This is the beauty outside my window on the first day of spring here in Pennsylvania:
It snowed all day, and it would be easy to whine, “Come on! It’s spring today! Where are the tulips and the leaf buds on those trees? I’m ready for the sun!”
Well, ready for the sun I am, but I won’t complain. Instead I’ll soak in winter’s last gasp, and make some white beans with ham hocks. Warm and filling, it’s the perfect meal for today.
Much like my Simple Red Beans and Rice, this is a super easy recipe with only a handful of ingredients. And although dried beans may intimidate you – fear not, dear ones – they’re easy peasy. They just require a little bit of time.
Here are the main ingredients:
I use dried great northern beans, and I always buy the Goya brand. Any high quality great northern bean will do.
Great northern beans are inexpensive and high in protein, dietary fiber, potassium and iron (which is great for women like me, who struggle with bouts of anemia). And in case you’re watching your girlish figure (because let’s face it – who isn’t?), they are low in fat, calories and cholesterol.
Like most dried beans, great northern beans are best prepared after soaking. Soaking both (1) reduces the required cooking time; and (2) breaks down some of the gas-inducing compounds in the beans. Less farting in my house = sounds like a good idea to me.
Throw your bag of beans into a pot and sort through them. Remove any nasty looking beans, as well as any small rocks or bits of plant material. (Sometimes this stuff accidentally ends up in the bag of beans.) One of the reasons I prefer Goya brand is because they do a good job of removing all of the junk and packaging fairly clean beans.
Now cover your beans with a few inches of cool water and let them soak for eight hours or overnight.
If you don’t have eight hours to spare, you can instead use the quick soak method. Using this method, sort your beans, discarding the nasty ones, and cover the beans with a few inches of water. Bring the water to a rapid boil and boil on high heat for two minutes. Now remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let your beans sit for at least an hour.
These are my beans after soaking:
Regardless of which method you use, drain the water in which the beans soaked. This water contains those fart-inducing compounds that soaked out of the beans.
After draining that yuckiness down the sink, refill your pot with enough water to cover the beans by about three inches. Place your pot on medium heat.
On to the ham hocks.
Now, you’re probably wondering – “what the hey is a ham hock?”
Quite simply, a ham hock is a joint in a pig’s leg. And although these babies look nasty, they are full of flavor. In Louisiana cooking, ham hocks are traditionally used in beans, collard greens and even cabbage. And since I have Louisiana blood pumping through my veins, I don’t mind their disagreeable appearance one bit. In fact, I’ve grown to love their look. They are beautiful to me.
They contain fat and connective tissue, and a relatively small amount of meat. You want to buy the smoked variety, and the flavor comes less from the meat and more from the smoked fat and bone.
Unwrap your hocks and plop those pretties into your pot.
Take two bay leaves and throw them in, too.
Measure one tablespoon of minced garlic and add it to your other ingredients. My garlic is nestled there in the center of the hocks.
Locate two medium onions.
Dice them and throw them into the pot.
Measure one-half teaspoon of black pepper and sprinkle it on top. Now measure one-half teaspoon of salt and add that in, too.
Stir the ingredients, making sure no beans are stuck to the bottom of the pot, and crank your heat up to high. You want everything to reach a rapid boil.
Let your ingredients boil rapidly for a minute or two, and then reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer. Cover your pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar to allow a little steam to escape.
Cook your beans for two to two-and-a-half hours, stirring periodically. They are done when the meat starts falling off the bone and the beans become a creamy consistency.
At the end you have a few options:
1. Remove the ham hocks, and eat your beans meatless.
2. Remove and discard the ham hocks. Chop approximately one cup of ham and throw it into the pot. Stir it in with the beans and allow it to cook for 10-15 minutes. If you choose this method, you can use leftover ham or separately purchase a small ham steak.
3. I used this method. Remove the ham hocks and discard the skin, fat, connective tissue and bones. You just want the meat. Roughly chop the meat and stir it into the beans.
Taste your beans and add more salt, if necessary. At this point I added an additional one-half teaspoon of salt.
Remove the bay leaves and serve over steamed white rice. Splash a little hot sauce on top for some kick.
These beans pair deliciously with cornbread slathered in butter. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
16 oz. bag dried great northern beans
3 smoked ham hocks
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 medium onions, diced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. – 1 tsp. salt