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Butter Bean (or Lima Bean) Soup with Ham and Cabbage

Butter Bean Soup with Ham and Cabbage can be made with dried or canned beans.

(Updated with better photos, plus instructions for using either dried or canned beans, February 2014.)  If you’re someone who might be inclined to turn up your nose at the mention of lima beans, stay with me for a minute here.   I first made this soup with Florida Butter Beans, (a type of heirloom baby lima bean, also known as Calico Pole Beans) that I bought in San Francisco from Rancho Gordo Beans.  The Florida Butter Beans are creamy and delicious, and if you can find those (or something similar) I highly recommend making this soup starting with dried beans that you’ve soaked overnight.  But when I decided this recipe *must* have an updated photo, I decided to try it with canned butter beans from the supermarket, and I was happily surprised at how good it was that way too.  If you still can’t wrap your mind around the idea of butter beans or lima beans, try the soup with a different type of white bean!

I first made this soup when I had a bad cold that hung on for weeks and I needed some comfort food. But it was just as delicious when I made it again recently on one of those cold winter days where nothing sounds as appealing as soup simmering on the stove!

If you’re lucky enough to have some dried Florida Butter Beans or another type of dried butter bean or large white bean, soak them at least 8 hours, then drain the beans.  (These are actually Gigantes beans, which would also be good in this soup.)

If  you have canned butter beans, drain them into a colander and rinse well with cold water, until no more foam appears. 

Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot and saute the onion and celery a few minutes; then add the dried thyme and cook a couple of minutes more.

Add the beans and 2 quarts water (for dried beans ) or 6 cups water (for canned beans.  For dried beans, simmer on low until the beans are tender, probably an hour or more.  For canned beans, simmer about 20 minutes.  (Add more water as needed while the beans are cooking.)

While the beans cook, finely chop the cabbage.

I started with this boneless ham steak from Costco for the ham.

Cut up enough ham to make about 2 cups of diced ham.

Depending on how flavorful your ham is, you may want to add a little ham bouillon to the soup when you add the ham.  This one made by Goya is my favorite brand, but otherss I’ve used include Penzeys, Better Than Bouillon, or Knorr ham flavor base.  (All these are relatively high in sodium so use sparingly or avoid if you’re limiting your sodium intake.)

When the dried beans are nearly soft, add the ham and cabbage and cook about 30 minutes more at a low simmer (or maybe a little longer for dried beans), until the beans are quite soft and the cabbage is completely soft and almost dissolving into the soup.

Here’s how my soup looked after it had simmered more and was ready to eat.

Butter Bean and Ham Soup

And just for fun, here’s the original photo of this soup from 2007.  As you can see, the Rancho Gordo butter beans are darker than the butter beans I used this time, but both were delish!

Florida Butter Bean (or Lima Bean) Soup with Ham and Cabbage
(Makes about 6-8 servings, recipe created by Kalyn when she had Rancho Gordo Florida Butter Beans.)

1 lb. Rancho Gordo Florida Butter Beans or baby lima beans (or use 3 or 4 15-oz. cans of butter beans if you can’t find dried beans)
1 T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped small
1 cup chopped celery
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 quarts water
Goya Ham Bouillon or  Penzeys ham flavor base, to taste (optional, but recommended if you want more ham flavor)
2 cups finely chopped green cabbage
2 cups finely diced ham (If you have a ham bone or some pieces of rind, by all means use them and remove when you serve the soup.)
fresh ground black pepper to taste


Soak dried beans for about 8 hours, then pour into colander, rinse, and let drain. (I think the best way to cook beans is to soak them all day while you’re at work, then cook at night.)  For canned beans, drain them into a colander placed in the sink and rinse well with cold water (until you don’t see any more foam.) 

In heavy soup pot, heat olive oil, saute onion and celery 3-4 minutes, until starting to soften, then add thyme and saute 1-2 minutes more. Add beans and 2 quarts water (for dried beans) or 6 cups water (for canned beans).

Cook dried beans at a low simmer until they are starting to soften, adding a little more water occasionally if needed. (This could take an hour or more, depending on how fresh the beans are.)  Cook canned beans about 20 minutes at a low simmer.

When beans feel like they are about 3/4 soft (when you bite down on one) add Penzeys ham flavor base (if using), finely chopped cabbage, and finely diced ham. Cook about 30 minutes more (or maybe a little longer for canned beans), until beans are very soft, soup broth is very flavorful, and most of the cabbage has disintegrated into the soup. Season to taste with fresh ground black pepper and serve hot.

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South Beach Suggestions:
Dried beans are approved for all phases of the South Beach Diet, but the serving size is limited for phase one. Since this soup has other things besides beans, you could eat a small bowl for phase one or a larger bowl for phase two or three.

Nutritional Information?
I chose the South Beach Diet to manage my weight partly so I wouldn’t have to count calories, carbs, points, or fat grams, but if you want nutritional information for a recipe, I recommend entering the recipe into Calorie Count, which will calculate it for you.

More Recipes Using Butter Beans or Large White Beans:
(Recipes from other blogs may not be South Beach Diet friendly, check ingredients.)
Ottolenghi’s Fried Beans with Sorrel, Feta, and Sumac ~ David Lebovitz
Spanish Chicken Baked with Butter Beans, Chorizo, and Olives ~ Cook Sister 
Southern Butter Beans ~ Never Enough Thyme

Florida Butter Beans with Caramelized Onions and Bacon ~ The Kitchn
Butter Bean Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Feta, and Basil Vinaigrette – Kalyn’s Kitchen

Blogger Disclosures:

This recipe was first posted for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Simona from the charming blog Briciole
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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29 comments on “Butter Bean (or Lima Bean) Soup with Ham and Cabbage”

  1. This soup looks so satisfyingly warm and hearty, Kalyn. I never, ever tire of bean soup, and with cooler temps coming to San Diego, it looks like I’ll be making some soon.

  2. This sounds delicious and so warming. I can’t wait to try it – I’m sure it will make the house smell amazing.

  3. I love the color of the soup and the nice bowl in which you put it: the ensemble looks delicious and healing. I didn’t know about this kind of beans: they sound interesting. I hope you’ll get well soon.

  4. Hi Kalyn,

    Soup looks so tempting , perfect for winter days 🙂 . thanks for sharing .
    As being away from blog world since last couple of month , i am sure i missed many good dishes here… will take a look to all of it soon . Keep on sharing 🙂

  5. I’ve been all about the soup lately too (trying to find other things to post about!) but I don’t have the excuse of illness, just that I like eating with a spoon, I suppose. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  6. Bean and ham soup sounds both tasty and hearty. Get well soon!

  7. oh yum — i have been all about soup lately too! it’s the perfect dinner when it gets cold outside. this one looks wonderful!

  8. I love, love, love bean soup! Actually, I’d happily eat soup every meal all winter long. We have a a few different kins of beans here – no lima or butter beans, though. The local comfort food is Mogettes, which is a type of bean that I think would be perfect in this…I’ll let you know – next time I buy a cabbage

  9. So sorry to hear you’re not feeling well, Kalyn, and wish you a speedy recovery.
    This bean soup looks delicious. Aren’t Gordos beans just the best? We’ve got a bean grower up here in my neck of the woods who’s going to give Steve a run for him money though. I’ll be writing about them this winter.
    Thanks for the link!

  10. I love this soup, can almost taste it. We grow this type of bean in the South, but harvest them when they are very young and small. They are incredibly tasty, the best bean in the world.

  11. I hope you feel better soon. The soup looks great. Perfect for our -12 degree weather!

  12. Never heard of these beans here, but on our farmers´market there appear more and more heirloom apples, potatoes and so on.
    Must be delicious and heart warming, Hope you are feeling better soon.:)

  13. Kalyn, I’ve always wondered about those Penzey’s soup bases. You clearly like the ham version because you’re using it here. Do you use it often? How about the other Penzey soup bases, do you like them too??

  14. Thanks everyone for the get-well wishes. I’m a little better, but not great, and counting the days until Christmas vacation.

    Laurie, I love all the Penzeys soup bases, but my favorites are ham and turkey. Both are very tasty.

  15. I just did a butter bean soup with ham and leeks that I think you would love!! It has no cream or butter (so it’s South Beach friendly) but pureeing the leeks gives it a creamy texture.


    Thanks again for being such an inspiration!

  16. How would you modify this for the pressure cooker? Thanks!

  17. Minda, I haven't cooked this type of beans in the pressure cooker so I wouldn't be able to give you an exact recipe without experimenting with it, but you might read the directions for this pressure cooker soup with beans, ham, and vegetables which has similar ingredients. I'd love to hear how it turns out if you do try it.

  18. This is a true "coeur du Sud" of recipes. The heart of the South. Garden fresh butter beans, thick dices of ham, and giant cabbages just picked peppered every summer day I can remember. Abundance. Thank you for jarring my memory. Now I must go and recreate this…

  19. I don't think I've ever eaten butter beans. I'm going to order some from Rancho Gordo and give them a try.

  20. The Rancho Gordo beans are really amazing!

  21. I actually think I have some butter beans on my legume shelf. I love the food section at TJ Maxx, I find things I cannot buy locally.

    I saw some sriracha potato chips locally the other day, though. Not that I would eat them. Could one taste hurt? Yes.

  22. Mimi, the Sriracha chips are a NO WAY for me, but I have been liking Beanitos, a type of chip made from beans. Not as healthy as this soup I'm sure, but better than potato chips (although you still have to use portion control!)

  23. I love this combination, bean soup is my favorite and the ham and cabbage combination sounds great. Will try soon.

  24. Hi Kalyn! I tried this soup tonight, and although it is good, I loved the White Bean and Ham Soup with Chard more. But I like the cabbage, so I'm thinking I might do a variation of the white bean soup with some cabbage in addition to the chard. But as always, love your blog and your recipes and am so grateful that you keep me and my family healthy with your work!

  25. Amy I do think some cabbage would be great in that other soup; so glad you're enjoying the blog!

  26. Coincidence! I just made a bean soup/stew this weekend and for the first time I used frozen butter beans. The cooking time was only 40 minutes and no soaking needed. Right from the freezer to the pan. With seasonings, bay leaf, ham and mini smoked sausages. It was so good that I couldn't believe I made up that recipe. Anyway, would you consider the frozen beans? I became a big fan! I stay out of the house for about 11 hours, so even crockpot recipes sometimes do not fit into my schedule…

  27. Sonia, I love the idea of frozen butter beans; will have to look for them.

  28. I made this soup with canned butter beans and it turned out great. Good choice for a fast fall/winter soup.

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