A week or two ago, my friend Kelly Sue asked for a split pea soup recipe. I told her about my version, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually made a pot of split pea soup in far too long. I knew there was a bag of split peas lurking in the back of the cupboard somewhere, so I resolved to dig it out and cook a batch of soup for our meatless Monday dinner.
This is not a “recipe” per se, but rather the basic method I use for most of the bean or legume soups I do. I always start with a base of onion and carrot, diced and sautéed in your lipid of choice (generally olive oil or butter in our kitchen). Since I had the last of a bunch of celery in the crisper, I chopped that up and added it as well. The chopped veggies go into the hot fat in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a pinch of kosher or sea salt, then cook over medium heat until they are beginning to get tender. If you want to add garlic, do so now and let it go for just a minute until golden and fragrant, then and add your split peas (or lentils or soaked beans or canned/drained/rinsed beans). Add a bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme and cover with liquid. The amount of liquid will vary depending on how many peas/beans/whatever you use, and how brothy you like your soup – I used five cups of homemade chicken stock to my 1.5 cups of dried split peas. Vegetable stock, canned or boxed broth or even plain water all work well.
Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the peas/beans/whatever are tender – about 45 minutes to an hour, in this case. Fish out the bay leaf and thyme stems, taste and adjust the salt if necessary. At this point I generally add a dash or three of hot sauce, and since I wanted a little hit of acidity to balance the earthiness of the split peas, I splashed a couple of teaspoons of sherry vinegar into last night’s version. If you want to guild the lily even more, a dollop of crème fraiche added at the end is lovely.
Some people like pork in their pea soup. If that’s what I want I generally go with pancetta, half a pound, thick-sliced, diced into about 3/4- to 1-inch pieces and sautéed in a small amount of olive oil before the onion and carrot go into the pan. The rendered pancetta fat then becomes part of the cooking fat and gives a subtle porky flavor to soup.
As with most soups, a green salad, some crusty bread and a nice glass of wine (or three, if you’re glued to coverage of the latest political scandal while dining) are all you need to round out your meal, and the flavor of the soup is even better the next day.