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Bacon breaks with split pea soup's traditional ham

“It smells so good!”

That’s the verdict for homemade soup on the stove, a meal that my kids request on a fairly regular basis. Stirring the pot involves them in the process, and they usually rave about what they’ve made.

Campbell’s it’s not. Our most recent recipe incorporated North African spices for a take on Morocco’s harira, a lentil soup that can incorporate beans, rice or angel hair pasta, depending on the provenance.

I skipped the rice in our regular recipe and instead simmered finely chopped cauliflower florets in the mixture for a nutritional boost. While distinctly flavored with cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and turmeric, the dish wasn’t spicy on the kids’ palates, and they conferred high praise on the results.

I often find myself reaching for lentils on nights when I haven’t allocated much time for dinner preparation. Needing no presoaking, unlike beans, lentils are tender in about 30 minutes of cooking.

In the same vein are split peas. In fact, what many people call yellow lentils actually are a type of split pea. I prefer the larger, earthier green split peas, which cook in roughly the same amount of time.

Although ham is traditional in split pea soup, I like to start my recipe by rendering some bacon or — more affordable — bacon ends in the pot, then scooping out the crisped meat and reserving it as a crunchy garnish. Then I saute all the aromatics in the bacon fat remaining in the pot.

Any kind of homemade or packaged stock works in this recipe from Tribune News Service, in lieu of its instructions for ham stock. But if you happen to have a ham bone, it’s a fitting use for it. For my family, ham bones typically materialize in another month or so after the Christmas feast. But I don’t think we’ll wait that long before making a batch of this hearty, homey soup with chicken or turkey stock.

Split Pea Soup

For stock:

Ham bone

3 carrots, cut in chunks

3 or 4 ribs of celery, with leaves, cut in several pieces

1 large onion, cut in quarters

1 to 2 teaspoons peppercorns

2 bay leaves

For soup:

3 carrots, peeled and diced (or more)

1 large onion, peeled and diced (or more)

4 ribs of celery, diced (or more)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 (16-ounce) bag split peas, picked over and rinsed

2 cups chopped ham

Fill a large pot with 20 cups water and add the ham bone, carrot chunks, celery and onion. Add the peppercorns and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for at least an hour and up to 2 hours, watching level of water, adding more water if level drops too much. (Liquid will reduce by about half if you simmer it for 2 hours.)

Remove soup pot from heat and carefully strain out solid ingredients, discarding them. Refrigerate stock (put a potholder under hot bowl in cold refrigerator).

Once stock is cool, lift off fat that has solidified on top of soup and discard it. Begin to warm stock over medium heat.

Meanwhile, sauté the diced carrots, onion and celery in the oil for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add cooked vegetables to stock, along with the split peas, and bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer soup for about 30 minutes, or until peas are soft. Add the chopped ham in last 10 minutes or so.

If you prefer soup pureed, use a blender to puree a few cups at a time. If you like a little texture in soup, skip that step.

Makes 8 servings.

Tribune News Service photo