Most folks associate split pea soup with ham or thick cut bacon used as the flavor. I’ve cooked it with smoked turkey, ham hocks, prosciuto, diced ham and bacon. All of these meats accompany the pea mush with a delicate balance providing the necessary sodium for flavor. However, my domestic partner is a vegetarian, so I cook it without meat. Some might equate this as culinary blasphemy, but in reality, pea porridge has been made without meat since the Middle Ages. The beauty of the dish is not only the slow cooking simplicity, but the holding capacity. You can leave it on the stove for hours or even days.
This comfort food is filling and nutritious. The peas are high in fiber and protein and can hold in the cupboard for at least a year. When cooked in water or broth, the peas form a creamy base which takes on flavor easily. Most other dried legumes need to be soaked or cooked for a considerable amount of time to become tender, peas can be edible in significantly less time. Peas are also inexpensive, a one pound bag costs less than a dollar.
Given these variables, split pea soup sounds pretty good, but you must wonder how it tastes. My first experience with split pea soup was right out of a can, jam packed with sodium and cube sized chunks of processed ham. I hated it. Green mush was gross. As time progressed and leftover Easter Ham at a girlfriends’ home in college became the base for her mom’s homemade split pea soup, I was hooked. I fuddled about with proportions and ingredients with surprise. I discovered that any combination produced a good meal.
My cooking philosophy prescribes simplicity and using what you have. There are no set rules. These guidelines are merely a path to follow, I don’t care if you walk or roll.
- One 16 oz bag of dried split peas, yellow or green
- One large or two small yellow onion chopped
- One large potato peeled and chopped
- Eight cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- Five to Six carrots, quartered and diced
- Three celery stalks, chopped
- One chili pepper, seeds removed (any kind depending on your preference I use whatever I have laying around even dried chili flakes or dried Thai bird chilies).
- Squirt of yellow mustard or a tsp of mustard seeds
- Salt in the beginning, middle and end
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Water or Vegetable broth
- Parsley to garnish
Rinse the peas first to remove dust, dirt and other contraband. You can do this in the large pot you cook them in, just let the water run clear and account for the leftover water after you drain. Add water or stock, as a guide, cover the peas with about twice the amount of liquid. Two parts liquid to one part peas. Keep spare liquid handy to add as it cooks. Add onion and garlic and a small handful of salt. Kosher or sea salt is best but the regular stuff is fine. Turn on over medium-low heat, cover and bring to a simmer.
After about twenty to thirty minutes, the peas should have expanded in the pot, add another cup of water, the carrots, celery, chili and potato remember that these veggies will release water as they cook. Stir well, turn heat to low and cover. If using water, you should add a bit more salt at this time, but vegetable stock has salt in so regulate accordingly. Cook for a half hour, stirring and adding water occasionally.
Around this time, the peas should have begun to break up, stir and salt to taste. Add mustard, black pepper and additional water. Cook uncovered for another half hour. As time progresses, the peas will break up and thicken the mixture, the potatoes and carrots should be tender. Salt again to taste and add additional pepper. If mixture is still thin, simmer a bit longer and if it is too thick, add water. Remember that the mixture will continue to thicken as it cools. Serve with toasted bread or crackers. Garnish with fresh parsley.
Depending on the amount of soup you want to make adjust proportions. This recipe will make about six one and a half cup servings.