This hearty Hungarian Ham and Bean Soup is a rustic and soul warming recipe you can make stove top or in the slow cooker. Full of great northern beans, carrots, ham and seasonings in a thick and flavorful broth. This is the perfect recipe to use up that holiday ham bone!
After almost every holiday, we end up with a leftover ham bone. You may find yourself like we did this holiday with a leftover ham bone. Just remember, hold on to that ham bone! It will become a part of the most delicious bean soup. The ham bone adds such depth of flavor to a simple bean soup.
This luxurious soup is dairy-free, budget-friendly and perfect for meal-prep!
Originally published February 2021 and republished February 2022.
This flavor packed rustic bean soup (bableves in Hungarian) begins by soaking the beans. Once they’re ready, you add the carrots, onions, celery and always a touch of garlic (this is mom’s recipe and she snuck in a clove or two extra to make sure it had the right flavor).
The ham bone also gets added in. All the ingredients slowly simmers away. The ham bone cooks up and the ham flakes right off of the bone. The ham pieces get tossed into the soup. That’s when the magic happens!
Make a roux with a touch of sweet Hungarian paprika to get stirred into the soup. There are some recipes where sour cream is added to the roux, but this version is dairy-free, so no sour cream.
It is one of those recipes that is so familiar and so special. Just one bite takes me back to my childhood. The holidays always include a ham so there is always a leftover ham bone. We either make this bean soup or a split pea soup. Always.
So it seems odd that I never posted the recipe here. How could I not have one of the soups from my childhood written down and shared with everyone. And since mom was over, she was making it her Hungarian way. She explained in Hungarian it is called Jokai bableves (pronounced “Yo-kaw-ee Bob-leh-vesh”), or Jokai’s Bean Soup, was named after the 19th century novelist and politician Mor Jokai, as he was a huge fan of this soup.
Great Northern Bean Soup
A simple leftover ham bone that is boiled in water makes an incredible soup base. Hold on to that leftover ham bone! Adding a ham bone to soup is the best way to build incredible flavor, and also to get the last pieces of ham that are left on the bone.
Great Northern Beans
Total comfort food that is super budget friendly. With vegetables you probably have on hand, inexpensive beans and a leftover ham bone, you will make a cozy and soul satisfying soup to fill up your family (and even have leftovers!).
Using different kinds of dried beans
Different dried beans could be used in this recipe like:
- Dry pinto beans;
- Dry navy beans;
- Dry cannellini beans;
- or a bag of 15-Bean Mix can also be used.
Using canned beans
- Canned beans are always a time-savor, but it is not the preferred bean for this soup recipe. The dried beans add more texture and also thicken up this soup.
- Canned beans are packed with sodium. Dry beans are no sodium (which is ideal for this soup that will have sodium from the ham bone).
- Dry beans are more budget friendly!
To make this Hungarian ham and bean soup you will need:
- dried great northern beans
- sea salt
- bay leaf
- leftover ham bone
- low-sodium chicken broth
- black pepper
- vegetable oil
- Hungarian sweet paprika
- white vinegar
- extra-virgin olive oil
How to Make Mom’s Delicious Hungarian Ham and Bean Soup
The first step is to soak the dried beans overnight. I usually make this bean soup on the weekend. So Saturday night the beans are placed in the water to soak to make the soup on Sunday.
Just takes a little prep (that’s really hands off since the beans are just soaking): I really recommend using dried beans and not canned beans for this recipe. You have less sodium and also the dried beans have a much nicer texture than the canned.
A little tip: Mom’s method…In case you forget to soak beans overnight, you could place them in the pot and let them slowly simmer with the bay leaves, onions and celery. After a couple of hours of slowly simmering, it is ready to start to add in the rest of the ingredients. Total lazy stay at home Sunday recipe.
Ham and Beans
It all begins with this humble leftover: a ham bone! I always have one leftover after any given holiday. This most recent one was from NY week. We did an outdoor lunch with my brother and his family, and a couple days later, it was time to make soup!
So what if you do not have a leftover ham bone on hand? Every butcher at most any market should be able to supply you with a ham bone (and they’re inexpensive).
After you’ve soaked the beans (or simmered them a couple of hours, the day of), it’s time to begin the soup.
Add the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves and ham bone to the pot filled with the beans and water. It all simmers away for about 1.5-2 hours. The slower it simmers, the more flavor develops from the ham bone.
During the last 45 minutes of cooking, the carrots and ham pieces get added in. I had about 2 cups of leftover ham. I cut it into small pieces.
It really was the perfect way to use up not only the ham bone, but also the leftover ham pieces.
Go light with the salt
Since the ham bone has so much salt in it, take care with adding salt to the soup.
Just wait until the soup is cooked and check the salt. Check the flavor and if needed, add salt to your taste.
This year, I planned to make this recipe because I knew I would have a leftover ham bone from the holidays. So whatever you do, do not throw that bone away as it makes for excellent soup! And I always leave ham attached to the bone because it will come off during cooking and leave little meaty gems throughout.
The roux AKA in Hungarian rántás
One important part of the recipe, if you’re making it the Hungarian way, and this is mom’s version. It always has a roux, a thickener, that is called in Hungarian “rántás” (rawntawsh). The roux is added at the very end.
With a touch of Hungarian sweet paprika, this transforms the bean soup to something a little more silky, colorful and luxurious. Some recipes add sour cream into the thickener. We kept this dairy free, so no sour cream. But go ahead and add a dollop if you like the flavor.
It’s really important to use authentic Hungarian sweet paprika. It’s become more easy to find. They even sell it at my local markets (I have two different containers on hand, plus one that a cousin brought back from Hungary a couple of years ago that I keep in the fridge).
Here is how to make the roux/rántás:
Gather up the roux ingredients. It’s the oil, flour, paprika and broth. Make sure you ladle out just broth and no beans from the soup.
Can I make the roux gluten-free?
Yes! You can make the roux gluten-free by subbing 1:1 flour (I like Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur’s GF flours).
In a small skillet, heat the oil (you could use olive oil or a vegetable flavored oil. Or even butter or lard, if you happen to have some on hand)over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook 2-3 minutes until the flour spreads over the bottom of the pan.
The color will first be white and then turn light golden color. Be sure to keep close eye and not let it turn from golden to a brown color that will taste burned (you’ll have to do all over again).
Remove pan from the heat and add paprika in the skillet. Stir off the heat for one minute.
Return the pan to medium-low heat and ladle in some of the soup broth (make sure no beans, just the broth). Add it in small batches while stirring so it will thicken.
If it seems lumpy, switch from using a spoon to a whisk to get out any lumps. Keep on adding broth and stirring until you added in all the broth. Now there are Hungarian recipes where sour cream is added to the roux. IF you like sour cream and aren’t dairy-free, go ahead and add a dollop towards the end of making the roux.
Add the roux and the vinegar to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more.
If soup is too thick, add 1-2 cups additional water and stir.
Can I make this bean soup in my slow cooker?
Yes! I made this soup stove top, but I have also made it in my slow cooker. Here is what you need to do:
- Slow cooker method: The beans, celery, carrots, onion, bay leaves and ham bone get added into the slow cooker with the water. When you make the roux, that gets added in the last 30 minutes to thicken up the soup. You’ll cook the soup on low for 6-8 hours
How to Store Ham and Bean Soup
Once the soup has completely cooled, store in an airtight container in the fridge. Store in fridge for up to 4 days.
Can you freeze Hungarian ham and bean soup?
Yes! This soup freezes up very nicely. Let soup cool completely. I place the soup in small containers for individual portions so we can easily grab one for lunch (let it defrost in fridge overnight and heat up next day for lunch). Also, smaller portions do defrost much quicker!l
Once soup has cooled down, you could also place it in 4-8 cup portions and zipped top freezer-bags or freezer-safe storage containers. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then heat to serve. If soup is too thick, thin it out with a little no sodium broth or water (check seasoning if you thin it out and add more salt pepper, if needed).
Leftover bean soup could also be repurposed. Puree it and add to toasted sliced baguette for some lovely crostini/bruschetta or even serve as a dip with chips!
Some other soup recipes to try:
Hungarian Ham and Bean Soup
- 1 pound dried Great Northern beans
- 1 ham bone + ham scraps 1-2 cups leftover chopped ham
- 1 large onion peeled and cut into large chunks
- 4 carrots peeled and cut into large chunks
- 3 celery stalks sliced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and cut into small pieces
- 10 cups water
- 2 tsp bouillon paste I used vegetable, or a bouillon cube or sub some of the water for no-sodium chicken broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 10-12 cups water may need more, if it is too thick
- 2 to 3 teaspoons white vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste, I used about 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup vegetable oil or butter (or lard, if you happen to have some)
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
- 1½ cups of broth from the soup
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- NIGHT BEFORE:
- If you are sorting beans night before, go ahead and do this method. Sort through the pound of great northern white beans and discard any debris or cracked beans.
- Add the beans to a large bowl and cover with 6 cups of cool water. The beans absorb some water, so be sure to add an extra few inches of water above the beans.
- Allow the beans to soak for at least 6 hours, or over night. During this time the beans will double in size and soften a bit. Do no soak for more than 24 hours.
- Before preparing the soup, drain the beans and set off to the side. If you are cooking the soup after soaking overnight, add the drained beans to the large sauce pan (or Dutch oven)and cover with water (make sure covered 2-inches over the beans). Continue on with rest of recipe.
- WITHOUT soaking overnight:
- (This is mom’s way to make it)
- Sort through the beans, checking for any debris or broken beans and discard them. Rinse out the beans with cold water and drain them in a colander.
- Place beans in a large saucepan (or Dutch oven, that is what I use) and cover with water. Add enough water to cover 2-inches above the beans.
- Add the ham bone, onion chunks, couple of cloves of garlic, bay leaves and a little salt and pepper. Boil for 5-7 minutes (the ham bone may be poking out of the water a little…just try to push it back in, but it’s ok if it peaks out a little).
- Bring to a boil, lower heat to reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 2-2.5 hours (set a timer)until beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding additional water to make sure beans are covered with liquid. *IF you soaked beans overnight, they should be ready in 60-90 minutes on the low simmer.
- During last 45 minutes of simmering, add the bouillon paste, carrot chunks, and the extra ham chunks (I had almost two cups chopped up).
- Remove bay leaves and discard. Carefully remove the ham bone and place on cutting board. With a fork, remove any remaining ham off the bone and stir it into the soup. Discard the bone. If soup is too thick, add 1-2 cups additional water and stir. Check soup for flavor, add salt and freshly ground pepper, as needed (I added 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper).
- THE ROUX
- In a small skillet, heat the oil (or butter or even lard if you happen to have some on hand)over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook 2-3 minutes until the flour spreads over the bottom of the pan. The color will first be white and then turn light golden color. Be sure to keep close eye and not let it turn from golden to a brown color that will taste burned (you’ll have to do all over again).
- Remove pan from the heat and add paprika in the skillet. Stir off the heat for one minute.
- Return the pan to medium-low heat and ladle in some of the soup broth (make sure no beans, just the broth). Add it in small batches while stirring so it will thicken. If it seems lumpy, switch from using a spoon to a whisk to get out any lumps. Keep on adding broth and stirring until you added in all the broth.
- Add the roux and the vinegar to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more. Mom likes to drizzle on a little extra-virgin olive oil at the end to give it a nice shine. If soup is too thick, add 1-2 cups additional water and stir.
- Slow cooker method: Add into the slow cooker the beans, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaves and ham bone. Cover with water. Cook the soup on low for 6-8 hours. When you make the roux, that gets added in the last 30 minutes to thicken up the soup (and that’s when you can add the extra ham chunks). Check seasoning and add any salt and pepper, if needed. When ready, discard bay leaf. Remove ham bone and use a fork to remove any ham that is flaking off and add to the soup.
Uncooked smoked bacon or even salted pork are good substitutions, if you can't get ham shank or hock.
If you're unable to use a ham bone or any of the substitutes: replace 8 cups of water with chicken broth. SKIM SOUP: If you notice any foamy scum on top, simply skim it off. You could use a large metal spoon and grab it off the top of the soup (this happens from the fat in the meat in any soup). BOUILLON:
I love to use vegetable based bouillon paste. You could also use bouillon cubes or add in some no-sodium broth in place of the water (I would use chicken or vegetable). BEANS: Go ahead and use whatever white beans you have on hand (cannellini, navy, or even pinto beans would work). Dried beans are ideal, just be sure to soak them overnight. Or follow mom’s recipe of slowly simmering them that I mention in the recipe above. THICKENING: I explain how to make a roux to thicken the soup. If you want to skip the roux step, you could even mash up some of the beans and add them back into the soup and stir it to combine.
REHEAT: The soup will keep on thickening as it cools and while stored in the fridge. You will have to add a bit of water to loosen it up and thin it a little to reheat.