Heat a Dutch oven (you can also use a thick-bottomed soup pot, but may need to stir more often to prevent burning) over medium heat for about 3 minutes or so, until it’s nice and hot. Add the oil and the onions. Cook until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the chopped celery and carrots, and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes. Add the beans, followed by the water. Increase the heat to high.
Add the bay leaves, dried thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, black pepper, paprika, and chicken bouillon paste. (If you don’t have chicken bouillon paste, simply use chicken stock in place of the water.) Bring to a boil.
Stir in the ham. I like to cut it into big shards/shreds for extra texture. (Sarah likes hers cubed and orderly though. I won’t judge either way!) If you’re using a ham hock instead of ham, you can add it in now.
Reduce the heat to medium-low so the soup is at a somewhat energetic simmer--it should always be at a low bubble. Cook for 4-5 hours, stirring periodically. For the first half of the cooking time, I keep the lid on. For the last hour or two, I will leave the pot slightly uncovered so some steam can escape. If the soup isn’t cooking down, you may want to increase the heat to medium. Every stove is different, so don’t just set it and forget it. Periodically check liquid levels.
In the last hour of cooking, add the fresh parsley, and cook for another hour. It’s done when the beans and carrots are tender, and the soup is thickened. If you used a ham hock, fish out any bones, and chop up any large pieces of meat and skin (keeping the skin is optional) that don’t break down during the cooking process before serving.
This soup is quite forgiving. If it ends up too salty for your tastes, just add water, and lightly mash some of the beans to release their starchiness and re-thicken the soup. If you are reheating the soup and there is not enough liquid, just add 1-2 cups of water to bring it back to your desired consistency.
You can also used dried beans for this recipe, but will need to cook them in a pressure cooker. See end of post for pressure cooker instructions.This soup freezes well. It is best consumed within 3 months, but will last up to 6 months.