Most people, at least those of us here on the East Coast, would associate split pea soup with winter but I am making this on a warm spring day. Split pea soup is usually made with a smoked ham hock with the hock contributing its smoky flavor to the soup as it cooks. When the peas are soft, you remove the ham, remove the meat from the bone, shred it, and return it to the soup. I had some leftover ham to use up so I omitted the ham hock, adding the diced ham at the end of cooking. Preparing it without the ham hock makes a case for making a vegetarian version of the soup. If you miss the smoky flavor, you could add some mild Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton).
There are green and yellow varieties of split peas. Use whichever you like. I was raised on the green variety. Split peas are high in protein and fiber. Perhaps that’s why General Sir Arthur William Currie decided that pea soup was the perfect food to feed his French-Canadian troops during World War I, resulting in the French-Canadians being called “pea soups” by the English soldiers. The nickname still prevails. Pea soup runs deep with the Quebecois. (And that's this week's CanCon, accomplished without having to resort to Rush or Gordon Lightfoot).
Split Pea Soup, with or without (the ham, that is)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
2 ribs celery, diced
1 ½ cups split peas
6 cups water
olive oil, for cooking
1 small smoked ham hock
salt and ground black pepper
1. Place a 3 quart sauce pot (or similar) onto the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, swirl two tablespoons olive oil into the pan. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and stir. Season the vegetables with some salt. Cook the vegetables for 4 to 5 minutes to begin softening the onions; lower the heat if necessary.
2. Pick over the split peas to look for any stray bits then rinse the peas under cold water in a colander. Add the split peas to the pot and stir them into the vegetables. Add the cold water and the ham hock (if using). Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook the split peas for 30 to 40 minutes until they have softened. If you are using a ham hock, remove it from the soup and let it cool before shredding the meat away from the bone. At this point if you have an immersion blender you could puree the soup, either a little or almost completely, depending on your preference. Return the ham to the soup. Taste for seasonings; add salt and ground black pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, it can easily be thinned with some additional water. And a little hot sauce is a good option, too.
I know this soup is right at home on a winter’s night, but it’s perfect on an spring evening.