Ham, Kale and Great Northern Bean Soup
Looking for an easy ham hock and bean recipe? This Great Northern Bean Soup is the answer. I use ham hocks plus a meaty ham steak to bring a satisfying smoky flavor to the dish. Soak the dried northern beans overnight so they’re ready to cook the next day. With healthy, fiber-rich kale as well as celery, onions and carrots, this creamy ham and bean soup makes a great meal for the whole family, and they’re going to love it.
This post has been updated for photos and content since it’s original publication in 2014. The recipe is the same delicious original.
Table of Contents
What are Great Northern Beans?
Great Northern Beans are related to kidney beans and pinto beans. When cooked this mild, delicate white bean is creamy, soft and utterly perfect for this northern bean soup.
I buy dried beans and soak them overnight to rehydrate before starting the soup. Drain and rinse the beans before adding fresh water back to the pot and (See photo above.)
Are navy beans and great northern beans the same?
Not really. Though they are both considered white beans, Great Northern beans are larger with firmer skins than Navy beans, however, you can substitute navy beans in this recipe.
What are ham hocks?
Ham hocks come from the pigs hind legs, just above the ankle but below the ham. They’re made up primarily of fat, bone, gristle and connective tissue, however when they’re smoked, this section of the pig can be a flavor boom to all kinds of dishes. Though you won’t get any meat from a smoked ham hock, they’ll infuse anything with their rich, smoky flavor and contribute a luscious, satiny mouth feel to soup broths and stews – especially this ham hock and bean soup.
I love legumes. Their mild, creamy texture, broad versatility and overall affordability make them pantry staples around the world. Though they might seem intimidating to make, beans are probably one of the simplest dishes. All you need is a good heavy pot and enough water to cover the beans by a few inches. I prefer using a dutch oven but you can also use a crock pot or Instant Pot.
How to cook dried beans in a dutch oven
- Drain and rinse the previously soaked beans. Transfer them to a dutch oven and add fresh water.
- Add bay leaves and ham hocks to the great northern beans.
- Bring the pot of beans to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and place the lid on the pot so that its slightly askew and steam can escape. Simmer the beans, stirring occasionally for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are tender.
- Test for doneness by fishing out a bean and tasting it. The beans should be soft all the way through, but not mushy.
How to cook dried beans in a slow cooker
- Add soaked Northern beans to the slow cooker and cover with fresh water.
- Add the bay leaves and ham hocks to the beans. Cover with the lid and turn the slow cooker onto “low”.
- Cook for 5-6 hours or until the beans are tender but not mushy.
How to cook dried beans in an Instant Pot
- Add the soaked beans to the Instant Pot with the bay leaves and ham hocks.
- Cover with water. (Be sure not to overfill the vessel beyond the “Maximum” line).
- Turn on High Pressure and be sure the pressure valve is sealed. When the pressure is reached, cook for 30 minutes. Let the pressure fall naturally.
My mother has been making some version of this soup since I was a kid. This recipe is loosely based on hers, with a few extra vegetables added for extra nutrition, however, it starts with a standard mirepoix of carrots, celery and onion. Prepare the vegetables while the beans are simmering.
After the beans are tender, the rest of the soup will come together fairly quickly and you’ll soon be rewarded with a hearty, creamy ham and bean soup that’ll feed a crowd.
Assembling the soup
- Remove the bay leaves and ham hocks from the soup and discard.
- Scoop out about 2 cups of the cooked beans and their liquid into a blender and set aside.
- Add the chopped vegetables and diced ham to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the vegetables are tender.
- While the soup simmers, blend the beans to a smooth creamy puree.
- Add the pureed northern beans back to the soup and stir to combine.
- Stir the chopped kale into the soup and simmer until the kale wilts and becomes tender.
- Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.
Great Northern Bean Soup is ideal for cooler weather and since it makes a large pot, it will easily feed a family of 4-6, or it can be divvied up into individual storage containers for workday lunches all week long. Even though there’s only 2 of us in the house, I’ll make a full pot of this ham hock and bean recipe and within a few days, we’ll have eaten through the whole thing. It’s just THAT GOOD. The kale is tender, with a good chew and the creamy ham and bean soup is warm and satisfying from the first bite to the last.
You might also like these bean soup recipes:
- Smoky Black Bean and Ham Soup
- Kale White Bean and Meatball Soup
- Spicy Red Bean and Sausage Soup
- Leftover Turkey & Bean Soup with Kale
- Navy Bean Sausage and Escarole Soup
What to serve with ham hock bean soup:
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Smoked Ham, Kale and White Bean Soup
- 1 16 oz bag great northern beans
- 8 cups water
- 2 ham hocks
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound ham steak with ham bone trimmed of fat and diced into 1/2" pieces
- 3 medium carrots peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 medium onion peeled and chopped
- 2 cups kale tough stems removed, chopped
- Pour beans into a large heavy stockpot. Using your fingers, sift through the beans to find and remove any foreign materials or damaged beans. (I have found a stone or two in my beans before - so don't skip this step).
- For overnight soak: Cover beans with about 2 inches of water. Place lid on the pot and let soak overnight.
- Short on time? Quick soak your beans: Place beans in a large saucepan with 6-8 cups of water. Bring to a rapid boil on medium high heat. Boil 2 more minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand one hour.
- Drain beans and add 8 cups of water, ham hocks and bay leaves to beans. Cover and bring just to boiling over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently with lid tilted, about 1 1/2 hours, until beans are tender. Remove from heat.
- Ladle out about 2 cups of beans and cooking liquid and set aside. Add diced ham along with the ham bone, carrots, celery and onions to beans and simmer 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender.
- Meanwhile, add reserved beans to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Pour the puree into the soup pot and stir. Add kale, cover and simmer 10- 20 minutes more, until the kale is tender. Serve.
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Just wondering why there is no seasoning in the recipe. Salt, pepper??
The ham bone seasons the soup and adds that salty bite. If you need more seasoning, feel free to add salt and pepper!
What are you supposed to do with the hamhock after cooking it with the beans and the bay leaves. I assume you’re just supposed to remove it,
You can remove it – I usually just leave it in the pot, but obviously don’t serve it to anyone.
I love to pick true ham hocks. Some good eats in them 🙂
Really love the look of this recipe! Hearty and packed with protein but still a good source of veggies, saving!
I’ve had a lot of beans sitting in my kitchen for some time now and was wondering what to do with them. This recipe is just perfect! And great for this time of the year, too.
This looks beautiful and delicious. We are a huge fan of bean soups and make them all the time. I will have to add your version to my list of recipes to try. Pinning to save for later.
We made this soup for dinner last night and it was incredible! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!
I’m always on the hunt for new soup recipes around this time of year and this looks like a total winner!!
This comment really is a question for Diane the 1st commenter on the thread. How do you convert this to instant pot recipe? I’d love to make this but am having issues w/ my gas stove right now so I have to use my multi cooker. Which I highly recommend you get one Lisa they are wonderful, I have a slow cooker, stove top pressure cooker, & 2 multi cookers. I use the multi cookers so much I need to add a 3rd one to my arsenal!
I’d really love to try this recipe. Would a pinto or light red kidney bean work?
I adapted this for the Instant Pot. I used ham stock and Good Mother Stallard beans (unsoaked) so mine is darker and not nearly as photogenic as yours. But, it’s still delicious. Perfect for a stormy Spring evening. Thank you for posting the recipe.
I’m glad it worked for you Diane! I actually haven’t bought an Instant Pot (yet) because I have a pressure cooker as well as a slow-cooker, so it seemed redundant for me. That said — I’d love to consolidate my kitchen equipment — more storage.
I made this with my leftover Christmas ham and kale fresh from my garden since I was looking for a recipe to cmbine the two. Delicious!
So glad you enjoyed it, Beth!
I just love soup recipes! And white beans are one of my favorites to add in soups. The texture is so good!
Love the sound of this soup, ham gives such a great flavour and perfect with beans and veg:-)
I love it when great recipes come together from random things you find stored at the bottom of the freezer! This soup sounds amazing, and just perfect for this time of year!
I always feel like I’ve accomplished something when I can pull off a meal without a trip to the store.
I love bean and ham soup, and this looks amazing! I like that you added kale…I prefer it to spinach in soups as well. Not only does it hold up better and give a little chew to the soup, it doesn’t get nearly as slimey when reheating leftovers! The only good thing about winter, in my opinion, is all the wonderful soups to try so I’m adding this to my list!
I’m all for adding extra veggies into meals whenever I can, so I love how you’ve included kale in this soup! I know what you mean about spinach wilting in hot broths instantly and not adding any texture. I can really imagine how kale would add a bit of crunch and bite here.
I wouldn’t say the kale is crunchy, but it definitely adds a nice chew.
I could do with a bowl of this right now!
Mm, this does sound so hearty and warming! Bean soups are a go-to for me in the winter, and the addition of ham and kale sounds divine. I actually very rarely cook with ham, so this has inspired me. Thanks!
It must be my Southern upbringing – ham is a staple in our house!
I love bean soups in the cooler months. This one sounds so flavorful! I always put thyme in my bean soups. Don’t know why, except that my mother always did it. 🙂
I made a ham stew last week with carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, and garlic. Leftovers….what to do? So I pulled the ham apart and set aside. I had a nice glaze and “broth jelly” still in the bottom of my crock pot. I added all that and the bones to enough liquid to simmer the marrow right outta the bone. Since the broth already had all those veggies left over in it, I just drained it into my pan. At this point, between roasting and boiling, all the goodness of those veggies was in the broth. I used enough of that broth to quickly cook my navy beans to a boil for 3 min, remove them fro heat, then let them soak all that goodness up for an hour. I cut up my kale and set aside. While the beans soaked up, I added the pre-picked ham to my “now broth” and brought that to a low simmer to prepare for adding my beans soaking in broth. After an hour of soaking in hot broth, I added the beans to the now simmering broth and ham. Then simmered all that goodness together for 15-20 (not sure, I got two young boys!!!). I then added the chopped up kale and heated on low for 10 more minutes. I loosely followed your recipe. I just started from a different source. The best part was, I didn’t really have to cut up any more veggies (I could have) except to add some fresh color. And there was no need for any more spices except a little salt and pepper. Thanks for the idea. I had a loose idea of what I was going to do with the left over ham this time but, after reading your recipe, I knew just what to do. Came out great…. and WHAT A SYSTEM SHOCK OF VITAMINS!!!!!!!!
Wow! Sounds like you know your way around the kitchen and your soup sounds fabulous! Hope the kids licked their bowls! Thank you so much for sharing!
I made a ham
Are you thinking about making a soup with the hambone?