We splurged and bought a beautiful spiral-cut ham for Christmas dinner this year; baked with some peach-rosemary jam as a glaze, it was delicious. The ham was just under 7 lbs.; after dinner for three, and even though we sent a good amount home with R’s mom, we had a lot left to use. I had no problem with that– ham is a once a year treat, and sometimes not even every year. I loved having ham for breakfast sandwiches, ham salad for lunch (my favorite) and a delicious sweet potato & turnip gratin, but this stew was the best thing I made with my leftover ham. The super bonus? It uses just the bone and the stuck-on pieces of meat so hard to get off the bone; I’m always extra-satisfied to make use of every bit when I buy meat, especially a splurge cut.
My husband went absolutely crazy for this stew. I was pretty happy about that, since he can be picky about beans and I was the tiniest bit worried about having a vat of bean stew to eat by myself. (It does freeze like a dream, should that have been the case.) No need to worry– he was glad to eat it the night I made it and happier to reheat it a few times after that. This bean stew is a dream meal: easy to make, comprised of leftovers and pantry items, and seeming to taste better after a few days. I made this in my slow cooker but have done something similar on the stove top, so it would be easy to adapt if necessary. Use dried beans you like; my recommendation would be cannelini, pinto or kidney, thinking about what is readily available to most people. I was excited to use the yin yang beans I got for Christmas; if you have them, use them, they were great! Having said that, I am not able to be very helpful about where you can find them, since I hadn’t ever seen them before this year. (Well, last December.)
If you are able to use a slow cooker, imagine how nice it would be to throw this together in the morning and come home to a wonderful dinner. If you’re looking for a twist on chili, ham and bean stew has many common ingredients, but somehow still feels new. (I was going to say new and exciting, but it is a bean stew– can that qualify as exciting?) If you need a vegetarian option, you can absolutely leave out the ham bone and still have a delicious stew; consider adding cauliflower or bell pepper pieces for a change in texture. Whatever the reason, whichever bean you choose, this stew is satisfying, delicious and worth making.
Slow Cooker Ham & Bean Stew
- 2 c. dried beans
- 1 ham bone (with a little bit of meat left on, if possible)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 c. broth, chicken or veggie
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 c. canned/jarred diced tomatoes (1 15 oz. can is fine)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 T. fresh lemon juice
- 1 dried ancho chile, optional*
- sour cream to garnish (optional)
- cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)
Day 1: Put the beans into a bowl with at least two times the volume of water; cover loosely and allow them to soak at least eight hours or overnight. (Soaking time may vary, depending on the beans you use; check the packaging for specific instructions.)
Day 2: Drain the water from the beans and check for any pebbles or other unwanted, non-bean items. Put the soaked beans into the slow cooker with the ham bone, onion, garlic, broth, bay leaves and ancho chile, if using. Cook on the LOW setting for about six hours, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, about 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and continue to cook for another hour. At that point, the beans should be tender; if they are not, continue to cook until they are, and plan to use a different type of beans next time! When the beans are tender, carefully remove the ham bone and cut or pull off the meat. Remove unwanted gristle and chop or shred the ham, then return it to the soup. Remove the bay leaves and chile, if using, and discard. Add the lemon juice and taste; adjust salt & pepper if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with sour cream and/or cilantro or parsley. Store leftover stew in the fridge for up to a week, or in a tightly-covered, freezer-safe container in the freezer for up to three months.
*The ancho chile adds smokiness, not fire, a nice flavor with the ham and beans. You could leave it out and have a great-tasting soup, or substitute a little bit of cayenne pepper or some chipotles in adobo. If you substitute, expect a little fire with your smoke.