Though not the most common of bean soups, Senate bean soup is still delicious. It’s a simple, eight-ingredient soup that’s incredibly budget-friendly.
While you may not have tried it, American politicians certainly have. It’s served in the United States Senate dining room daily and is a staple of many Senators’ diets.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an elected official to enjoy Senate bean soup. You can whip it up at home any time you like.
Senate Bean Soup
As mentioned, senate bean soup is indispensable on the Senate dining room menu. While no one knows exactly why, it’s been an option since 1903. (Over 120 years!)
The only time the soup went off the menu was for a single day in 1943. It was during World War II, and the United States was forced to ration supplies.
For that day, the soup was unavailable. But perhaps someone in the Senate complained because it was back the very next day. And it’s been there ever since.
Many homemade soups have lengthy ingredient lists, which can be intimidating. Luckily, that isn’t the case with Senate bean soup. Here’s what you need:
- Dry navy beans – Traditionally, people make this soup with navy beans. (Some even call it “Senate navy bean soup.”) However, you can swap out the beans you use in a pinch. White beans are best.
- Smoked ham hock – You can use a leftover ham hock or smoke it fresh. You’ll need about 3/4 of a pound to give the soup the best flavor, but you can use more.
- Cold water – You’ll use water to soak the beans and create the soup’s brothy base. If you want, you can substitute something more flavorful instead.
- Baking soda – Though optional, I highly recommend adding it. It significantly shortens the length of time required to simmer the beans.
- Butter – For that rich, buttery flavor. I use salted butter, but unsalted is fine, too.
- Onion – Onions are an easy way to add flavor to any soup. You can also add garlic for an extra dash of umami goodness.
- Salt & pepper – Season the soup to suit your tastes.
How to Make Senate Bean Soup
The steps for making this soup are almost as simple as the ingredient list!
1. Simmer the beans. Bring the beans, ham hock, water, and baking soda to a boil in a large soup pot. Start with medium-high heat, then reduce it and simmer for 3 hours.
Be sure to stir occasionally, and remove (but don’t discard) the ham hock after the 3-hour mark.
2. Saute the onions. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Then, add and saute the onions until they’re translucent.
3. Finish the soup. Add the sauteed onions to the soup pot. Then, shred the ham hock and add its meat to the pot. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Enjoy! Ladle the soup into bowls, serve, and enjoy!
Recipe Tips and Variations
Here are a few final tips and variations to ensure your soup is perfect:
- Don’t forget to stir! Stirring occasionally helps break down the starches in the beans. It’ll also prevent them from sticking to the sides and bottom of the pot.
- Select your simmer time. Some people prefer to keep their beans firmer and more solid. Others like their beans to be almost mushy. Opt for 90 minutes of total cooking time for the former and 3 to 3 1/2 hours for the latter.
- Be careful with the seasonings. There are ingredients in this recipe that include salt. (The ham hock, potentially the butter, etc.) So, the soup already has a natural saltiness. Taste it first before adding extra salt. Then, continue tasting as you go.
- Flavor up your broth. Instead of water, use chicken broth or vegetable stock to soak and simmer the beans.
- Add extra veggies. Potatoes, celery, and carrots all make excellent additions to this soup. You can also garnish the soup with a variety of fresh or dried herbs.
- Need something besides a ham hock? Try a smoked turkey leg or leftover diced ham instead.
How to Store
You have a couple of options for storing leftover Senate bean soup. They are as follows:
- To Store: Transfer the cooled soup to an air-tight container and refrigerate it for up to 4 days.
- To Freeze: Again, allow the soup to cool first. Then, transfer it to a freezer-safe air-tight container. Store it upright in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To Reheat: Let frozen bean soup thaw in the fridge overnight. Then, reheat in individual bowls in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. You can also heat all the leftovers in a pot on the stove. Reheat the soup over low heat until it’s warmed through.
More Bean Soup Recipes
Can’t get enough bean soup recipes? Here are a few more to try!
- 15 Bean Soup
- Chipotle Black Bean Soup
- Old-Fashioned Ham and Bean Soup
- 10 Bean Soup
- Texas Roadhouse Chili
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