I know a lot of people, myself included, who grew up hating split pea soup. It was definitely the only lentil- or pea-based dish that my family ate, so I was never quite sure what to make of it. Plus, it’s pretty much the most unappealing color possible for a food. I would have never guessed that I’d actually be cooking and eating it on purpose someday. 🙂
But I’m glad that I’ve given it a second chance as an adult, because it’s a really hearty, filling soup that, when done right, tastes great. It’s especially great for those freezing cold nights when all you want to do is hide out at home (and eat soup). Plus, it’s cheap. So how can you go wrong?
I made a vegetarian version of split pea soup for years, using a veggie broth to give it body, and sometimes finishing it off with a couple tablespoons of soy sauce (as recommended by Deborah Madison). Now that I’m eating meat again, I’ve ditched the veggie broth and soy sauce in favor of a couple of ham hocks or shanks to give it a ham flavor and a bit of meat. Both taste great, though, so I’m providing both recipes below.
Serve this soup with a hearty bread or some biscuits for a balanced and filling meal.
Meatless/Almost Meatless Split Pea Soup with Herbs
1 1/2 lbs., or about 3 cups, green split peas
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. rosemary
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips (they look like white carrots), chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped/minced
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
For the vegetarian version:
4 cups veggie broth (or water + bullion, Better than Bullion, etc.)
4 additional cups water, plus more if soup becomes too dry
For the non-veg version:
2 ham hocks or shanks (shanks will give you more meat)
8 cups water, plus more if soup becomes too dry
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
Wash the split peas well, to reduce foaming. Combine the peas, ham hocks/shanks (non-veg version), all herbs, and water + veggie stock (veg version) in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, mostly covered, until the peas have broken down into a fine puree. If you are using new split peas, this should take about 60-90 minutes. If your peas are older, this can take quite a bit longer. Add more water if the soup becomes too dry, or if you want a thinner soup.
Non-veg version: When the ham hocks/shanks begin to fall apart, remove the pieces from the soup with a pair of tongs. Cut off the meat, roughly chop it, and return it to the pot, discarding the rest.
At least half an hour before the peas will be done, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the veggies and garlic until soft, about five minutes. Add this to the soup (scrape the sides of the pan with a spatula to make sure all of the olive oil gets in the soup, as that is where much of the flavor resides) and continue to cook until the peas are completely broken down.
Add soy sauce (veg version – 1-3 Tbsp. should do it) or salt (non-veg version) and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. Serve with a hearty bread or biscuits.
Cost of core ingredients: I made the non-vegetarian version of this soup, so the price of ham shanks are included here. This soup would be substantially cheaper without the ham shanks (though it is still quite cheap). The ingredients listed here are primarily organic and were purchased at my food co-op. The ham shanks are from naturally-raised pigs.
1 1/2 lbs. green split peas @ 1.29/lb. = $1.94
2 ham shanks: ~$3.83
1 medium onion: ~$1
2 carrots: ~$1.15
2 parsnips: $1.21
Total cost for at least 6 servings: $9.13 + the cost of small amounts of all herbs, olive oil, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper.