EDIT 12/16/09: A version with bacon has been added below.
Ham and Beans
1 (12 oz.) bag dried beans
1/2 to 1 lb. ham
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pour the dried beans into a colander and rinse them. Put the beans in a large crock pot and cover with fresh water, about twice as much water as beans. Add the ham. Put the lid on the crock pot and turn it on Low.
For the next 1-2 hours, stir occasionally and keep an eye on the water level. The beans will soak up a lot of water. Don’t let them run dry, but don’t overfill either. When they have soaked up as much as they can hold, the liquid level should be at or just below the surface of the bean layer.
Add 1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir. Put the lid back on and cook for another 1-2 hours.
Stir and taste the beans. They should be starting to get tender so you can tell how the spice blend is working. Adjust spices if necessary.
Continue to cook for another 3 hours or so. All the beans should be mushy. The meat should be cooked through, and if attached to bone it should be falling off. (In fact, stir the pot and remove any loose bones you see.) Turn crock pot Off and serve.
* Replace the ham with 1 lb. meaty bacon. Cut the bacon into bite-size bits. (You can discard big hunks of fat if you wish, but do include some.) Add the bacon after the beans have soaked up a fair bit of liquid.
* Use smoked black pepper if you have it; otherwise plain black pepper is fine.
* Add about 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder. If you don't have that, you could chop a chipotle pepper.
Dried beans are much cheaper than canned beans, high in protein and nutrients. You can reduce the cooking time by presoaking them in water overnight.
Use whatever kind of beans you like. I favor black-eyed peas but will use pinto beans if that’s what I have. Other people like navy beans or great northern beans for this kind of recipe. Some mixed-bean bags also work well, and those often come with a bean soup seasoning packet that’s fine for ham and beans.
Various types of pork will work in this recipe. Smoked ham hocks or smoked neck bones are especially nice for the extra flavor. Sometimes you can find barbecued ones instead. Pork stew meat, leftover pork or ham, and diced ham are also good. Chopped bacon, particularly flavored ones like pepper-coated or hickory smoked, add much flavor. Another option is to add a couple tablespoons of bacon grease, if you don’t have (or want) actual meat. You can even save the big hunks of fat and skin from a ham and use those.
Vary spices according to taste. There are lots of different things you can use. I like to use Hawaiian red salt, Himalayan pink salt, or any flavor of smoked salt with pork. If you use a very salty cut of meat, then you should reduce or eliminate the salt from the spice list.