This simple and comforting white bean soup transports me back to my childhood in a single bite. I have long loved Navy Bean Soup With Ham for being healthy, filling, and bursting with flavor. It doesn’t hurt that this hearty meal (which is also known as Senate bean soup) is extremely economical, making it easy to feed a crowd even on the strictest of budgets.

overhead shot of a white bowl of navy bean soup with a silver spoon with a side of corn bread on a blue cloth napkin with a ceramic chicken in the background.

My mom and I used to love to eat dinner together at Marie Callender’s — it wasn’t very often we ate out, so the whole experience was a big treat for us. In the winter, we each would order a bowl of Navy Bean Soup and share a piece of cornbread.

While the old-timey restaurant chain closed its doors years ago, I still crave this special soup. Thanks to canned beans, I can replicate this beautiful soup (and memory!) at home.

Why I Love this Recipe

My Mom was the one who came up with this copycat recipe for the soup. You may have some leftover holiday ham kicking around in the fridge or freezer. If you’re looking for ways to give it a new life, my favorite northern bean soup may just be what the doctor ordered.

I don’t know about you, but I love a recipe that will help me use up what I already have in the fridge. Since the meat is almost always the most expensive part of any recipe, using leftover holiday ham makes this a perfect cheap dinner idea. I also make this ham and bean soup with canned beans as a shortcut to getting dinner on the table in under 30 minutes.

Serve a hefty helping of this old-fashioned navy bean soup with a drizzle of Tabasco for a hit of bright spice and a wedge of cornbread slathered with butter for the ultimate classic comfort food pairing.

Ingredients & Substitutions

One of the things I love best about this navy bean soup recipe is that you don’t need much to make it. It calls for just 10 simple ingredients that you can easily find at any store. Here’s your list:

overhead shot of carrots, celery stalks, a bulb of garlic, an onion, a few bay leaves and a white bowl of canned beans on a wooden surface.
  • Butter – You can swap in vegan butter or oil if you’re dairy-free.
  • Garlic – Fresh is best, but you can always use jarred minced garlic or garlic powder if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Onion – Any color will work here! You can also swap in leeks or shallots if needed.
  • Carrots – Again, any color will work. Feel free to leave the peels on to cut back on prep time.
  • Celery – While this plain Jane, earthy tasting veg doesn’t get a lot of love, it’s part of both the French and cajun trinities for a reason. Feel free to swap in fresh fennel bulb if needed.
  • Ham – If you don’t have the bone from your last holiday gathering, reach for thick ham steaks instead. You can also use a smoked ham hock if you prefer!
  • Canned White Beans – I usually reach for Navy Beans or Great Northern Beans, but any small, white beans will do. You can also feel free to use dried beans to save a bit of money. If you do, make them in the Instant Pot to speed things up!
  • Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth – Either homemade or store-bought is just fine.
  • Bay Leaves – For rich flavor.
  • Thyme Sprigs – You can use about 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme instead.
  • Black Pepper & Salt – Freshly cracked pepper and salt are all the remaining seasoning this easy ham and bean soup needs.

How To Make My Easy Navy Bean Soup

Step 1: Sauté Alliums. In a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, melt the butter until bubbling. Add the garlic and onions, stir and sauté them until the onion is transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

celery added to pot with sautéing alliums.

Step 2: Add the carrots and celery and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

sautéed mirepoix for making navy bean and ham soup.

Step 3: Add Remaining Ingredients. When the veggies begin to brown (after about 5-6 minutes), add the ham and remaining ingredients and stir well.

beans, ham, broth, and spices added to mix.

Step 4: Simmer. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Step 5: Thicken & Serve. When ready to serve, remove 1 cup of beans and mash with a masher until smooth. Add the smooth beans back to pot and stir. Taste and season with salt or pepper if needed. Enjoy!

overhead shot of a small white bowl with handles filled with navy bean soup on a blue napkin with a small plate of buttered cornbread to the side.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have any good ideas to thicken up my soup?

To thicken the Navy Bean Soup, I suggest that you remove 1 cup of beans and mash with a masher, immersion blender, or purée in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return mixture back to the soup and stir to combine. The natural starch from the beans will act as a thickener.

If you prefer your bean soup to resemble more of a stew, you can mash more of the beans to thicken it even further!

Are Great Northern beans the same as navy beans?

Great Northern Beans are a type of white bean, though not the same type as navy bean. Great Northerns are a slightly larger bean, and they are actually reputed to hold up better to cooking than navy beans. All that said, you can use either strain of bean for this delicious ham bone bean soup recipe.

Can I make Vegetarian Navy Bean Soup?

Replace the chicken broth with veggie broth and omit the ham. For a vegan version, use either plant-based butter or oil in place of the butter.

What is the best way to store this bean soup?

Like most soups and stews, this Navy Bean Soup recipe will continue to develop flavor as it rests, meaning it’s even better the next day. Leftover soup will last for up to a week in the refrigerator.

This yummy soup recipe is also an excellent candidate for freezing. It should last for up to three months in the freezer.

Need More Cold Weather Food Inspiration?

Check out these other treasured soup and stew recipes:

If you made this delicious Navy Bean Soup recipe, please comment below to let me know how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it as much as my mom and I do!

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overhead shot of navy bean soup in a white bowl on a blue napkin.

Easy Navy Bean Soup

5 (5 ratings)
This Easy Navy Bean Soup is a comforting dream in a bowl. Filled with veggies, canned Great Northern beans, and ham. This economical soup is fancy enough for company and easy enough to serve on a casual weeknight.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 ham steaks, chopped (18 ounces)
  • 3 (16-ounce) cans Navy Beans or Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 
  • salt to taste

Instructions 

  • In a large Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, melt butter add the garlic and onions. Sauté them until the onion is transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and celery, continue cooking for a few more minutes until they begin to brown about 5 to 6 minutes. Then add the ham and stir well.
  • When the vegetables are well sautéed, add the beans, broth, bay leaf, thyme, and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. 
  • When ready to serve, remove 1 cup of beans and mash with a masher until smooth. Add the smooth beans back to pot and stir. Taste and season with salt if needed. 
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with hot sauce and ground black pepper and serve with cornbread.

Notes

Leftover soup will last for up to a week in the refrigerator. Or freeze for up to three months.
Calories: 152kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 18g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 46mg, Sodium: 1130mg, Potassium: 409mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 2657IU, Vitamin C: 30mg, Calcium: 19mg, Iron: 1mg

Photography by Jenna Sparks
Originally published: January 2021.