I know it’s technically spring, but around these parts, it’s still split-pea weather.
We had an all too brief dalliance with sunshine and lollipops a week or two ago, but now, nothing but gray and rain and that deep chill that rises up from the ground through your boots and permeates your entire being from the inside out.
Which is just my way of saying it’s cold and wet and I would like a big bowl of soup, please.
Lately that means split pea soup. Lots of it. This version is super hearty and comforting, guaranteed to punch the chill right in the face.
(Of course, in the last couple of days that I’ve been working on this post, the forecast has turned to sun for the next week. Usually spring is a gloomy, sodden affair around here, so I thought I was safe posting a recipe for soup. Stupid Oregon. Although I suppose I should be happy for the unexpected sun.)
I first started making this dish something like four years ago, based on a recipe from a special edition on soups and stews by Cook’s Illustrated, back when I used to buy magazines printed on actual paper.
I followed that recipe pretty faithfully until I misplaced it somewhere, and had to wing it based on my own pretty faulty memory, which is to say I basically made it up on the spot because I could not for the life of me remember the split pea to liquid ratio. It came out surprisingly delicious.
What this little experience taught me was to go ahead and take the plunge. When I was just a wee lass, I spent many many days at the pool before I ever worked up the courage to jump off the diving board. I knew how to swim. I could hold my breath like a little fish. But that diving board was scary. Until one day my friend did it, and basically shamed me into trying. So I climbed up there, all nerves and butterflies, and took the plunge. My instincts kicked in and before I could even register what was happening, I popped back up to the surface. My body knew what to do even if my brain didn’t.
I know, deep thoughts, right?
Up until I lost that recipe for split pea soup, I tended to stick pretty closely to recipes as written, which I culled from only the most trusted of sources. Then I would scroll through the comments looking for reviews and helpful hints. If the recipe employed new techniques, I would research them ad infinitum before trying them.
But I had been cooking fairly frequently for several years by then, and reading up on all sorts of cookery, and I suppose subconsciously absorbing the fundamentals in my own way. It helped that the special edition on soups included a primer on how to make soup.
I guess I knew more than I realized, and truly, soup is pretty hard to mess up.
So armed with my working knowledge of split pea soup, and soup in general, I whipped up a batch, tasting and tweaking along the way. I sort of bumbled my way through, but my body knew what to do. I have since found that Cook’s Illustrated recipe again, but I never use it anymore. Instead I make my bumble version, fine-tuning it a bit every time. This is the latest version.
Easy Split Peasy
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Recipe notes: This is a very easy recipe to make, with very basic ingredients. But it does, however, take a while for the split peas to magically transform from tasteless little BBs into crazy goodness, at least a full hour. If you try to cut it short, the results are somewhat meh. Believe me I’ve tried. Some stuff just takes a while to cook, that’s all there is to it. So if you’re planning to make this for dinner, it’s wise to get an early start. For those who work, it’s probably best to make this on the weekend, when you have a bit more leeway in the schedule. Waiting for a pot of this after a long day at work is just asking for a hangry meltdown. There are all sorts of ways to make split pea, but the one true method, is to cook the soup at a relatively high heat until the split peas pretty much fall apart – no blending required. This also turns the soup into a delicious, thick sludge that turns almost solid in the fridge. Of course, not everyone is as fond of sludge as we are, but it’s easy enough to adjust the consistency with a bit of extra water and seasoning. In fact, that is the one big variable of this recipe – you can get very different consistencies depending on how high the heat is, and whether or not the pot is covered. So even if you follow the instructions to a T (although the instructions are none too precise), the consistency can still vary quite a bit. It’s hard to predict sometimes, but easy to fix. If your soup is too thick after an hour, simply add some water and salt to taste. If it’s too soupy, just turn up the heat, keep the lid off and let some of that liquid evaporate. I should mention that this version calls for a fair amount of veggies, more than most recipes, because, well, I like veggies. Also, this version has no ham or bacon because I rarely have them on hand. I use bouillon instead to add a bit of flavor, or when I have it, bacon fat, which I keep in the freezer.
Oil, bacon fat, butter, coconut oil, whatever floats your boat
2 small onions (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)
4-6 medium carrots (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)
5-7 stalks celery (about 1 3/4 cup to 2 cups chopped)
1 tsp salt
1 large russet potato
2 cups split peas, pick through and rinsed (I think a 16 ounce bag is technically equivalent to 2 1/4 cup of split peas. Go ahead and throw in the extra ¼ cup if you don’t want a weird amount of peas left over. I buy them from the bulk bin, so it’s easy enough to just measure out 2 cups.)
10 cups water
4 teaspoons chicken or veggie bouillon (I tend to use bouillon instead of broth because, I don’t know, I just got into the habit of it, OK? Plus it keeps a long time. I use Better Than Bouillon because it ranked well in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test. If I could get it together, I would make my own broth, but yeah, let’s be honest, that ain’t happening any time soon. If you would rather use broth, use 6 cups water and 4 cups broth and nix the bouillon.)
2 tablespoons vinegar
Get an early start, say 4 if you want to eat dinner by 6. Does anyone eat dinner at 6? I can’t seem to get dinner on the table before 7:30, and I’m a stay at home mama.
Chop the carrots, celery and onions. Put in a dutch oven along with your fat of choice and 1 tsp of salt. Sauté until the vegetables soften and get a bit of color, which takes a while, at least it does on my ancient electric stovetop. Meanwhile, chop the potatoes and boil the water.
Once the veggies are ready, dump in the 10 cups of hot water, bouillon, split peas and potatoes. Bring to boil, then turn down a bit and let that baby simmer pretty hard for at least an hour (more like an hour and 20 minutes on our funky old electric stove). Do not cover. Give it a good stir every so often to make sure the soup doesn’t stick or burn to the bottom.
If it’s too thick, add some water and adjust the seasoning. If it’s too thin, let it bubble away a while longer.
Add vinegar when it’s done. When is it done? When it’s thick and creamy and tastes divine.
Ladle into serving bowls and give that bad boy a good squirt of sriracha, if you are into that sort of thing.