I was playing my favorite kitchen game yesterday; what can I make with the ingredients in my kitchen, freezer, refrigerator and garden? In the process of rifling through my eclectic pantry I came across a bag of dried lima beans. Not the little ones, but the big giant white ones, which when cooked become even bigger and extremely creamy. Clearly I had to use these.
I usually keep these beans on hand because I love to cook them up in some ham stock and serve them as part of a classic Southern tradition: Meat 'n' three. Meat 'n' three is on the menu of every respectable southern diner worth its salted pork. It's sort of the blue plate special of the South. The meat can be fried chicken, or pulled pork, a juicy ham steak or chicken-fried steak with white gravy. The "three" refers to the 3 vegetable side dishes you can choose to go with your meat. In most places you can choose from greens, butter beans, green beans, lima beans,cornbread, fried okra, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese etc. When I am picking a meat 'n' three plate I always choose the same three sides: greens, lima beans and cornbread. Then I slather them with a good vinegary hot sauce and I am in heaven.
So yesterday I decided to try to capture the flavor of my favorite meat 'n' three plate in a pot of soup. Lima beans and turnip and mustard greens are slow-cooked with ham hocks and ham. To top it off I served it with my ridiculously easy version of hush puppies. The result was a big bowl of steaming, comforting soul food. The perfect thing to ward off cold weather and short days.
Meat and Three Soup
1lb dried lima beans
1 lb boneless smoked ham hock (or 2lbs bone-in smoked ham hock)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup diced carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper
12 cups water
2 Tbsp salt
3 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 lb cleaned and torn mustard and/or turnip greens
1 cup diced ham
In a large bowl, cover the dried beans by about 3 inches with boiling water. Let stand for one hour )the beans will swell dramatically).
In a large soup pot heat the olive oil over high heat. Add ham hocks and sear well on all sides. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft. Add garlic, thyme and black pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Add 12 cups water, salt, honey and vinegar to pot. Drain the beans and add to pot. Bring soup just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for one hour, skimming any foam from the top.
After one hour, add the greens and ham and gently stir into the soup taking care not to mash the beans. Cook, uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 additional hours on medium heat (until beans are very very tender). If you used ham hocks on the bone, remove the bone from the soup and cut off any meat and return the meat to the pot. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot with your favorite hot sauce and accompanied by Mama Ozzy's Easy Hush Puppies.