It’s hard to beat the rib-stickin’ comfort of a bowl of ham & bean soup. I prefer it brothier than the version I grew up eating, and like many soups, it’s made even better with the tang of sauerkraut.
In fact, sauerkraut’s salty acidity elevates many savory dishes, far beyond the typical brats-n-beer pairing (which is, of course, delicious). Go for traditional lacto-fermented kraut for best flavor and nutrition, then start adding it where pickled things taste best: tacos, burgers, salads, soups, egg salad, stir-fries, stroganoff (one of my faves), alongside cheese, and on anything pork. Anything. Pork.
I employed a couple of other tricks to boost the taste and nutrition of this soup: 1) I sprouted the beans before cooking them (which makes them easier to digest, which makes you more popular at work and at home), and 2) I included not just ham, but ham bones, for the broth. That ham bone you froze after Easter dinner? Now’s the time to pull it out and get simmering.
Ham, Bean & Sauerkraut Soup
1/2 lb. dry great Northern (navy) beans
3 Tbsp. olive oil or bacon fat
1 c. chopped carrots
1/2 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped onion
1 tsp. caraway seeds
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ham hocks (available in the frozen meat case of most grocery stores) or ham bone with some meat still attached (if there is no meat attached, add 1 c. diced ham)
8 c. water (use half chicken stock, half water for an extra flavor boost)
2 c. sauerkraut, with more for serving
salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you’d like to sprout the beans, which I recommend if you have a hard time digesting beans (plus it makes them more nutritious), start three days before you plan to make the soup: Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by one inch. In the morning, drain the beans in a colander. Leave them in the colander (I set the colander over a bowl so it’s steady and continues to drain) and cover with a dish towel. Two or three times a day, rinse the beans thoroughly and re-cover them. After a couple of days, you’ll notice a tiny sprout emerging. They are now sprouted and ready to cook.
If you don’t sprout the beans, do soak them overnight. Drain the beans and rinse them in a colander.
Heat a Dutch oven or small stockpot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then stir in the beans, carrots, celery, onions, caraway seeds, thyme, and bay leaves. Saute, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened and starting to brown in spots. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.
Add the ham hocks, sauerkraut, water, and 1 tsp. of salt to the beans and vegetables. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 2 hours. (You can also set the pan in a 250-degree oven, or slow-cook in a crock pot.)
Remove ham from bones and stir back into the pot (discarding the bones). Season to taste with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve garnished with additional sauerkraut.