Ham and beans are one of the traditional New Years Day meals eaten to ensure prosperity in the coming year.
This is not the soupier version of ham and beans but the soulful, hearty, ham & beans dinner eaten by millions. It is home cooking, Southern cooking, Soul cooking, and frugal cooking.
I have been eating meals like this my whole life but I do come from humble roots. What may have once been eaten to save money and stretch out the food dollar until the next payday, out of necessity, has morphed into a meal of choice. So you can understand that I do not eat beans on New Year’s Day, but all year long.
Of course, I like to make lots of different kinds of beans. This recipe is probably one similar to the recipe in many families. The asafoetida may be unfamiliar to you if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine, however. It is also known as Devil’s Dung.
Yes, you read that right.
Asafoetida is a yellowish powder that has a terrible smell coming out of the package, and having sprinkled it in your cooking you may be wondering if you made a mistake. So when you approach it I want to assure you that as your beans cook, the smell of that will go away and leave an interesting and palatable scent and flavor on the food you will come to love. It is said to be good for digestion (and possibly also for some of the less favorable after-effects of eating beans). Of course, it is not a necessity to have in the dish, as it is optional. But if you would like to try it, look for asafoetida in an Asian or Indian market or perhaps even a health food store.
As part of the flavoring, I also used smoked ham chunks but as you will notice if you read my recipes long enough, I often interchange this with other types of smoked meats, such as ham hocks, smoked turkey wings, smoked pork shoulder, smoked pork neck bones and the like. I do love a good ham bone and am quite possessive of them. Once flames shot from my eyes when I discovered that my husband Bill had trimmed the ham I baked and stored the leftovers. When I asked where the ham bone was, he admitted to tossing it in the trash.
If there is anything, and I mean anything, that a cook should adore above all else to flavor their beans with, it is the ham bone. It is chock full of flavor as well as collagen, (which ladies, is good for your complexion). I have noticed that one of my favored markets now sells ham bones that are leftover from the production of making prosciutto. Those are good too. And cheap. For about a buck-fifty I can get them now anytime. Ask your grocery manager to stock those!
Everything else in the recipe is pretty basic, almost like a formula. I did serve this with my Southern Pecan corn muffins, which, let me tell you, are a real treat if you haven’t tried them yet. Here’s the link: Southern Pecan Corn Muffins. With those I might want to put a disclaimer that they are Southern PECAN corn muffins, knowing my Southern buddies really really get a bit testy when anything sweet goes in their corn bread. But hey, these *are* muffins. I do understand their intent, knowing a good piece of corn bread is often at its best at the bottom of a bowl of beans, or in other situations soaking up a bit of fresh buttermilk or liquor from a pot of greens. Choose whichever bread you like and let’s all be friends.
I do hope you enjoy the recipe, and that 2014 is a prosperous and healthy year for you and your loved ones. The prosperity comes from the symbolism of beans being like coins. I never did understand that as being intuitive and often thought that perhaps eating beans should impart some type of musical talent instead. Hey, maybe it does both!
Creamy Ham and Beans
- 1 pound great northern beans
- water to cover
- 6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch asafoetida (optional)
- black pepper to taste
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 to 1-1/2 pounds smoked ham chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 large ham bone
- Sort through beans and cover with about 2 inches of water and soak overnight. Alternatively instead of the overnight soaking, you might bring them to a boil, boil three minutes, then remove from heat, cover and let sit undisturbed for about an hour.
- Either way, drain the soak or precook water away.
- Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the ham chunks (they don’t need to cook very long) and bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 90 minutes or until the beans are tender and creamy. Please don’t add any salt/sodium besides the baking soda at this point.
- If they are not yet creamy, leave the lid off and continue to simmer them for a bit, as eventually all beans and legumes have a point at which they start to burst, leaving a thick creamy mixture. If you have too much trouble, mash a few with a potato masher or puree a few in the food processor.
- Now is a good time to test for salt- sometimes I add a little and sometimes I won’t, depending on how much salt was in the meat or the broth, etc. There is going to be some amount in there anyway so let it cook until you can accurately tell if it needs any additional.
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