blissful eats with Laurie Jesch-Kulseth: Mixed Bean and Smoked Ham Shank Soup

Good morning everyone! It is nice to be back at Blissful Eats. Thank you for the warm welcome and lovely comments on my previous post--this is even more fun than I imagined!

So...bean soup. Huh? Do not judge until you've given this one a try. Today we'll explore my take on this hearty soup. It is versatile enough to be served at both an elegant winter dinner party or a simple Sunday night family meal. The snowy, bone-chilling weather we've been shivering through in the Midwest calls out for this soup.
Why is this bean soup better? Three things: pickling spices, a smoked ham shank, and quality, varied beans. Let's start with the pickling spices. Strange, right? This is a secret from my Mother. These spices, more than anything else you'll see in this recipe, set the soup apart. They add a distinct complexity that is difficult to describe...think savory/hint of sweetness/herbal...something along those lines. A list of the ingredients in pickling spice may help give you an idea of what to expect: cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, coriander, bay leaves, ginger, cloves, chillies, black pepper, mace, and cardamom. You can find pickling spice at most grocery stores.

To prepare the pickling spice for the soup, place a rounded tablespoon in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie it with cooking twine. You can also use a re-usable spice sachet. As a third option, a tea ball also works, but make sure the latch does not open while stirring.
Important ingredient number two-- the smoked ham shank. While it's a great addition to many soups, here, the shank really comes through. It infuses the soup with an underlying smoky intensity that complements the unique flavor of the spices. Generally, the ham shank will have the perfect amount of meat to complete the meal.

Finally, we get to the beans. Using a varied selection of dry beans will result in a beautiful soup with unforgettable texture. Here I used red, adzuki, and great northern beans, along with green and yellow split and black-eyed peas. You should soak them overnight, but if you forget or do not have the time, here's a quick fix. Put the dried beans in a large saucepan, topped with a few inches of water. Boil for just a minute or two, remove from the heat, and cover for two hours. Your beans are now ready to go!

The Recipe: Mixed Bean and Smoked Ham Shank Soup (serves 6-ish)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 - 1 onion chopped
3 medium carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 quart (32 ounces) pureed tomatoes, preferably low sodium
1 large bay leaf
1 rounded tablespoon pickling spice, placed in a spice sachet
2 cups of mixed dried beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
4 - 5 cups of water
1 1/2 pound smoked ham shank (less or more is fine)
salt and black pepper to taste
sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil and saute the onion for a few minutes until they become tender. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Then add remaining vegetables and let cook for five minutes, or so. Season with black pepper and just a sprinkle of salt. Be careful not to overdo the salt because the ham shank will add plenty. Cook until the vegetables become slightly soft.

Add the tomatoes, water, beans, bay leaf, pickling-spice sachet, smoked ham shank, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. If the soup seems too thick, add a bit more water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer for two (or more) hours. Be sure to check on it and stir every so often. Reduce heat, if necessary. The soup will be done when the beans are soft and the ham is fork tender--it should almost fall off the bone.

Remove the ham shank from the soup and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Shred meat from the bone and stir back into soup, along with any juice that may have seeped out of the meat. This is a great make-ahead dish, as it just gets better with each passing day. Also, I love to serve this soup with a small splash of cream on the top, and very crusty bread. Delicious!

Thanks again for stopping by -- see you next week!
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