This navy bean soup is made with smoked ham shanks, vegetables and spices. It’s a hearty and delicious soup the whole family will enjoy.
Like with many bean soups, you can’t rush the process, so make this navy bean soup on a leisurely afternoon. Your time will be rewarded with a big pot of soup that will feed your body and soul!
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16 ounces Navy Beans
1 pound Smoked Ham Shank, rinsed
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, finely diced
2 Carrots, diced
2 Celery Ribs, diced
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 teaspoon Spanish Paprika
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
4 cups Chicken Broth
4 cups Water
1 Bay Leaf
Salt, to taste
Sort the Navy Beans
Sorting is the process of going through beans and removing substandard beans and anything that doesn’t belong. Sometimes foreign objects (stones, debris, etc.) inadvertently get packaged with the beans.
To sort the navy beans, pour them on a large, flat surface. A sheet pan, large cutting board, or kitchen towel on the counter will all work well. Arrange the beans so they’re in a single layer and pick through them. Remove any foreign objects (like small stones and twigs), broken, misshaped or oddly colored beans.
Don’t skip this step; there are always a few beans that are not up to par. Plus, I’ve found stones and tiny twigs in dry beans on more than one occasion.
Add the beans to a colander, rinse them with cold water and drain.
Do Navy Beans Need to be Soaked Before Cooking?
There’s debate on whether beans need to be soaked. Some claim soaking doesn’t make a difference; others insist they’ll take forever to cook if not soaked. Me, I split the difference and use a quick soak method. It has always worked really well.
That said, I do recommend soaking the beans using either the overnight or quick soak method. Soaking the beans hydrates them and I like having that head start.
Overnight soaking method
Add the beans to a pot. Cover the beans with 4-6 cups of water. Let them soak overnight. Drain the water completely and rinse the beans well with fresh, cold water.
Quick soaking method
(My preferred method) Add the beans and 6-8 cups of water to a large pot. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans for 2 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover and allow them to soak for one hour. Then, drain and rinse the beans.
How long to cook Navy Beans?
Cooking times vary when making fresh beans. The cooking time will depend on the freshness and quality of the beans. For any bean recipe, the best we can do is offer an estimated cooking time. Sometimes an hour is enough. Sometimes, the beans need to cook longer.
When cooking with fresh beans, follow the recipe cooking time and taste a couple of beans for doneness. If they’re still firm, then cook for 15 minutes at a time, tasting a couple of beans in between until they reach the desired tenderness.
Other than sorting and soaking the beans, there is some prep work involved with this from-scratch navy bean soup. If you’re using the quick soak method, do the prep while you wait.
- Start with rinsing the ham shanks with cold water and pat them dry.
- Dice the onions, carrots and celery. They’re all going into the pot at the same time so keep them in the same bowl.
- Mince the garlic.
- Measure out the tomato paste, oregano, paprika and black pepper.
We keep all our prepped ingredients in glass nesting bowls. They keep everything organized, keeping cooking stress free. Now we’re ready to cook!
Create a flavor base for the Navy Bean Soup
The secret to making delicious soup is to start with a flavor base. Different recipes will use different ingredients, but the concept remains the same, cooking vegetables and spices gently in oil/fat until they start to soften. Then you build the soup from there.
Examples of flavor bases include sofrito – really common in Cuban recipes and mirepoix – a combination of onions, carrots and celery that’s French in origin. That’s what we’re starting with here.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Next, add the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, paprika and black pepper, cook 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Finish the soup
Add the smoked ham shank, navy beans, chicken broth, water, and the bay leaf to the pot and stir well. Raise heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil; it will take about 6-8 minutes. Then, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and cook the soup for 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Keep the soup at a simmer/gentle boil. If it’s boiling too vigorously, lower the heat a bit. Adjust the heat as necessary.
Remove the smoked ham shank from the pot onto a cutting board or plate (use tongs to make this easy). Cover the soup and continue cooking.
When the smoked ham shank is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and any fatty pieces. Chop the meat and return it to the pot.
Continue cooking the navy bean soup for another 15 minutes. Taste a couple of beans; if they are tender, the soup is done.
If the beans are still a little firm, cover and continue cooking. Check the beans every 15 minutes or so, until they reach the desired tenderness. As the soup thickens, stir more often so the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Use tongs to fish out the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Taste the soup and add salt if needed and stir. As a reference, we added ¾ teaspoon to ours.
Serve the navy bean soup with a nice piece of crusty bread or a side of white or brown rice, if desired.
How to thicken bean soups?
If your navy bean soup is not thickening, there’s an easy fix for that. By the way, this thickening method works really well with other bean soups too.
- First, uncover the pot and let the soup continue simmering for a few minutes. Some of the liquid will cook out and this will help the soup start to thicken.
- Then, use a small mesh strainer to remove 2-3 tablespoons of the beans from the pot.
- Mash them up in the strainer with a fork, kind of like making smashed potatoes.
- Finally, add that bean paste back to the soup and stir well. Let the soup simmer a little while longer.
- Stir occasionally to keep the soup from sticking to the bottom of the pot; and to gauge how thick it is.
If you’ve made this soup before, please note that this recipe has been updated with the following changes:
- Instead of 8 cups of water we used 4 cups of chicken broth and 4 cups of water.
- We doubled the amount of carrots and celery
- Dried oregano was substituted for fresh oregano
You may also like these comforting soups:
Navy Bean Soup
- 16 ounces Navy Beans sorted, rinsed and soaked
- 1 pound Smoked Ham Shank rinsed and patted dry
- 3 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Medium Onion finely diced
- 2 Carrots diced
- 2 Celery Ribs diced
- 3-4 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Spanish Paprika
- Black Pepper to taste
- 4 cups Chicken Broth
- 4 cups Water
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Salt to taste
- Pick through the beans to remove any foreign objects (like small stones). Don’t skip this step, I’ve found stones in dry beans on more than one occasion. Add the beans to a colander and rinse them well with cold water and drain.
Soak the beans - use the overnight or the quick soak method.
- Overnight method: Add the beans to a pot. Cover the beans with 4-6 cups of water. Let the beans soak overnight. Drain the water completely and rinse the beans well with fresh, cold water.
- Quick soaking method: Add the beans and 6-8 cups of water to a large pot. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans for 2 minutes, then remove them from the heat, cover and allow them to soak for one hour. Drain and rinse the beans. I use the quick soak method and it has worked well so far.
Prepare the smoked ham shank
- Rinse the ham with cold water, pat dry.
Make the navy bean soup
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat; add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, paprika and black pepper. Cook 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the smoked ham shank, navy beans, chicken broth, water, and the bay leaf to the pot and stir. Raise heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, lower heat to medium-low, cover and cook 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the smoked ham shank from the pot and place on a cutting board. Cover the soup and continue cooking. When the smoked ham shank is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the bones and any fatty pieces. Chop the meat and return it to the pot.
- Continue cooking the navy bean soup for another 15 minutes. Taste a couple of beans; if they’re tender, the soup is done. If the beans are still a little firm, cover and continue cooking. Check the beans every 15 minutes or so, until they reach the desired consistency.
- Taste the navy bean soup and add salt if needed. As a reference, we added ¾ teaspoon to our soup.
- Remove the bay leaf and discard.
- Replaced 8 cups of water with 4 cups of chicken broth and 4 cups of water
- Doubled the amount of carrots and celery (2 of each instead of 1)
- Dried oregano was substituted for fresh oregano