This hearty, comforting soup may not have originated in the Midwest, but it is at the heart of my experience in that part of the country. My husband is from Michigan, and we typically spend part of the holiday season there, where the frigid, grey weather is overcome by the radiant warmth of our family and friends.

Over the years, as I have helped my mother-in-law prepare the family’s favorite dishes, I have taken plenty of notes in order to bring those foods — and the essence of the place — back home with me. This soup, which she typically makes using the leftovers from the Christmas ham, is one I have integrated into my own repertoire, making it whenever my husband craves a taste of his mom’s cooking.

I wound up tweaking her already healthful and practical recipe to double-down on those qualities. For the former, I amped up the vegetable power by adding a couple of handfuls of kale leaves toward the end of cooking. Besides adding nutrients, the leaves provide flecks of contrasting color and firm-tender texture, driving home the reason kale and white beans are such a classic duo. For the latter, I made the soup more everyday-friendly by calling for an easy-to-find ham steak rather than rely on what’s left from a whole ham.

That said, if I happen to have a leftover ham bone, or if the person at the deli counter is willing to sell me one with some meat on it, I will certainly take advantage of that treasure. I just cut the meat off the bone, add the bone to the pot to simmer with the beans, then remove the bone before adding the meat to the pot along with the kale.

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Ham bone or not, I don’t need a special occasion to dig into this filling, nourishing, meal-in-a-bowl. It’s become a reliable staple that gets me through the winter, and one that will bring Michigan to us this year.

Storage: Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Make ahead: The beans need to be soaked at least 8 hours in advance.


  • 1 pound dried navy beans
  • 6 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 2 large fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (10 ounces), diced
  • 1 large carrot (5 ounces), diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 ounces ham steak, diced
  • 3 cups (1 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped kale

Step 1

Pick over the beans and discard any stones. Transfer the beans to a large bowl and add enough water to cover the beans by 2 to 3 inches. Soak the beans for at least 8 hours and up to overnight; drain.

Step 2

Tie the parsley, thyme and bay leaf into a bundle with kitchen twine.

Step 3

In a stockpot over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, carrot, celery, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, until aromatic, 30 seconds more.

Step 4

Add the beans, broth, water, the herb bundle, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Step 5

Remove the lid, discard the herb bundle, and add the ham and kale. Cover the pot and continue to cook until the kale has softened, 15 to 20 minutes. Using a large wooden spoon, mash some of the beans against the side of the pot (it will add body to the broth). Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve right away.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 308 ; Total Fat: 8 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 535 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 15 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 19 g.

Recipe from dietitian and food columnist Ellie Krieger.

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to

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