Cheesy Ham and Rice Soup

 Cheesy Ham and Rice Soup
This soup always reminds me of Christmas.  Yep . . . my Mom always made us this soup, after Christmas, because it takes 3 cups of cooked ham.  And our Christmas ham leftovers always disappeared into this scrumptious, rib-sticking soup.  I am a big time soup lover, but I think, of all the soups I’ve ever tried, this one is my absolute favorite.
It combines a gorgeous medley of colorful vegetables with savory ham, delicious cheese, and fluffy, white rice.  It stays hot seemingly forever (thanks to the rice), which makes it great for filling thermoses packed for chilly winter adventures, and it keeps you comfy and full for hours.  It exudes comfort and warmth– the perfect meal to nourish body and soul on a cold winter evening.
I can’t wait to share it with you!  What are we waiting for?  Let’s do this!
Cheesy Ham and Rice Soup Recipe (Originally from Taste of Home and adapted by me)
4 celery ribs, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 carrots, shredded
1/4 cup margarine
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp. chicken bouillon
1/3 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
8 oz. Velveeta processed cheese, cubed
6 cups fully cooked rice
3 cups fully cooked ham, finely chopped
8 cups water
Directions: Sauté vegetables in melted butter until tender. Add in spices and flour.  Stir well.  Gradually add milk to form a white sauce, stirring constantly over medium low heat.  When all your milk has been mixed into the soup, add your Velveeta cheese and stir until melted.  Add remaining ingredients, stir well, and allow to simmer on low heat for 1-2 hours, until flavors are melded.
 Now– in pictures!
First, let’s get this out of the way . . . this soup makes a BIG batch.  I don’t think I’ve ever made this soup and not overflowed my soup pot a little bit.  Homemade soups have a way of “growing” as you throw in a little of this, and a little of that.  So I recommend that you use your largest soup pot, make 2 separate pots’ worth of ingredients (throw half into each pot), or make half a recipe, to start.
You’ve been warned.
Start out by melting your butter in a large Dutch Oven or stock pot.  While that butter is slowly oozing into lusciousness, go ahead and start chopping your vegetables.
Mix your chopped onion and celery, along with your shredded carrots (use a food processor for this) into the pot with the melted butter.  Give the veggies a good stir and let them cook nicely over medium low heat until they start to get really nice and soft.  I just love soups that start with base of colorful vegetables– they really add color and beauty (not to mention flavor!) to any recipe.
Don’t stir the vegetables too terribly often– just enough so that the raw ones, on top, get a chance sizzling at the bottom, sometimes.  In about 20-30 minutes, the vegetables should be soft and cooked down.  This is right where you want them.
“I’ve got you riiiiiiiight where I want you . . .”
Go ahead and add your spices and flour.  Stir these dry ingredients into the vegetables and allow the flour to kind of “soak up” the juices in the pot. Your mixture will become kind of a thick paste.
Gradually add in your 2 cups of milk, stirring constantly to make sure that your soup doesn’t get lumpy (maybe that’s my problem– no one ever stirred me, so I never got all the lumps out.  haha).  Just add the milk a little at a time, and let the sauce kind of “drink up” the fluid.  Here’s your milk, Soup.  Drink up!
Meanwhile, go ahead and make your rice.  Actually . . . I guess I should have mentioned to start your rice at the beginning.  But if you’re using minute rice, right now will be fine to make it.  “Real” rice takes a little longer (maybe 20 minutes), but either works fine.
Anyway . . . make yourself 6 cups of cooked rice.  Make sure you’re planning for 6 cups of COOKED rice, rather than 6 cups of dry rice.  Goodness. You could feed your whole neighborhood for a week, if you made 6 cups of dry rice.  Just study your package of rice and make sure that you’re adding the correct amount of water.  I am using regular rice, so I used 2 cups of dry rice and 4 cups of hot water.  I simmered this rice, on low, for about 20 minutes until all the water was absorbed.
Just let that rice cook away while you finish up this soup.  You will add the cooked rice to the soup at the very end.
Once you have added all of your milk to the soup, add the rest of the ingredients– the cheese, water, ham, and cooked rice.  This is where I usually overflow my pot. Ha.
Cover your pot and allow the soup to simmer for about 1-2 hours.  The more this soup simmers, the better the flavors meld together.  Mmmmm.  This soup is even better the next day– that ham flavor really permeates the soup the longer it simmers.
After your soup has finished simmering, get yourself a nice, big bowl full.  Dust it with a little parsley, if you want.  Serve it with a nice, green salad and a crusty loaf of fresh bread for a perfect winter meal.
However you eat it, just savor and enjoy it.
Because you did it. And I’m so proud of you!


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