If you’re like us and stowed your leftover ham in the freezer before embarking on seasonal travels, you might be wondering what to do with it now that everyone’s had enough indulgent holiday foods. Take heart. There’s almost nothing more satisfying and simple this time of year than a good ham soup.
One of the best things about serving a holiday ham is the soup that follows. Here, we’ll provide a foolproof formula for making the best ham soup ever. With this method, you can have a perfect soup at your table whenever you have on hand a bit of ham or leftover bone from a holiday ham and a few other ingredients.

  1. In a heavy Dutch oven or soup pot, sauté one onion, several stocks of celery, one to two carrots and garlic (if you like it) in a small amount (1 Tablespoon or so) oil until the onions are translucent. We prefer olive oil, but any vegetable oil will do. (Tip: I like to dice the onion and garlic – but not too small – and do a larger slice or chop for the celery and carrots so you can see them in the soup. But there’s no real rule here. Slice, dice or chop your sauté veggies how you prefer short of mincing them up super fine so they mush.)
  2. Add ham bone, stripped of loose meat, to the pot and cover all with water. Water should come one or so inches above your bone. If you have no ham bone, use a quality chicken or vegetable stock or broth.
  3. Immediately add to the pot soaked or canned legumes and/or evenly cubed or cut vegetables* of your choice. Here’s where it gets really fun! You’re limited only by your imagination. But leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc.) should be reserved and added to the end of your cooking time. (*Beans and veggies we like include tomatoes from our freezer or a can, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, green beans, corn or barley, and any type dried bean.) Also add herbs of choice, fresh or dried, at this point. With a limited selection of good fresh herbs in Wisconsin this time of year, I usually crush 1 teaspoon oregano and basil between my fingers into the pot, plus a couple bay leaves. Use your taste buds as your guide.
  4. Let soup simmer on low for one to two hours, depending on your ingredients. (Certain legumes, unless canned, will take more time to cook. Same with hard root vegetables like turnips. Test your beans/veggies at regular intervals until they’re soft with some give, but not crunchy.) Add water as needed so ingredients remain covered as they simmer. About half way through, add reserved ham that you have (one cup or so torn or cut into pieces), or take out the bone and remove any ham remaining and return meat to the pot. You can also add small pasta or barley, 1/2 cup to 1 cup, here or a little later depending on the pasta cooing time.
  5. At the end of your cooking time, add one to two cups fresh, chopped greens of your choice. Spinach and kale are great choices. Cook for just a few minutes until done.
  6. Serve with garnish of fresh chopped parsley, sliced scallions, shredded hard cheese (like parmesan or cheddar).

Customize however you like. Add more ingredients to make it chunky like a stew. Limit ingredients to create dishes like ham and potato soup or Cuban black bean and ham soup. Find your favorite ingredients and have fun. And please share your results. I’m always looking for more great ham soup ideas.

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