are an essential part of our diet and cooks from all over the world combine the amino acid of beans along with that from grains in forming a complete protein thus laying a foundation for growth and development for our bodies. However, many of us do it unknowingly, without thought or knowledge, we just know it goes together so well.
Take this interpretation of an old southern recipe for example. It makes a creamy full-bodied soup broth and with the help of traditional cornbread used to sop up the thick, gravy-like liquid, together the two creates a harmonious yet joined complete meal. The recipe is the same between kitchens and households with an omitting of an ingredient and maybe an addition or two of others but, the essence remain in tact. The meat flavoring of choice by many is smoked pork neck bones or ham hocks, smoked turkey legs and my favorite, the one I am using today, a leftover ham-bone with a good bit of meat clinging to it. The choice of vegetables is solely up to you as to your liking and more important, what’s available in the storage bin or pantry. I’ve seen kale, collards, leeks, root vegetables, even hominy added; whatever makes your tongue quiver. And too, the type of beans used depend on what’s available. To me, the giant white limas are quintessence of this treasured recipe and a few to mention are beans such as Corona, Gigandes, Madagascar, White Runners or any white well flavored flat bean will do just fine.
White Lima Soup
made with ham-bone stock
6 cups soaked large white lima beans (1 pound dried)
2 quarts chicken stock
1 meaty ham bone
2 small bay leaves
pinch of thyme and oregano
3 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic toe, finely chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped ham
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak beans overnight however you like, I prefer the stove top/oven method (see Soaked and Cooked Tender Beans). Drain and put aside. Now if you are in a hurry, 4 -15 ounce cans will do, just be sure to rinse well.
In a large stockpot, simmer the ham bone in the stock along with the bay leaves, thyme and oregano for at least a couple of hours, the longer the better. It is ready when the meat falls off. Remove bone and ham from the pot and place on a platter discarding the bone. When cool to touch, shred or tear the ham into bite size pieces. Put aside.
In a skillet, fry the bacon until fully cooked. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add onion, celery, garlic and carrots to bacon grease and sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent. Remove vegetables with the slotted spoon and add to the stockpot.
Add the limas, ham to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, bacon, salt and pepper to taste, and bring back to a boil. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce to a slow simmer; cover and cook on low for about 45 minutes or until beans are tender and begin to break down.
Serve with hot cornbread and butter.