1 Cook the beans with the ham hock/shank: Place beans and ham hock or shank in a 4-quart, thick-bottomed pot. Add 5 cups water, bay leaves, salt and baking soda. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let cook 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, until beans are tender. Remove bay leaves.
Pressure cooking instructions: If you have a pressure cooker, you can save time by putting the un-soaked dry beans and the ham hock into a pressure cooker. Add 5 cups of water, 2 bay leaves, baking soda, and salt. Cook at high pressure for 20 minutes, do a natural release of pressure for 10 minutes before releasing the pressure. Remove the bay leaves.
2 Remove ham hock, cut up ham meat: Remove ham hock from the pot. Cut ham meat away from the bone and cut into small, bite-sized pieces, set aside.
3 Cook onions, celery, carrot sweet potato, add spices: While the beans are cooking, heat olive oil in a large 6- to 8-quart thick-bottomed pot on medium high until the oil is hot, but not smoking.
Add the onions, celery, carrot, sweet potato, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and softened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium, add the cumin, chili powder, and garlic, cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
4 Add beans, liquid, molasses, bell pepper to onion mixture: Once the beans are tender, add the beans, their cooking liquid, chicken stock, molasses, and bell pepper to the pot with the onion mixture.
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.
5 Purée a third of the soup: Using an immersion blender, purée about a third of the soup. Or remove about 3 cups of the soup to a blender and purée it, return it to the soup.
6 Serve: Return the reserved ham pieces to the soup to serve. Add 3 tablespoons of lime juice. Adjust seasonings. If on the sweet side, add a bit more lime juice. Add more salt to taste.
Serve with garnishes.
Note that the soup may continue to thicken. If you would like it thinner, just add some water to desired consistency.