It’s Split Pea Soup Week!
We’re past Election Day and looking ahead to Thanksgiving. Nov. 13 through Nov. 19 is Split Pea Soup Week. This delicious, nutritious, creamy soup has been celebrated each November since 1969.
Exactly what are split peas? And what is the difference between fresh English or green peas, split peas and lentils?
Both split peas and lentils are legumes. Both are good sources of protein, fiber, carbohydrates and folic acid, and low in fat. Legumes like peas can help lower blood glucose and are beneficial to diabetics. Diets high in fiber can help you lose weight and help prevent some chronic diseases.
Lentils are the dried seeds of the lentil plant. Split peas are field peas, Pisum Sativum, grown for drying rather than eating fresh. There are two types: green and yellow. Green peas are sweeter, while yellow peas are starchy. The green ones are the same variety as the tender English green pea.
Peas and lentils were one of the earliest cultivated vegetables. Lentils are mentioned in the Bible, and peas have been found in Thailand caves that are over 11,000 years old. Both peas and lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs that were built 4,000 years ago. Today, most American peas and lentils are grown in the hills of northern Idaho and eastern Washington state.
Split peas probably originated in Asia. Today they’re common throughout the world. Common dishes made with split peas include Dahl, a stew common in India. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In the Middle Ages, pease pudding or porridge was common fare among the poor in England. Today, split pea soup is a popular soup throughout the British Isles and North America.
Fresh peas are dried, then the outer skin is removed. The peas are split along the natural split in the seed’s cotyledon, or embryonic leaf, for quicker cooking. This can be done by hand or by machine.
Pease porridge or pease pudding pre-dates split-pea soup. As the old nursery rhyme says, “Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold, Pease pudding in the pot nine days old. Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot, nine days old.”
This simple 14th-century English dish was made with cooked split peas, herbs, and spices. Those who were able added ham or bacon and carrots or onions. It was a paste, pate or hummus-type consistency that could be easily spread on bread. Or it could be eaten hot, like a thick soup.
The simplest split pea soup is just that — a more liquid version of the pudding. It calls for ham, split peas, onions, carrots, herbs and spices. When the peas cook, they become mushy on their own, so blending is optional. This simple, easy dish can be spiffed up in many ways.
You can doctor up your soup with different herbs and seasonings or a variety of vegetables. You can add greens, like kale or Swiss chard. You can make it vegetarian, or you can add ham or bacon for a smoky flavor.
Or top your soup with potatoes, chives and sour cream; or chopped apples and walnuts; cooked crumbled sausage, ham or bacon; sauerkraut; mustard; fresh herbs like dill, parsley or sage — your imagination is the key!
1 cup dried split peas
2 cups broth or water
Salt & pepper to taste
A dash of ground ginger (optional) — this helps preserve the color of the peas
1 or 2 Tablespoons malt or balsamic or cider vinegar, or to taste
Cream or butter or crisp crumbled bacon, for serving.
Rinse peas and pick out any other objects, like pebbles. Cover with water and leave to soak overnight.
Drain peas. Place peas, broth or water, salt and pepper in saucepan; the liquid should be about 1 inch above the peas. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cook until peas are soft, about 45 minutes to an 1 hour. Check occasionally to make sure they still have liquid. Taste and adjust seasonings.
When peas are soft and liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and cool slightly. Use an immersion blender to blend the peas, or puree in batches in a regular blender. You can also use a potato masher to mash them. Taste; season with the vinegar and additional salt and pepper to your taste.
The pudding will thicken as it cools. Use as a hummus or sandwich filling; you can add ham or sauteed onions to the sandwich for more flavor. Or eat with a spoon like a pudding; top with cream, crumbled bacon or butter.
Variation: add 1 diced onion and 1 diced carrot to cooking peas. Also a bay leaf can be added for flavor; remove before serving.
If you make a large enough batch, you can add this split pea pudding to baked goods like muffins, breads and cookies to increase their nutritional value.
Simple, Classic Split Pea Soup (with variations)
This basic version will keep you warm and cozy during Split Pea Soup Week. You can augment and doctor it up for a variety of split pea soup dishes.
1 or 2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 or 2 carrots
1 or 2 stalks celery
1 clove garlic, optional
1 or 2 potatoes, optional
A little salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 lb. split peas (2 1/3 cups)
6 to 8 cups broth or water
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 ham hock or smoked pork shank or some diced ham (omit for vegetarian soup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)
Heat oil in bottom of soup kettle. Peel and dice the onion, and add. Wash and slice carrot and celery (and garlic and potato if using) , and add. Sprinkle with a little salt, cover and cook 5 to 10 minutes.
Add peas, broth, bay leaves and ham hock (and potatoes if using). Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until peas are very tender and creamy and ham is cooked. This should take a little over an hour or maybe an hour and a half.
Remove the ham. Cut off the meat, chop and stir it back into the soup (discard the bone, fat, skin etc.) Remove bay leaf.
Taste; adjust seasonings, adding salt, pepper and possibly a little quality vinegar.
Option: Add fresh greens (like kale or collards) in the last 20 minutes of cooking.
Split pea soup variations:
Italian: Add canned diced tomatoes, Italian sausage instead of ham, basil, and garlic; garnish with fresh minced parsley and Parmesan.
Mexican: Add corn and chili peppers.
Greek: Stir in yogurt at the end, and garnish with olives and feta.
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached by email at email@example.com. Twitter: @yvonawrites.