Easy Leftover Ham Bone Soup: The gift that keeps on giving

By Charleen - December 25, 2019

Who doesn't love tender slices of Honey Baked Ham served buffet style at a large family gathering! It's easy to serve, provides tons of food, and complements just about any type of potatoes or vegetables. Best of all, I can almost always get the leftover ham bone to pop into my freezer. Then throughout the winter, a hearty split pea-like soup is only a minimum of two ingredients away! 

Our extended family traditionally enjoys a genuine Honey Baked Ham provided by my youngest sister-in-law and a large pan of cheesy potatoes made by my other sister-in-law on the day after Thanksgiving to complement the turkey noodle soup, copious desserts and other leftovers. Over the years, we have discovered that the best way to serve the ham is also the simplest -- at room temperature on a cutting board. The spiral-cut, sugar glazed slices stay optimally tender that way.
Of course, there is always a lot of meat left on the bone, as the spiral slices only go so far towards the end. Even after determined carving from hungry masses, there is more than enough meat left on the bones for another meal. Even if you are tired of eating ham by that point, there is no good reason not to wrap the whole bone back in the foil it came in, and toss it in the freezer.  Indeed, I make it a point of rescuing many a ham bone before it hits the trash! 
The rewards for shamelessly asking for the bone (and not even for the dogs), is a luscious ham and lentil soup. Not only does the Honey Baked ham bone provide all the flavor needed for this easy soup, but also thawing out the bone and cutting up the meat still attached brings back all the memories of family gatherings to play games, eat or enjoy long weekends skiing!
The other secret ingredient, other than the leftover ham bone, is this wonderful blend of green split peas, yellow split peas, barley, lentils and tiny alphabet pasta by Bob's Red Mill. With a ratio of one cup soup mix to every 4 cups of water, you can easily adjust the amount of soup made. The ham bone adds all the flavor needed, aside from maybe a little salt and pepper. And the soup is easily made in a dutch oven/soup pot, in a slow cooker, or in an Instant Pot.
I have been making this soup for at least the past 6-7 years. This year, given the time savings using the Instant Pot, I decided to dress it up a little. I added about a quarter of an onion, chopped and a bit less than a third of this huge carrot that I bought from our local Chinese store. I find that not only are the vegetables much less expensive in the Chinese groceries, but also they are much fresher and tastier. I then sealed the Instant Pot and let it cook for at high pressure for 18 minutes.  I washed some gorgeous spinach from the Chinese store in a big pot of water, and took the dogs for a walk.
When I got back 30-40 minutes later, the house smelled wonderful, the and Instant Pot was on "Keep Warm."  So I thinly sliced the spinach, stems and all -- this spinach does not have bitter stems, and stirred the spinach in to wilt.
In the meantime, I pulled out the bone, and stripped the remaining meat off of it, cutting into strips. Although I had already removed 1.25 cups of meat from the defrosted bone to use in my Christmas day wild rice dressing for a roast goose, there was still enough meat left for a delicious split pea, barley, vegetable and ham soup.

Instant Pot vs. Slow Cooker and Stove top versions

The first time I made this two ingredient plus water soup, I used my All Clad 6 quart dutch oven, which barely held the larger ham bone from that year. 
 In subsequent years, I switched to slow cooking the soup in a crock pot, which also kept the soup warm so that my skiiers could come in and grab a bit of hot lunch in between runs.
As you can see from the photo below, longer cooking times result in a somewhat thicker version of the soup, closer to a traditional split pea with ham soup. With the Instant Pot, you could cook it at pressure for longer than 18 minutes, or switch the Instant Pot to slow cooker mode instead of "keep warm." Leftovers also reheat beautifully to that classic texture. I would guess that a similar result can be achieved by blending about a third of the soup and adding it back, similar to a white bean chicken chili that we also enjoy in the fall and winter.  In any case, both versions, unadorned or with extra veggies, really hit the spot for warmth, comfort and flavor.

Please enjoy the recipe and share what you think.

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