Bean soups are wonderful and affordable comfort food for cooler weather. Navy beans are the spotlight with vegetables, herbs and ham for rich flavor. No need for a ham shank or leftover ham bone, this recipe uses ham steaks. Start with canned beans and try this Instant Pot navy bean soup recipe. Stovetop directions noted. No dry beans so no soaking required.
This hearty bean soup is made with ingredients easily kept in your pantry. At the store, economical navy beans are sometimes labeled small white beans. But why are they called navy beans (my husband asked)?
Because the U.S Navy has served this small, tender bean as a staple since the mid-1800's. Navy bean soup is commonly called Senate Bean Soup, a fixture in the Senate cafeteria since the early 1900's.
See recipe card for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
- Canned navy beans: Canned beans make this easy and fast. Navy beans may also be labeled as small white beans at the market.
- Onions: Yellow, brown or sweet onion all work, but don't use red ones because of the color they add. Onions add an important depth of flavor to soups.
- Carrots: Add sweetness, color, flavor and texture to soups and many other dishes. Hard to cook without them.
- Celery: Adds flavor and texture, part of the classic base trio of carrots, onion and celery. The French called mirepoix, the Italians soffritto.
- Fennel bulb: Something a little unexpected, with a delicate lightly licorice flavor, great in soups and with ham. If you've never cut one up, this post has a photo to help you learn to cut up fennel.
- Ham steak: Look for ham steak near the refrigerated packaged bacon, in the deli area at your market, or ask the butcher. I buy them about ½" thick.
- Chicken broth: Buy low-sodium or use homemade. With the sodium in the ham steak, watch your overall sodium if it's a concern.
- Thyme: Use fresh thyme, the is swap dried thyme or fried Italian seasoning.
- Bay leaf: Provides a background depth of flavor, a must for all soups, stews, broths and many recipes.
Variations and Substitutions
- If you can't find a ham steak, substitute diced pancetta (Italian un-smoked bacon) or even thick cut bacon chopped into pieces.
- Instead of navy beans, try great northern beans or cannellini beans.
- For vegan or vegetarian navy bean soup, use vegetable broth and skip the ham.
- For some spice, add red pepper flakes.
- For a creamy navy beans, puree 1 or 2 cans of beans with the broth before adding to the Instant Pot. Leave some whole.
- If you love red peppers, chop one and add with the carrots. They are a nice colorful addition.
Instant Pot Instructions
Get your prep work done chopping the vegetables and ham into pieces that are approximately a ¼-inch in size. then let the Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker) do it's magic.
Set the Instant Pot to Saute, set time for 7 minutes. When the pot is hot, add the olive oil, then add the onion, celery and fennel, stirring occasionally. When the saute cycle is done, add the thyme, bay leaf, garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
Add the carrots, ham, and broth. Lock the lid on and turn the floating valve towards the back to lock. Using the soup button, set the cooking time for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, use the quick release method (versus the natural release) for pressure release.
With a utensil or oven mitt, turn the floating valve to the open position (to the left) being extremely careful of the steam. Keep your hands and face away from it. When it's totally released, your soup is ready!
Note - It takes about 15 minutes for the pressure to build inside of the Instant Pot, then the soup cycle starts.
Stove Top Instructions
To make this without a pressure cooker, simply saute all vegetables and garlic in olive oil until soft in a heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Add the beans, broth, ham, thyme and bay leaf and simmer with a lid on (medium-low heat) until flavors are blended and the soup it hot.
- Here's my Instant Pot recipe for easy homemade chicken broth. I keep batches in the freezer made ahead of time just for recipes like this. Homemade is so much better than store bought.
- Salt note: ham is salty, and depending on your chicken broth, you might have close to enough salt without adding more. Don't use salt in cooking but taste and add before serving if needed.
I like to add a small handful of freshly chopped parsley for the fresh green color and flavor. Chives are nice too. If desired, serve with grated Parmesan cheese to garnish. Garlic toast or crusty bread is nice too.
If serving only soup, this navy bean soup recipe serves 4. If you serve it with a tossed green salad, it can serve 6.
If you're into meal prepping, this is a great soup for a week of lunches.
To use dried beans, soak them overnight in the refrigerator or use the quick soak method. If you love beans, try these Spanish heirloom small white beans that have more flavor than bulk dried navy beans. And if you need bean cooking tips, read this terrific article from the bean experts.
Navy bean soup is good refrigerated for up to 5 days, or freeze it in portions for 1 month in an airtight container. Here's a handy reference link for how long you can refrigerate and freeze foods.
No, but it adds so much flavor. I encourage you to try it. Otherwise just skip it and add a little more carrot, onion and celery.
More Soup Recipes
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Instant Pot Navy Bean Soup (with ham)
- 6 quart Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker
- Sieve or strainer to rinse and drain beans
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 15-ounce cans navy beans or small white beans rinsed and drained
- ½ large onion brown, yellow or sweet
- 2 large celery ribs chopped into ¼" pieces
- 1 small fennel bulb chopped into ¼" pieces
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 7-8 ounce ham steak chopped into ¼" pieces
- 2 large carrots chopped into ¼" pieces
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme or Italian blend
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth preferably homemade
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 4-6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Turn the Instant Pot to the saute setting. When hot, add the olive oil, then the onion, celery and fennel. Set the Saute time for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the timer ends, stir in the thyme, bay leaf and garlic.
- Next, add the ham, carrots, beans and broth to the pot. Lock the lid on, turn the valve to the back (locking position). Set the soup button for 10 minutes.
- When the soup is done and the timer beeps, use the quick release method to finish the soup. With a utensil or oven mitt, turn the valve to the open position (to the left). The steam is extremely hot to be careful to keep your hands and face away from the steam. When the pressure is gone, the soup is ready to serve. Alternatively refrigerate it for up to 5 days or freeze for 1 month.