For a brief time in the early spring, there will be chilly days when lunch still calls for a warming bowl of split pea soup. The satisfying nature of my homemade version has to do largely with a few simple steps in the process: Rinsing and soaking the dried split peas — if there's time — reserving half of the soaked peas for texture, including extra flavoring agents, and an enticing finish with a spot of cream sherry.
If all of this has tempted you, then pick up some dried split peas. Start with a one-pound package. These little light-green half spheres are nutrient-dense morsels that cook into a delicious brew with the addition of a few ingredients. The price of split peas is a real bargain in terms of nutrients and fiber for the money.
The first step in cooking any dried peas or beans is the rinsing and soaking. Planning ahead is great, but sometimes it doesn't work out. Most of the time my husband says, “I sure wish you would make some split pea soup today,” adding that he would love it for lunch. By the time he makes the request, I have a short time to prepare it. It still can be done because split peas cook quickly compared with larger dried beans.
Once the peas are rinsed, I separate out about half of them to add a little later in the cooking process. The peas will lose their shape and become a thickened mushy pea liquid of almost milkshake consistency. I like to have some texture of the peas themselves incorporated into the soup, so keeping half of them in reserve assures these remain tender but intact for the texture we enjoy.
I include a clove of garlic, onions and carrots for their flavor boost in the soup, and they, too, bring additional texture. The other flavor source comes from the chicken broth I use to cook the peas in. Water can be added to thin the soup, but the broth adds a wonderful layer of flavor even if you have used chunks of ham or thick lean bacon in the beginning.
You can leave all the peas in the soup, and once they are almost softened, place half of them in the blender with more broth to pop back into the soup. This, too, will leave peas in the texture of the soup, but this method leaves me with a blender container and lid to wash. The little wait for half the peas is less messy and no extra washing is required.
The garnish could be sour cream, but I use a dollop of Greek yogurt, a sprig of thyme and place a small jigger of cream sherry on the side. You can stir in the sherry if you like, but I think having the stirring-in option affords the folks enjoying the soup the privilege of savoring the aroma of the sherry mingling into the steam floating up from that hot soup.
This soup freezes well, so you may want to make extra to have it ready in the freezer. A quart freezer bag of split pea soup thaws quickly in a bowl of warm water or just sitting out at room temperature if frozen flat. I fill the bags, then lay them flat on a baking sheet in the freezer. The frozen bags store in a freezer drawer or container lined up like files in a filing cabinet. The soup also keeps well for about five days in the fridge, and I think this somehow intensifies the flavor.
That is what I call a food experience opportunity all created from an inexpensive bag of split peas. So satisfying, I hope you will try them yourself soon.
Warmed with cream sherry, this is a winter warmer reminiscent of Potage St. Germain. It is a family favorite that freezes well if you have any left over.
Split Pea and Ham Soup
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 medium onion, chopped and divided in half
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed, peeled and minced
1 cup cubed (½-inch) ham, trimmed of fat
2 cups dried split peas
6 cups chicken stock (additional stock if needed)
1/3 cup cream sherry
Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt for garnish
Note: If you have an immersion blender, all ingredients can be cooked at once, including the peas. Insert the immersion blender, only blending partially to leave some of the peas intact. Carrots, onions and ham removed from original saute can be returned to the cooked peas after blending so they remain intact or left in the soup. The peas cooking in the broth will benefit from the residue from the saute in the same pan.