Who doesn't like a good ham and bean soup recipe? Tasty, buttery beans, rich and savory ham, and an easy roux combine to make this classic Balkan stew also known as pasulj or grah. Shall we?
Today's well-known Balkan bean soup goes by pasulj or grah. It's a really tasty stew! If stuffed sour cabbage is the queen of winter, pasulj is the king of fall!
The best thing about this soup is that you can adjust the ingredients freely and it'll still taste unbelivably good.
Most types of dried beans, and almost any (non-poultry) meat work! We like it the best with dried beef or ham, and that's exactly what we'll be doing today.
If you haven't made dried beans before, here's the perfect opportunity to try. Made the right way (soaked and then cooked) dried beans have a soft, chestnut-like consistency, and a great flavor.
We'll also show you an easy roux that you can later use to thicken any stew or soup.
Our ham and bean soup recipe goes perfectly with fermented salads, and our fried dough balls. And it tastes even better the next day!
Ham and bean soup recipe ingredients:
- Dry beans you can use for this ham and bean soup recipe include cannellini, navy, great northern, canary beans, kidney beans, black beans, cranberry beans, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas. Avoid chickpeas, soybeans, and canned beans.
- Yes, the beans must be dry. No worries though! Take a look at the recipe FAQ for our super simple soaking directions.
- Meat you can use include ham (glazed, smoked, city, country, fresh, and wet-cured - your pick!), bacon, dried or smoked beef, ham hock, ribs, ham bones, beef bones and sausage (beef, pork, mild or spicy). Avoid poultry.
- Spices and Seasonings: parsley, bay leaves, bouillon cube (or stock powder), and pepper (or peppercorn), and paprika. Substitute with your own spice mix.
- Water can be exchanged with beef or pork broth, however it's not necessary. The meat provides plenty of flavor. If you still go for broth adjust for saltiness by adding less of the seasonings, or by mixing broth with water.
Roux or no roux?
This is up to you, but we love to add it. It thickens the soup in just the right way,
Roux for the ham and bean soup recipe ingredients:
- All you need for the roux are vegetable oil (coconut and sunflower are ok too), flour (avoid substitutes), and paprika (smokey, hot or sweet, your choice!).
Instructions for ham and bean soup recipe:
Step 1. Soak the beans by placing them in a large bowl and covering them with water. Leave for 7-8 hours, or overnight.
Step 2. Simmer onion, garlic, carrots, and meat.
Step 3. Add beans, seasonings, and water. Cook for a few hours.
Instructions for the easy roux (thickener):
Step 4. Heat up oil. Whisk in flour. Whisk in paprika. Whisk roux into the soup.
- Serving: serve warm. It goes great with homemade bread and a fresh cabbage salad.
- Storing: store in the fridge (or in a really cool place, like a terrace or the porch in the winter) for up to 3 days.
- Freezing: let the soup cool down to room temp and portion it out into freezer-ware. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: when ready to eat the soup after storing in the fridge, take it out and reheat using your preferred method. When ready to eat after freezing, transfer to the countertop a few hours before you intend to eat it, or to the fridge the night before. Reheat just before eating using your preferred method. If the soup is too thick, add a little bit of water, or broth.
Place the beans in a bowl and cover with water. Let them soak on a countertop for several hours, or overnight. When ready to use, strain the water and wash the beans, then transfer them to your cooking pot.
The length of soaking will depend on the age of your beans. Younger beans take about 4 hours to soak and older beans 8-12 hours (overnight).
Yes. Anything longer than 12-14 hours is too long. Look for signs of wrinkling (shriveling).
Ultimately, beans are OK to soak for up to 24hrs. However, there is really no need to soak them this long. Also, after this amount of time they may sprout, and shrivel up too much.
No. The countertop is fine.
The point of soaking beans is to get rid of elements that cause bloating and indigestion, as well as to shorten the cooking time. The water they've been soaking in absorbs everything you're trying to eliminate. It's best to discard it.
The best spice for this particular soup is paprika (hot or sweet). Paprika provides a smoky, deep dimension to the dish.
Bay leaf is also great for this ham and bean soup recipe. However it can be strong, so we usually take it out at the end of cooking.
However, feel free to experiment with spices and seasonings.
You can use almost any type of dry beans for this ham soup. Some great choices are white beans like cannellini, navy, or great northern, then canary beans, and also kidney beans, black beans, cranberry beans, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas.
Look for younger dried beans. This means beans that have been dried recently as opposed to a couple of years ago. Younger beans take a shorter time to make and they soak for a shorter amount of time as well. Finally, they taste better and have a chestnut, soft, consistency when made.
Avoid lentils (soy) and chickpeas (garbanzo) beans as they have a different consistency when cooked.
A simple roux will thicken this ham and bean soup recipe. A roux is a quick and easy sauce you make with fat and flour. It takes minutes to make and then you pour it into the dish to thicken it.
Sold on the beans, but want something a little bit different? Here you go!
- Sausage Bean Stew
- Prebranac: Balkan Baked Beans
- Quick Macedonian Tavče Gravče
- Baked Romano Beans
- Romano Bean Veal Stew
If you make today's Balkan ham and bean soup (pasulj or grah), and like it, please consider leaving a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5-star) rating. This will help others find the recipe more easily!
You can also leave a comment, I read EVERY one! Finally, if IG is more your thing, consider tagging us @balkanlunchbox.
Prijatno and bon appetit!
Easy Ham and Bean Soup Recipe (Pasulj or Grah)
- 12-14 ounces dry beans (kidney, white northern or canary, etc) look in the notes for more dry bean options
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or coconut or sunflower oil
- 1 onion large, peeled, minced
- 2-3 garlic cloves peeled, minced
- 2 carrots medium, peeled, diced
- 3-4 ounces ham, bacon, or dried beef diced, look in the notes for more meat options
- Salt and pepper to taste
- (Optional) 1 tablespoon stock powder, Vegeta, or a bouillon cube
- 1 bay leaf
- 5-6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1.5 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon parsley minced
- Soaking: In a large bowl (or pot) cover beans with water, and leave to soak for 7-8 hours (or overnight).* The following day strain the beans and discard the water. Then wash them again, strain them, and set the beans aside.
- Soup: In a deep pot, heat oil over high and add onion and garlic. Lower to medium and simmer until translucent (2-3 minutes). Add carrots and meat. Simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes occasionally stirring.
- Add the seasonings and beans in, and cover with 6-7 cups of water. Mix ingredients well, cover with a lid, and raise the temperature to high until the liquid boils (about 15 minutes). Add the bay leaf in.
- Bring the temperature down to low, and continue cooking until the beans are tender, but not falling apart.* (Think about 2.5 hours.) If you lose a lot of liquid, add another cup of water during cooking.
- Roux: A few minutes before the beans are done, heat the oil up in a small pan over high temperature. Lower the temperature, add flour and stir vigorously for 30 seconds to 1 minute ensuring the mixture doesn't clump. Add paprika in and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes more.
- Whisk the roux into the soup. Cook soup for an additional 5 minutes and remove off heat. (Optional: discard the bay leaf, and garnish the soup with parsley.)
- Serve warm.* Store in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat using your preferred method. If freezing, let cool down to room temp, place in freezer-ware, and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Cooking time:
Alia @ Everyday Easy Eats says
Hi Aida, your Balkan Bean Soup looks so hearty and delicious! I love comforting soup bowls like this, now that the weather is cooling down. Great photos and video too! 🙂
Thanks Alia. What a beautiful name you have! I'm all about comfort food come November. 🙂
Alia @ Everyday Easy Eats says
Aww thanks so much, Aida! Your name is very pretty too! 🙂
Isprobala sam recept i odlično je ispao 🙂
Hvala sto ste se javili, drago mi je da vam se recept svidio. 🙂
By any chance are these referred to as village beans? I had a white bean stew when I lived in Sarajevo and I could never get the recipe right. I am going to try this one!!! I am sure it will be great. I remember there being a lot of paprika in the ones I ate there.
That's the first time I hear of village beans. It could be regional though. Let me know if you liked it.
First, thank you for such a beautiful blog! The writing and the photos are equally gorgeous. I've been in Sarajevo for a few weeks and will be here for a couple more, working on some research (then it's back to Germany to resume my grad program :)). Your stories are so descriptive and make me feel closer to the culture and culinary history of the region while I'm here. I loved the detail about Yugoslavian army soldiers being the best cooks--reminds me of being a Girl Scout in the United States growing up.
Also, I made this stew and it was so, so delicious. My first time making bean soup with dried beans, and I'm never going back! I also tried your vegetable risotto (sataras sa rižom), and it was really good. I don't have an oven while staying here in Bosnia, just a stovetop, and so many wonderful recipes (pita, dolma, etc.) need to bubble in the oven. Do you have any particular recipe recommendations for those of us just using a stovetop?
Thanks again for your efforts to make ex-Yu cuisine so accessible to English-speakers. Love the blog!
Thank you for the lovely comment.
Here are a few stovetop recipes you can try:
Omač or basically a very comforting pasta with feta and sour cream:
Crepes (you can fill them with whatever you want, these are just some suggestions):
Have you tried polenta? If not, def try, and look for kajmak (cheese spread) at your grocery store to mix it with:
I also love uštipci or peksimeti, little fried breads you can eat with most things
Do you eat meat? In that case also...
Meatballs in tomato sauce:
Veal sauce (kind of like goulash with veal):
Leek and ground beef risotto is a great way to start liking leeks if you don't already:
Nice to hear you're enjoying Sarajevo. Drop me a line and maybe we can coordinate a coffee while you're in town ([email protected]).
Thank your for such a generous and detailed reply! I'm sorry to be responding so late. For some reason, I never received a notification of your reply by email, and I forgot to check. I only am just now seeing your reply because I'm making this soup again (in my kitchen in Germany, this time! :)) And this time I also have an oven to make an even greater variety of delicious recipes.
My time in Sarajevo was so lovely! I'm sorry we missed each other, but I will actually be back for a conference in late May/early June. I will shoot you an email then. If the timing is right, it would be great to take you out for a coffee.
That sounds good. Best of luck w/ everything!
Hi Aida, I use this recipe as a guideline every time we bring back suho meso from Sarajevo's tržnica to Split and my Bosanchero is a very happy eater. I'm not sure why I use a can of diced tomatoes but I do (and it works). Typically I make grah using an InstantPot (some Amerikanka habits refuse to die) on manual for 8 minutes and cooked a little longer on the sauté or slow cook setting after adding the roux. Four thumbs up!
Nice! When do you put in the tomatoes? InstantPot is great, no shame in using it at all!
I add the can of tomatoes as part of the liquid. (But, admittedly, I use more liquid...) It seems there are indeed recipes using tomatoes out on the Internets.
Yeah, I love my InstantPot 🙂
Yes, variations abound. Bon appetit! 🙂
Made this soup tonight. AMAZING!!
The only meat I had on hand was maple glazed bacon, and it was incredible in this soup. I also through a handful of baby spinach in each bowl.
That sounds delicious! Thanks for the tips, they'll be super helpful to other readers!
I told my boyfriend to buy me beans so I could make this but he bought one can of pinto beans and one can of navy beans. Lol could I use the canned beans? Thanks.
Unfortunately no, these have to be dried. However we have a recipe for a quick version of pan baked beans that you can use your canned beans for. Here: https://balkanlunchbox.com/gravce-na-tavce-macedonian-baked-beans/
I thought so, lol. Thank you, those look delicious as well!
Bettina Shouse says
Glad you like it Bettina!
Robert Ellis says
Hi the link for the army bean stew no longer works 😔 will this recipe get re posted? Thanks
Sorry for the late reply. It's been retired. Would you like me to email you the recipe?
Robert Ellis says
Yes please ☺☺
Sarah Amena says
Aida - honestly - is grah worth making without 🥩? Or does the meat really make the flavor that much better?
It's best with meat.
Sarah Amena says
Aida - I was telling my in laws about your website and I told Dido that I made grah ( the entire pot was eaten so good 😊) and he is known for his grah! So he wanted to show me exactly what to do (the generosity of Bosnians ❤️)
First - he surprised me and used Lima beans - it was an extra step where he has to peel skins and they got super ginormous but were yummy!
Everything is the same in your recipe except he added a little Ajvar and at the end when he did the roux - he fried about half an onion finally chopped and then put the flour mixture and spices. It made the flavor more smoky or something.
My 1.5 and 3.5 year old love his grah and they can be super picky! I also ate grah with cabbage salad - they mix really well together and seem to pull water out of me???
Also- my mother in law gave me my my magical wand - the big long stick so I can try and make pita! She doesn’t seem to have much faith in me 😂 I told her I would watch Aida’s videos and learn! In the past- I’ve had many culinary mishaps - but I think I’m getting better - I need to be more organized. I was going to buy some filo sheets - they were $5.49! I was like - nope too much - I have to learn like a Bosnian!
Well you are one lucky lady to have your in-laws share their recipes with you!
Pita is a little tricky. Give yourself some time, and practice. Definitely don't promise to make it for guests the first time around.