A Passion for Food: For a warming bowl of soup, give split peas a chance

Sherrel Jones: 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.
BY SHERREL JONES Modified: March 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm •  Published: March 20, 2013
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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.

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Split Pea and Ham Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

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

Rinse split peas and soak in warm water while preparing onions, garlic, carrots and ham. Prepare carrots, onions and garlic. Place butter or oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Saute carrots, garlic, onions and chopped ham until onions become translucent and carrots just begin to caramelize. Cover for about 5 minutes over low heat to cook carrots through.

Using a slotted spoon or spider, remove the carrots and about half of the ham and onion. Drain split peas and place half of them in the pot with onions and ham. Add enough of the chicken stock to generously cover the ingredients.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cook over low heat for about 25 minutes until peas are softened and most of liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth and peas, simmering until peas are softened but whole. Return remaining cooked carrots and ham to the pot and simmer until heated through. Add additional broth if a thinner consistency is desired. Stir in sherry or reserve to stir into soup at the table.

Serve steaming hot. Garnish with sour cream or yogurt and a sprig of thyme if desired.

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.

SOURCE: Sherrel Jones

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