Saturday, July 19, 2008

Split Pea Soup with or without Ham: Two recipes

I grew up eating good pea soup. My mother made it whenever we had a meaty bone leftover from a ham dinner. I've since learned to make pea soup in many ways, including the old style on those rare times when we have a ham bone, or with a smoked pork hock, or with some smoked sausage (we had wonderful Dutch smoked sausage, 'rookworst', available when we lived in Malaysia), and in recent years increasingly I've made vegetarian pea soup. Surprisingly, to me at least, it is nearly as flavorful as the ham version. Our restaurant/deli in Athens makes 'Grandma's' pea soup, which is essentially my vegetarian soup finished with finely diced ham.

As it turns out, split pea soup is both traditional and common in many parts of Europe and North America. Peas grow in colder climates even on unfertile land, dry in their pods in the field, store easily, are economical, and are a fine source of protein and fiber. Plus, simply, they taste good. Pea soup is comfort food. While dry split peas are the basis, there is a choice between green and yellow. To me they taste the same, but the presentation of the soup is very different for the two colors. In New England, where I grew up, pea soup is made with green split peas, as it is in France and Holland. Yellow split peas were the standard for soup in French Canada (Qu├ębecoise 'Habitante' soupe au pois), and yellow peas are also used in Scandanavia. Which, if any, herbs to include varies by region, too. The New England pea soup is traditionally seasoned only with onion, celery, bay leaf, and black pepper. The Quebec soup has the herb 'savory' in it, and sometimes a whole clove or two. These days, I have migrated over to using savory, with a little oregano if I don't have savory on hand. Bay leaf and black pepper are essential. Croutons served with the soup are optional.

Included below are two versions of pea soup. The vegetarian one has a little more carrot, celery, and onion than the ham version, and the vegetables are lightly caramelized in olive oil to bring out their flavors. The ham version uses either a ham bone or diced ham. A recipe serves six with leftovers. A double recipe is just as easy to make as a single one, and the soup freezes well in plastic containers.

Vegetarian Pea Soup Tim

1 pound green or yellow split peas
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more at the end
2 medium or 1 large carrot
2 large sticks celery
1 medium onion
1 small clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water

Rinse the split peas and drain. In a large soup pot, bring them to a boil in the water, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the bay leaves, savory or oregano, and black pepper. Simmer, partially covered and stirring from time to time, until the peas are tender and starting to break up, 20 to 40 minutes depending on the variety and age of the peas.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into 1/2-inch dice. Discard leaves from the celery, cut the stalks lengthwise into four strips, hold the strips together and cut across into 1/4-inch lengths. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. In a frying pan, gently fry the vegetables in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to turn golden on some of the edges.

When the peas are tender, add the caramelized vegetables plus the salt and 1 more cup of water. Simmer, stirring from time to time, for 15 minutes or until the peas are very broken up and the soup becomes somewhat creamy. Taste and add salt if needed. Dilute with a little water if too thick. When the soup is done, add a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper. The soup is tastier if stored refrigerated for a few hours or up to several days and then reheated. Taste and season with a little more salt, if needed.

Serve with croutons, if desired.


Grandma's Pea Soup with Ham Tim

1 meaty hambone leftover from a roast, or 1/2 pound cooked or raw ham
1 pound green split peas
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more at the end
1 medium carrot
1 stick celery
1 small-medium onion
Salt to taste (be careful, the ham may be salty)
1 cup water

1) If using a ham bone, simmer it in the water for at least half an hour, with the pot partially covered. Rinse the split peas and drain. Add them to the soup pot, bring them to a boil, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over. Or 2) if using just ham with no bone, rinse the split peas and drain. In a large soup pot, bring them to a boil, skimming off the foam as it arises, so it doesn't boil over.

In either case, reduce heat to a simmer and add the bay leaves, savory or oregano, and black pepper. Simmer, partially covered and stirring from time to time, until the peas are tender and starting to break up. This will take 20 to 40 minutes, or possibly longer with the ham bone broth.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the carrots into 1/2-inch dice. Discard leaves from the celery, cut the stalks lengthwise into four strips, hold the strips together and cut across into 1/4-inch lengths. Dice the onion. When the peas are tender, add the vegetables plus 1 more cup of water, and simmer 15 minutes or more until the vegetables are tender and the peas are broken up.

Remove the ham bone, if used, and cut the meat off the bone and into small pieces and return them to the soup. If using ham but no bone, cut the ham into 1/4-inch strips, then cut across into 1/4-inch dice. Add the ham to the soup and simmer at least 10 minutes.

Taste the soup. It may or may not need salt, depending on the ham. Simmer the soup, stirring from time to time, until the peas are very broken up and the soup becomes somewhat creamy. Dilute with a little water if too thick. Taste again and add salt if needed. When the soup is done, add a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

The soup is tastier if stored refrigerated for a few hours up to several days and then reheated. Taste and season with a little more salt, if needed.

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