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Hearty Navy Bean Soup with Ham (Senate Bean)

Navy bean soup is filling, healthy and uses affordable ingredients. Made popular in the restaurant on site at the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. it’s great for making ahead and enjoying rewarmed for lunch or at dinner with some crusty rolls.

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A big bowl of pinto beans are always popular in the south. Stick some cornbread on the side and a slice of onion and everyone gets a little bit happier.

So we know a good bean when we taste it and this recipe is a nice change from the usual.

If you’ve always be a canned soup kind of person, let me encourage you to take the time to make a big pot of these. You’ll fall in love with a flavor and texture that doesn’t depend on synthetic thickeners or tons of sodium to bring in flavor.

Do Senators actually eat this soup?

It’s still on the menu in Senate restaurants today. Invented somewhere around 1900-1903, equal credit is given to senators from Idaho and Minnesota who expressed their love for this navy bean based soup.

While the recipe has changed a bit (the original had mashed potatoes in it), the slow cooked flavors are still tremendously popular among legislators.

Are Great Northern beans and navy beans the same thing?

Here in my stores I often see Great Northern and navy bean labels both on the same package. However a Great Northern bean is larger–more like a lima bean and has a thin skin. Great Northern beans tend to cook faster than navy beans.

Do navy beans need to be soaked?

No. You can cook your beans without soaking them but be prepared to cook them longer. I always soak mine if I can to cut down on the cook time. Soaked beans will need about an hour and a half of simmering time for the recipe but unsoaked may take two to two and half hours.

How to soak navy beans

To soak your beans, add the dry beans to a bowl then rinse them a couple of times and sort through them to make sure there are no small rocks or dirt. Add hot water to cover the beans by 3 to 4 inches and allow the beans to soak at room temperature 4 to 5 hours. Drain the water before adding your beans to the pot to cook and cover with new, fresh water.

What beans will substitute for navy? Can I use pinto beans in this recipe?

Great Northern or Canellini beans are your best options. If you only have pinto beans they would work. Their flavor will be a bit different and of course they are darker so you’re soup won’t be a “white bean soup” version, but it would be fine.

I often find my pinto beans take much longer to get soft than navy beans do, so you may need to plan for a longer cook time. Pinto beans often take 4 to 5 hours of slow simmering.

Build flavor in your beans with ham hock (and what to do if you can’t get one)

Ham hocks are as common in the south as men named Bubba. I buy a hock from a salty country ham back by my meat department. Because they are cured, you’ll find them in a display near the meat but not refrigerated. You can buy a hock online here or alternatively you can use a few slices of country ham or some good quality thick cut bacon.

navy beans soaking with a ham hock
Add a meaty ham hock to your navy beans before simmering. Bacon may be substituted.

Should I use broth, stock or water in my beans?

My first pick for consistency (and it’s how I tested the recipe) is with water.

But there are some people who like to start their navy bean soup in chicken broth or stock. Less frequently you might even have some kind of ham stock you’d like to use. Do your own thing with that and be cautious of the salt levels.

If you’re going to simmer the soup for a few hours, the stock is going to concentrate and the salt levels could get really out of control.

Use an unsalted stock and add salt after simmering the beans so this doesn’t happen.

Do NOT use bouillon cubes of any flavor or type here. They are too salty and unpredictable.

Warning: Don’t use a ham bone from this ham!

If you have a pre-glazed spiral sliced ham or a leftover holiday ham bone that had glaze on it, don’t use that unless you want sweet soup.

The glaze flavors will most certainly transfer in to the final product and your maple and brown sugar glazed beauty from December will be making a subtle–and not very appropriate–reappearance.

a pot of navy bean soup with vegetables and ham being added
Add ham and vegetables to simmered beans and cook 20 minutes more to soften, then serve!

How to thicken navy bean soup if it’s too watery

I didn’t have any issues with this soup being watery but do take note of the step that calls for slightly mashing the beans before serving.

I think I simmered my beans a tad faster than you should so they broke down on their own. If yours don’t, use a potato masher, an immersion blender or a plain old fork to mash some of the beans and potatoes to thicken the soup.

You can also simmer it a bit longer with the lid off to evaporate some of the liquid if you need to.

What to serve with navy bean soup

My first thought goes to cornbread. We would probably skip the deep skillet version and make pancakes or “hoe cakes” from that recipe.

A loaf of homemade bread or rolls would also be wonderful alongside.

I’d also not be upset by a big bowl of simmered mustard greens with a dash of vinegar on ’em and a slice of Vidalia onion on the side.

a bowl of navy bean soup on a table with a spoon

Hearty Navy Bean Soup with Ham (Senate Bean)

Served by the U.S. Senate restaurants, this hearty classic navy bean soup is slow cooked flavor and plenty of warm comfort.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Soak Time 4 hours
Total Time 6 hours 5 minutes
Servings 7 people
Author Rachel Ballard


  • 1 1/2 cups navy beans measured dry
  • 1 ham hock country ham style preferred
  • 7 cups cold water
  • 1 large onion diced in to 1/2" pieces; about 1 cup of diced onion
  • 3 celery ribs sliced in to 1/2" pieces; about 34 cup sliced celery
  • 1 medium potato peeled and diced in to 1" pieces ; about 1 cup of diced potatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves minced; about 1 teaspoon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley chopped; optional


  • Rinse and check the beans for dirt or rocks. Drain away any water and cover the beans with at least 3 inches of fresh warm water. Let the beans soak 4 to 5 hours if possible. If you don't have time to soak them, just rinse them and move forward.
  • Once the beans have soaked, drain them and transfer them to at least a 4 quart heavy dutch oven or pot. Cover with 7 cups of cold water and add the ham hock.
  • Cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook soaked beans 1 hour 15 minutes. Unsoaked beans will take about 2 hours. Stir occasionally while simmering.
  • Once the beans are tender, turn off the heat, remove the ham hock and let it cool enough to handle. Remove any skin and fat and chop the meat you can get off of it. Add that back to the pot.
  • Add the onion, celery, potatoes, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and return to a gentle simmer to cook the vegetables: About 20 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  • Once the vegetables are soft, turn off the heat and if the soup isn't thick enough, gently mash some of the soup with a potato masher or fork. Leave most of the beans whole.
  • Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm with cornbread or rolls.


Serving: 1cupCalories: 169kcalCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 11gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 26mgSodium: 410mgPotassium: 416mgFiber: 5gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 106IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 52mgIron: 2mg
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Course Main Course

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  1. This looks delicious and making a pot on this snowy day. I’m using great northern beans, out of navy. I’ve never added celery or a potato before. I don’t have celery on hand, but will substitute celery seed instead. Just a small amount. Do you think this will be okey?

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.