A dish of ham and navy beans is the ultimate in quick, nutritious and budget-friendly comfort food. With the aid of a slow cooker, you can prepare ham and navy beans in less than 10 minutes and leave it to cook, unattended, for as long as 12 hours. Navy beans are inexpensive and rich in fiber, protein, B vitamins such as folate and minerals like manganese and iron. Although ham is high in sodium, fat and cholesterol, only a small amount is needed to add flavor when it is cooked over low heat with navy beans and vegetables.
Put the navy beans inside a colander or strainer, planning on 1 cup of dried beans for every four servings of the finished dish. Rinse them thoroughly under cool, running water. Remove any discolored beans, stones or debris. Put the rinsed beans into the slow cooker.
Add diced, cooked ham or whole smoked ham hocks or shanks, using about 1 pound of boneless meat or 2 to 3 pounds of bone-in ham for every cup of dried beans.
Stir in chopped vegetables like onions, celery and carrots. Add seasonings such as salt, pepper, thyme, freshly minced parsley, chopped garlic, basil, oregano and liquid smoke, as desired.
Pour water, broth or a combination of the two over the beans, ham and vegetables in the slow cooker, using approximately 2 cups of fluid for every 1 cup of dried beans. Use a spoon to mix.
Put the lid in place and turn the slow cooker to the low setting. Allow to cook, undisturbed, for 10 to 12 hours, or until the navy beans are tender.
Remove the ham hocks or shanks, if using, with tongs. Cut off as much meat as possible, discard any bones and connective tissue and stir the chopped meat back into the soup.
Serve slow-cooked ham and navy beans with a fresh salad and cornbread or whole-grain rolls.