There's nothing better than a thick split pea soup, redolent of smoked ham and caramelized onions on a bleak winter day. But while the rich soup may warm your body and soul, most split pea soups look a bit like the inside of a soiled diaper. Nauseating metaphors aside, have you ever looked at a bowl of split pea soup and thought "Wow, that's a pretty bowl of soup"?
Split peas, are simply dried green peas that have had their outer membranes removed. Before refrigeration, drying was a great way to preserve peas for use in winter, but now that frozen green peas are sold just about anywhere I started to wonder if making split-pea soup from dried peas still made sense. There's the color issue, but beyond that, dried peas lack the sweetness of fresh ones and take longer to cook.
It's with this thought that I set out to try and make a "split pea" soup using fresh peas. The goal: to make a soup that has all the flavor and richness of a more traditional split pea soup but with a more appetizing color. Like most soups, this one starts off with a few aromatics like onions, celery and carrots.
But as we learned in elementary school, mixing orange and green doesn't make a very pretty color. That's why I skipped the carrots in favor of a more analogous palette of greens and whites. By lightly caramelizing the onions and celery, we're able to coax out some flavor and sweetness without turning the soup brown.
After the aromatics are tender and fragrant, I added some homemade ham stock along with some frozen peas. On my first attempt, I simply heated this mixture and then blended it. The resulting soup was vibrant green with a light texture and verdant flavor that was more refreshing than comforting. Not a bad thing, but also not split pea soup.
That's why I decided to cook the peas longer on the subsequent attempts. As you might expect, the longer cooking time dulls the color, but you still get a vibrant moss green soup that looks infinitely more appetizing than its dried counterpart. With time for the peas to tenderize, and the flavors to meld, the soup itself becomes rich and flavorful with a mild sweetness imbued by the fresh peas.
Served with some finely diced ham and crusty bread, this fresh split-pea soup has all the comforting flavors and textures of the original, with a mood-brightening color to boot. As an added bonus, this soup comes together in about half the time of the original.
If you want to make this vegan, or simply lighter, substitute some vegetable stock for the ham stock. A little nutritional yeast can be added for umami and if you want to make it creamier, just add some soy milk.
- Add the butter, celery and onion into a pot and saute until the onions are soft and just starting to brown, but do not caramelize them completely. While fully caramelizing will produce more flavor it will make your soup brown.
- Add the peas and ham stock. Simmer until the peas are tender. 15-20 minutes.
- Pour the soup into a blender and carefully blend. You can adjust the texture of the soup by the length of time you blend it (longer = more creamy, shorter = more chunky).
- Adjust the salt to taste. My ham stock was very low sodium so I added about 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with diced ham. The smaller you dice the ham, the better it will float on top of the soup.