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Thick, smoky, and satisfying, Senate bean soup is the perfect meal for a chilly day! Serve each bowl of ham and navy bean soup with a side of cornbread for a flavorful, affordable, and cozy supper.

Overhead shot of ham bean soup in a blue and white bowl with a side salad and cornbread.
Table of Contents
  1. Senate Bean Soup
  2. How to Add Flavor to a Simple Bean Soup
  3. Ingredients for Senate Navy Bean Soup
  4. The Best Dutch Oven for Soup
  5. How to Make Senate Bean Soup
  6. What to Serve with Senate Bean Soup
  7. Preparation and Storage Tips
  8. Ham Bean Soup Recipe Variations
  9. Tips for the Best Senate Bean Soup Recipe
  10. Senate Bean Soup {a.k.a. Navy Bean Soup} Recipe

There’s nothing more cozy than a warm bowl of hearty soup. We love a pot of beer cheese soup with broccoli and bacon, this easy taco soup, and this old-fashioned Crock Pot vegetable soup. But there’s nothing more classic than a big Dutch oven full of Senate bean soup! It’s an inexpensive meal that’s full of rich flavor, easy to simmer on the stovetop, and incredibly satisfying.

Senate Bean Soup

Bean soup has been a staple on the menu of U.S. Senate restaurants for more than a century. The most traditional version of Senate bean soup includes navy beans, potatoes, and ham. This classic navy bean soup recipe has become synonymous with the U.S. Senate lunches, giving it the alternate name, “Senate Bean Soup.”

Two bowls of senate bean soup on a wooden table with a side of cornbread and salad.

Do I need to soak navy beans before making soup?

No, it’s not absolutely necessary to soak the beans first; however, it’s definitely my preference. Soaking dried beans overnight reduces the required cooking time significantly. The texture of the cooked beans is also best after soaking, with fewer that split open and burst.

Soaking navy beans in a bowl.

How to Quick Soak Beans

If you don’t have time to soak the beans in advance, you can rinse them, place them in a large pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the beans, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and then let the beans soak in the hot water for 1 hour. Drain the beans in a colander, rinse them under cold water, and proceed with the recipe.

Is bean soup good for you?

Yes! This soup is loaded with protein, fiber, and vegetables for a wholesome and healthy one pot meal! Each 1-cup serving has about 159 calories, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of fat.

The smoked ham hocks add great flavor to the soup, but they don’t have too much meat on them, so the extra fat is quite minimal. Homemade soups also have the added benefit of being lower in sodium than their canned counterparts. You can control the salt in your pot, adding as much or as little as you personally like.

Process shot showing how to make senate bean soup.

How to Add Flavor to a Simple Bean Soup

Some bean soup recipes may be watered down or bland…but not this one! You’ll add layers of flavor to the soup by sauteing aromatics (like onion, celery, and garlic) in olive oil at the start. The addition of ham not only makes it more hearty and satisfying, but also contributes great smoky, salty flavor to the dish. Finally, garnish liberally with dried or fresh herbs to really make the soup stand out!

Peeled and diced potatoes in a small green bowl.

Ingredients for Senate Navy Bean Soup

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a pot of our favorite navy bean soup recipe. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Dried navy beans: while navy beans (or Great Northern beans) are most traditional in this dish, you can use cannellini beans (or other white beans), pinto beans, kidney beans, or similar beans instead.
  • Water: to soak the beans, and to create the flavorful broth. For even more flavor in your pot of soup, use store-bought chicken broth, vegetable broth, or (for a real treat) homemade chicken broth!
  • Olive oil: to sauté the vegetables.
  • Celery, onion, and garlic: aromatics that add tons of flavor to the soup.
  • Smoked ham hocks: provide a rich, salty, smoky flavor. Each ham hock is typically about 10-12 ounces, but there’s leeway here — it doesn’t have to be exact. If you have a leftover ham bone from a holiday meal, that will work well, too!
  • Bay leaves: give the soup an earthy flavor.
  • Russet potato: thickens the soup and adds great flavor and texture.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: use sparingly, and season as you go. Salting the beans too early will cause them to take longer to soften, and the ham is often quite salty on its own.
Overhead image of ham bean soup in a blue and white bowl with a side of cornbread.

The Best Dutch Oven for Soup

We rounded up the best Dutch ovens you can buy, including 3 (yes, 3!) that I personally own and love! It was difficult to choose my favorite, but the Staub Cast Iron Dutch Oven (5.5 quarts) earned the top spot. You can buy it on Amazon for $311.50 or at Walmart for $359.95. That said, for this recipe I prefer the Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch oven (which was a close second), since it’s a little bit larger (7.5 quarts). It’s available on Amazon for $459.95.

How to Make Senate Bean Soup

I’ve shown the stove top Dutch oven method here, but I’ve also included Crock Pot directions below. The complete step-by-step instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Soak the beans overnight.
  2. Sauté the veggies in olive oil.
  3. Stir in the ham hocks, bay leaves, and 2 quarts water.
  4. Simmer for about 2 hours, or until the beans are tender.
  5. Stir in the potatoes and cook for about 10 more minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaves and the ham hocks.
  7. Puree a portion of the soup.
  8. Add the chopped ham back to the pot, ladle into bowls, and garnish with chopped fresh herbs.
Square overhead image of a bowl of senate bean soup.

Should navy bean soup be thick?

Yes, this Senate navy bean soup should be fairly thick. To achieve the thicker consistency, mash or puree some of the beans and potatoes at the end of cooking. You can do this with a potato masher, with the back of a spoon or fork, or with an immersion blender.

The pureed beans and potatoes will add texture to the dish and will thicken the broth. Just be careful not to puree all of the soup! Another easy way to thicken the soup is to simmer the pot with the lid off until it reduces some more.

Close up side shot of a bowl of navy bean soup with ham.

What to Serve with Senate Bean Soup

Here are a few simple options to pair with the ham bean soup:

Overhead shot of hands eating a bowl of senate bean soup.

Preparation and Storage Tips

Store the soup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. It’s a great make-ahead option for busy weeks, and even tastes better the next day!

How to Freeze

This is a great freezer meal, so prepare a big pot and stick any leftovers in the freezer for a quick-prep lunch or dinner option. Allow the soup to cool to room temperature. Stored in an airtight container, the soup will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.

How to Reheat

Place the bean soup in a pot and warm over a low flame, just until heated through. You can also microwave individual bowls for about 1-2 minutes. Add extra water or broth, as necessary, to thin to the desired consistency.

Horizontal image of two bowls of senate bean soup recipe on a wooden table.

Ham Bean Soup Recipe Variations

  • If you prefer a canned bean soup, try this easy ham and bean soup, or this sausage and bean soup.
  • For extra veggies, add fresh spinach at the very end or kale when there’s about 10 minutes left so that it has time to wilt in the hot soup. Diced carrots are also a great option to add with the celery and onion.
  • For a vegetarian navy bean soup, use the water (or vegetable broth for extra flavor). Omit the ham hocks, and instead season with cumin, paprika, Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, or other spices to add extra flavor to your liking.
  • Spicy: add a dash of cayenne or garnish with crushed red pepper flakes for a spicier soup.
  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice at the end for a bright, acidic finishing touch.
Close overhead image of navy bean soup in a blue and white bowl.

Tips for the Best Senate Bean Soup Recipe

  • Crock Pot method: soak and drain the beans as instructed, and then transfer them to a slow cooker. Saute the veggies as instructed, and transfer them to the slow cooker as well. Stir in the ham hocks, bay leaves, and water. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4-5 hours or on LOW for 8-10 hours, or until the beans and vegetables are tender. Add the potatoes; continue cooking on HIGH until tender. Proceed with the recipe as instructed.
  • Dice the potatoes small (into ¼-inch pieces) so that they cook quickly and those that aren’t pureed are similar in size to the beans.
  • Stir the pot occasionally while the beans cook. This will help to break them down a bit, distribute the starches, and prevent sticking.
  • The total amount of salt necessary will depend on the saltiness of your ham hocks, and on your personal preference. Just taste and season as you go!
  • Adjust the total cooking time to suit your preferences and your desired tenderness. While 2 hours should be sufficient to soften the beans, you can certainly let them go a bit longer if you like really broken-down, creamy beans (or remove them from the heat after about 90 minutes for a firmer texture).
  • Garnish with fresh herbs or add extra herbs and seasoning to the pot. Good options include parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary. A dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of chow-chow, or a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese is also a nice finishing touch.
Two bowls of senate bean soup on a wooden table with a side of cornbread.

More Bean Soup Recipes to Try

Square overhead image of a bowl of senate bean soup.

Senate Bean Soup {a.k.a. Navy Bean Soup}

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 30 minutes
Soaking Time 8 hours
Total: 10 hours 45 minutes
Servings 12 people
Calories 159 kcal
This hearty and simple Senate bean soup is an inexpensive, cozy meal for chilly evenings!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. dried white navy beans, sorted of debris and rinsed
  • Water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 (12 ounce) smoked ham hocks (or 1 large ham bone)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced into ¼-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley, thyme, or other herbs

Instructions

  • Place beans in a large pot or bowl. Cover with water 2 inches above the beans and soak for 8 hours (or overnight). Drain beans.
    Soaking navy beans in a bowl.
  • In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the celery, onion, and a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 more minute. Add the drained beans, ham hocks or ham bone, bay leaves, and 2 quarts (8 cups) of water. Bring to a boil; cover; reduce the heat to low, and simmer (covered) for about 2 hours, or until the beans and vegetables are tender.
    Process shot showing how to make senate bean soup.
  • Add the potatoes to the soup and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10-15 more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Discard the bay leaves. Transfer the ham hocks to a cutting board. Remove the meat from the ham hocks, chop or shred, and set aside. Discard the bones.
    Peeled and diced potatoes in a small green bowl.
  • Using a potato masher or a hand-held immersion blender, puree or mash some of the beans and potatoes (this helps thicken the soup). Stir the chopped ham back into the pot. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh herbs.
    Overhead shot of ham bean soup in a blue and white bowl with a side salad and cornbread.

Notes

  • Crock Pot method: soak and drain the beans as instructed, and then transfer them to a slow cooker. Saute the veggies as instructed, and transfer them to the slow cooker as well. Stir in the ham hocks, bay leaves, and water. Cover and cook on HIGH for 4-5 hours or on LOW for 8-10 hours, or until the beans and vegetables are tender. Add the potatoes; continue cooking on HIGH until tender. Proceed with the recipe as instructed.
  • Dice the potatoes small (into ¼-inch pieces) so that they cook quickly and those that aren’t pureed are similar in size to the beans.
  • Stir the pot occasionally while the beans cook. This will help to break them down a bit, distribute the starches, and prevent sticking.
  • The total amount of salt necessary will depend on the saltiness of your ham hocks, and on your personal preference. Just taste and season as you go!
  • Adjust the total cooking time to suit your preferences and your desired tenderness. While 2 hours should be sufficient to soften the beans, you can certainly let them go a bit longer if you like really broken-down, creamy beans (or remove them from the heat after about 90 minutes for a firmer texture).
  • Garnish with fresh herbs or add extra herbs and seasoning to the pot. Good options include parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, and rosemary. A dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of chow-chow, or a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese is also a nice finishing touch.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 159kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 9gFat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0.2mgSodium: 14mgPotassium: 574mgFiber: 10gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 61IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 67mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: navy bean soup, senate bean soup, senate navy bean soup
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. James Morin says:

    Your Senate Bean Soup recipe is exactly as prepared in my family for over seventy years.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      It’s such a classic but still so good!