There are days when I know we are going to be gone most of the day. These "busy" days require a meal that is quick and easy and requires VERY little preparation. For these days, my "go-to" recipe is Ham and Pinto Bean Soup. Sounds plain, I know, and it is, but delicious. It has very few calories and is loaded with fiber! It has only 5 ingredients and requires maybe 5 minutes of preparation time. However, I've never made this bean soup without rave reviews.
One thing contributing to the ease of this meal is the fact that the meat is previously cooked and chopped. After major holiday dinners, I have A LOT of leftover ham. I cut up the ham and then freeze it. When I decide to make my bean soup, I simply pull out as much ham as I want and throw it frozen into the pot with my beans. It was by this method that I found the secret ingredient that makes this bean soup so delicious. I used a Honeybaked Ham. I know, I know, Honeybaked Ham is expensive, but I didn't purchase it. Well, this type of ham made the best bean soup ever...why???...this is the secret ingredient...brown sugar. I don't know why the brown sugar alights every flavor in the soup, but it perfectly enhances the flavor of the beans and spices to give it the most wonderful taste.
Okay, so now I have to add that I don't have a "real" recipe for this soup, but I have definite guidelines for you to follow. Here they are:
Ham and Pinto Bean Soup
5 C pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
Place the pinto beans in a large crockpot. Fill the crockpot with water (you may have to add more later, but if you fill it to about 1 1/2 in. from the top you should be okay)
1/4 C brown sugar
onion powder (or do onion salt and don't add much salt later)
ham (cut into bite-sized pieces)
salt to taste (just keep on trying until it is right)
So, here are the directions. Add pinto beans, water, brown sugar, garlic salt (about 4-5 shakes or so) and the same amount of onion salt and as much ham as you would like to a crockpot. Turn it on low and let it cook all day (about 6-8 hours). When you return from your day full of craziness, check on your beans. Taste them...you will probably need to add a few more shakes of garlic salt and onion salt and taste it again. You will know when you have just the right amount because the flavor will "pop".
With this...you can serve my Whole Wheat Cornbread...which is exactly what we had for dinner last night.
I'll give out my cornbread recipe with some tips in my next post. Until then, go buy some beans and ham get ready for the easiest meal you've ever made.