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GOOD COOKING : Ham: Good to the Last Drop

If you’ve got the time, you can easily make a rich soup stock from a ham bone (or a ham hock, for that matter) plus beef bones, vegetables, flavorings and water. Once the stock has simmered about eight hours (no attention is needed--it can even cook overnight, since it barely simmers), the bones and flavorings are discarded and the vegetables are pureed right into the liquid. To say the least, this full-bodied brew makes soups that warm the heart, especially in damp weather.

Both the following soup recipes use a rich ham-based soup stock as a base. The lentil soup is straightforward, since the lentils do not require pre-soaking or precooking. The simple herb-and-vegetable flavoring makes for a most satisfying soup.

The black bean soup is even quicker, since it calls for the shortcut of canned black beans. With a garnish of a lime slice and cilantro, the soup looks as appealing as it tastes.

Since ham bones can be frozen, you can either make the stock and freeze it, or freeze the bones and make the stock at your leisure. Whichever you do, be sure to have the butcher cut the ham bone into chunks so it fits easily into the soup pot.

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As usual, no salt is added to stock while it is being made. You can add salt to taste to the dish made from the stock. Remember, this stock is made with a ham bone, which contains salt, so restraint should be in order.

RICH SOUP STOCK

1 tablespoon oil

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2 large Spanish onions, sliced

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large leek, rinsed, coarsely cut

2 large celery ribs

2 large carrots

2 bay leaves

2 whole cloves

1 ham bone or ham hock, cut into chunks

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2 pounds beef bones

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 gallon water

Heat oil in 5- to 6-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, leek, celery, carrots, bay leaves and cloves. Cook, stirring often, until onions are tender, about 4 minutes. Add ham bone and beef bones. Cook 4 minutes more, stirring often. Add pepper and water. Bring to boil.

Once boiling, reduce heat, skim surface and simmer, partially covered, about 8 hours. Remove from heat.

Let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard bones, bay leaves and cloves. Strain solids from liquid, reserving both. Puree solids until smooth in blender or processor fitted with metal blade. Stir puree back into liquid.

Stock can be refrigerated 2 days or frozen as long as 3 months. Freeze in practical-size portions for cooking. Makes about 4 quarts.

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As simple as lentil soups are, they always elicit an enthusiastic reaction. What separates this lentil soup from others is the rich soup stock.

LENTIL SOUP

1 tablespoon oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 medium carrots, minced

1 large stalk celery, minced

1 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed

1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

4 to 5 cups Rich Soup Stock

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons minced parsley

Heat oil in 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring often, until onion is tender, about 4 minutes. Add lentils, thyme, cumin, 4 cups stock and tomato paste. Bring to boil. Stir well.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender but not completely mushy, about 40 to 60 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add remaining stock as needed. Add salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated 2 days or frozen for as long as 3 months. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving. Serve hot, garnished with parsley. Makes about 4 cups, or 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

414 calories; 515 mg sodium; 27 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 50 grams carbohydrates; 25 grams protein; 4.63 grams fiber.

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This soup can also be flavored with a little Madeira wine and garnished with light sour cream or chopped hard-boiled egg whites. Served with a slaw of jicama and carrots dressed in an orange-cilantro vinaigrette, and warm corn tortillas (that the slaw can be wrapped in), the soup becomes a soothing backdrop for a lively supper.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

1 large clove garlic

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed well

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 cups Rich Soup Stock

1 teaspoon lime juice

Salt

Paper-thin lime slices topped with cilantro leaves

Combine garlic, black beans and cilantro leaves in blender or processor fitted with metal blade. Puree until smooth. Add cayenne pepper, stock, lime juice and salt. Combine well. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Heat soup in 1-quart saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer few minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Ladle hot soup into warm bowls. Garnish with 1 lime slice and 1 cilantro leaf. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

388 calories; 131 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 69 grams carbohydrates; 24 grams protein; 5.83 grams fiber.


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