Too many of us only know Split Pea Soup from a can. There’s really no comparison to the real deal! Done right, this homey (and kind of homely) Split Pea Soup will win your heart and possibly warm your soul.
Hands down one of my favorite soups, I’ve found even a few people who don’t typically like split pea are converted by this version. If (and that’s always a big if) you can get them to try it. Of course, if they won’t, more for you!
About Split Pea Soup:
Admittedly Split Pea soup has something of a bad rap. First, it IS the most unfortunate color of green, a black mark; second, there are peas, a veggie that can be divisive although dried peas taste so different than fresh and dried peas don’t “squish” like the fresh ones, something that seems to be an issue for some people. Last of all, of all many of us have only known split pea as the canned stuff, and that canned soup (although I grew up with it and loved it) is a little strange. Remember the Exorcist?
Although Split Pea Soup has been eaten since antiquity there’s another factor that caused it to fall out of favor. It was eaten extensively during both the Great Depression and during WW2, both overseas and in the States, in a form that was nothing but a gruel of a few peas and water and didn’t do much but fend off starvation. Let’s say a lot of people weren’t clamoring for Split Pea when the prosperity of the 1950s rolled around, or making it for their families and passing down treasured recipes.
This is the recipe you WILL want to pass down – it’s a game-changer and def deserves a place in your repertoire of fall/winter recipes and a great Easter Ham leftover recipe, too. It’s very much a classic and the flavor is fortified with caramelized veggies, highlighted with a few herbs and the soup is loaded with ham along with just a few potatoes and carrots. That’s gonna help keep your interest as you eat – no porridge-like gruel here!
For more interest, top with a swirl of balsamic vinegar and just a bit of diced red onion. It’s not gonna do anything for the looks of this soup but it’s a fabulous addition. And don’t forget the saltines!
Making Split Pea Soup:
I used to make a good split pea soup. I think I probably just made whatever recipe was on the back of the package. Then I came across a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (love them!) and I’ve been making this recipe, some of it adapted from them, ever since. The only soup I’ve ever had that comes close is from Kramarczuk’s here in the Twin Cities, a Polish Deli and Sausage Company and surprise, this soup has some of their elements, too. Plus I like to give a shout out to a local business!
This is not a toss in the pot recipe, fair warning, but know that for a cooked from the bone soup, it only really has just two extra steps, both done as the soup cooks. The first is deeply caramelizing the vegetables (onion, carrot, celery) and the second is peeling and cubing a potato.
There are shortcuts to making split pea soup, below but this soup is absolutely worth every minute of time, which is mostly hands off. The main takeaways for this recipe:
- Simmer (do not boil) the ham bone with bay leaves & thyme (for extra flavor, toss in the peelings from the onion, carrot & the celery ends from thee veggies you’ll be caramelizing later) for about 2 1/2 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Giving the pork a headstart is key to every really good recipe using smoked meat on the bone.
- Strain the stock, pick off any meat, which you’ll add back to the soup at the end, and skim stock. This is a good place to stop if you want to refrigerate and remove the solidified fat the next day.
- When ready to make the soup, add the peas & thyme to the stock, simmer 45 minutes, which is a good time to caramelize the carrots, onions, celery, and peel and dice your potatoes; cover the prepared potatoes with water to keep them from browning.
- Caramelize the veggies using my easy, more hands-off method; steam first with a little water & the oil until soft, unlid, allow the liquid to evaporate, add butter, garlic & sugar & cook slowly 25 to 30 minutes till deeply colored.
- That’s not as bad as it sounds; with the butter & oil, you’ll only need to stir every 8 to 10 minutes or so, more at the end as they start to brown but do really take your time with this and it is key to the flavor of the soup.
- Add the caramelized veggies, diced potatoes and ham meat to the soup, simmer 15 to 20 minutes till potatoes are tender and soup is the texture of cream. Add a little water or stock if too thick.
- Taste for salt & pepper and add, serve the soup with balsamic and minced red onions for garnish.
If this is your first time making a real deal soup from a ham bone, you might be surprised that both the soup and the stock will “gel” when refrigerated. No worries; this is normal and it will liquefy as heated. The soup, though, once cool, will need to be thinned with water or stock (or milk for cream of split pea) because it’s really going to tighten up in the fridge.
For food safety reasons, do not shove any large. hot pot of this soup or any thick, dense recipe into the fridge in the pan, especially covered. It will take a long time to cool in the center; divide up into a couple of shallow containers, leave the lid ajar as it cools and cover once cold.
Shortcut Split Pea Soup:
There are four ways to shortcut this soup, though one (making a large pot of ham stock) might not be so much of a shortcut unless it’s been prepared ahead, as it is a time & money saver.
- Add the peas to the stock as the ham bone simmers, when there is one hour left on the time, then continue the recipe as directed, removing the bone and shredding off the meat at the 45-minute mark when the potatoes and caramelized veggies go in. Downside: Shredding the meat is messy and it’s difficult to do any skimming.
- Double this recipe, especially if you have a large, meaty shank end of the ham. No worries, there will still be enough meat to satisfy everyone. Freeze half for later. When thawed the soup will separate; just stir back together. I can’t see any downside to this!
- Make a pot of this ham stock using the recipe for my Best Ham Stock Instant Pot or Stovetop. That long-simmered stock will produce excellent, flavorful stock and enough of it to make two soups. Use about 10 to 11 cups of stock and half of the meat for this soup and start by heating the stock and adding the split peas, bay, and thyme. Adjust amount of stock to desired thickness at the end. Downside: although it’s more economical, and is a time saver in the long run since you’ll have stock to save or freeze for another soup, it takes more time to make the stock with the long-simmered method.
- Use leftover ham and a store-bought stock for a quickie version. Caramelize the veggies or just soften them. Proceed with the recipe, after adding the thyme, bay leaves and split peas to the hot stock. You’ll need about 10 to 11 cups of stock and about 1 1/2 cups diced or shredded ham. Downside: It’s gonna be good, but doesn’t quite compare to a homemade version.
Saving Money on Split Pea Soup:
Like it’s after Holiday Ham counterpart, Navy Bean Soup, Split Pea is downright cheap to make. I last priced Split Pea Soup with Ham in February 2012, for $1.67 for six servings. I might want to update that pricing but it’s really not that much more today, in 2018, providing your ham was brought at a great price.
Since this soup only uses basic grocery store ingredients, especially the veggies, it really is a pittance to make. Shop well for your holiday ham, though! I like to buy more than one ham while they are at a low; a ham keeps for weeks in the fridge and can be frozen. If you’re looking for more ways to use up any ham, see my post, “12 Days of Ham.” It started out with 12 recipes and now has dozens along with a lot of hints on how to handle that Holiday ham after it’s back in the kitchen after your feast.
Split peas, which are actually a “pulse” don’t have the issues that many legumes have as far as needing to be fresh to cook through quickly. Look for them on sale during any holiday where ham is normally served. While they may not always be advertised as on sale, it’s likely you’ll find most of the beans and peas at a discounted price during and/or after the Winter Holidays and before/after Easter. The links will take you to the respective pages detailing out what items to look for during those Holiday Sales periods.
I hope you’ll enjoy this soup as much as our family has! I’ve been making it for decades and it’s truly one of our comfort foods. 🙂 I did update this post and photos in 2019, although it’s been on my site since 2012.Print
Split Pea Soup
- Total Time: abt 4 hours
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings 1x
- Category: Soups
- Cuisine: German, Eastern European
For a little extra flavor, peel the onion and carrot and trim the celery before starting the stock and add them to the stock.
- 1 meaty ham bone
- 3 quarts water
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 pound split peas
- 2 teaspoon to a tablespoon thyme (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, 3/8th inch dice
- 1 large onion, 3/8th inch dice
- 2 stalks celery, 3/8th inch dice
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cloves garlic
- pinch of sugar
- ¾ cup potatoes 1/2″ dice, preferably red, but any will do, peeled (1 large if red, medium if russet)
- salt to taste
- Balsamic vinegar for garmish
- Minced red onion for garnish
Place ham bone, bay leaves and three quarts water in large pan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 2 1/2 hours till tender.
Remove bone and when cool enough to handle, shred meat and set aside. Skim as much fat as possible from the top of the broth. (This is a good place to stop if you’re not making it for tonight’s meal – just refrigerate the broth and skim off any fat that accumulates on the top the next day.)
Add split peas and thyme, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.
While the split peas simmer, caramelize the onion, carrot and celery. Heat oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat and add the vegetables. Stir until all are coated in oil and warm, then add 1/4 cup of water. Place lid on skillet and steam vegetables, checking now and then, until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown on the edges, five to six minutes. Unlid, reduce heat and add the butter, garlic and sugar. Cook slowly, stirring now and then till vegetables reach a deep caramelized color, about 25 to3 20 minutes longer.
After the peas have cooked for about 45 minutes, add in the cooked vegetables, the potatoes, and the shredded ham meat. Reserve a bit of the ham for garnish if desired. Simmer till potatoes are tender and soup is consistency of heavy cream, about 20 more minutes; add a little water or stock if you dave it if too thick. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and add minced red onion, reserved ham, if desired.
- This is a large amount of thyme; if unsure of the flavor, back off and add less.
- Split Pea Soup will thicken and gel in the fridge. Add milk or water when reheating to bring to desired consistency.
- Calories: 394
- Sodium: 364mg
- Fat: 10g
- Carbohydrates: 55g
- Fiber: 21g
- Protein: 25g
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Carrots, celery, Cook's Illustrated, Dried Beans, Freezes Well, Ham, leftover ham, Potatoes, Soup, Split pea
If you came to this recipe looking for a way to use your leftover ham, be sure to check out the link below for more fabulous recipes!