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Barley and White Bean Soup

1/2 c Small white beans -- rinsed and drained
8 c Water
2 tb Butter
1 sm Onion -- finely chopped
2 Leeks -- rinsed and sliced
1/3 c Pearl barley
1 Clove garlic -- minced
1 Stalk celery -- finely chopped
1 md Carrot -- shredded
2 Ham hocks (about 2 lbs) -- smoked
1 Bay leaf
1/8 ts White pepper
1 c Milk
Salt (optional)
Chopped parsley (for garnish)

In a medium saucepan bring beans and 2 cups of the water to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour.

In a 5 1/2- to 6-quart kettle or Dutch oven, melt butter. In it cook onion, leeks, and barley until onion is transparent. Stir in garlic, celery, and carrot and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add ham hocks (or ham bone), remaining 6 cups water, beans and their liquid, bay leaf, and pepper.

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until meat separates easily from bone (2 1/2 to 3 hours). Remove ham hocks or ham bone; when they are cool enough to handle remove and discard bones and skin. Discard bay leaf. Return meat in chunks to the soup.

Gradually stir in milk and reheat to serving temperature (do not boil). Salt to taste. Sprinkle each portion with parsley or chives, and serve.

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