When I was in college, I was a vegetarian, and that is when I discovered this amazing split pea soup. The recipe came from Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two. I only ever made delicious and delightful things from both Book One and Book Two. My copies are falling apart and full of stains and splashes and memories. I have loved everything I have made from these wonderful books.
Over the decades that I have been making this soup, I have made only a few tweaks, but I have learned lots. In fact, I have learned something that I wish I would have known right from the start: if your split peas don’t start to fall apart and become velvety after about 45 minutes of simmering, they are a bad batch!!! Some say, “Just boil them longer!” Nope. This doesn’t work, plus, who has time to wait and wait and wait for hours, just to be disappointed by split peas that will never become tender?
Why, you ask, would split peas be bad? Well, they might just be old. If you dig around in your cupboard and find a bag of split peas that has been there since you moved in, use those in your kid’s sensory table or craft bin. They will be useless for cooking. Also, if you buy split peas in the bulk section of your grocery store, they may have been there for a while, exposed to moisture in the air, so those are risky. Buy the packaged split peas, and check the expiration date. The fresher the peas, the better. Even with these precautions, you might still end up with a bad batch. It happened to me just last week. If you have a good batch, your split peas, after about an hour of simmering, should look like this.
I also have other little tricks and techniques that I will share with you, if you don’t know them already. So here is how to make a velvety, luscious split pea soup, adapted from Anna Thomas’ version.
Sort and rinse a pound of split peas… I used to spread them out on a cookie sheet to sort and make sure there were no rocks or other odd items, but now I slowly pour them into my hand, and let them fall through my fingers into a large stock pot, eyeballing every one to make sure it’s not a rock. Do this, then add water and swish it around and pour the water out. Do the swishing and rinsing three times. The fourth time, add four quarts of cold tap water and put the stock pot over high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and skim the foam off the top with a slotted spoon and discard. Stir every now and then to prevent peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Let the peas simmer for about 45 minutes. If they are not falling apart and starting to make a green cloud of velvety-ness, if they are still almost completely whole, like they don’t care that you have been simmering them all that time, you must change your plans and order out. Or pull leftovers out of the fridge.
But, if all is going well, keep those peas gently simmering in a stock pot on a back burner, and get out a nice heavy-bottomed soup pot – I like to use my Le Creuset dutch oven – put it over medium heat and pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil in to heat up. If you don’t need this soup to be vegan, you can use two tablespoons of butter instead… you know that’s what I do.
Now add 1 cup finely chopped onions. Here is my chopping onion trick to not get stinging eyes, and it works like a charm! Every second that you are chopping these onions, breathe through your mouth. Don’t even breathe through your nose one time to check and make sure you still can. Don’t even swallow, because it’s hard to swallow and not breathe through your mouth, if not impossible. Do this in private if you have to, but really, it works! And be quick about it.
And here’s my other trick about onions. Even though I can chop them without crying, I still don’t like chopping onions. Shhhhhh. I find that a good sized onion will make about two cups chopped, so I just put the other cup of chopped onions into a baggie and freeze them for the next time I need them. Yay! I love that trick. Sometimes I end up with several baggies of frozen chopped onion in the freezer, but I always end up using them.
Next, add one and a half cups chopped carrots and a half cup chopped celery to the pot (sorry, no picture, but I think you know what that looks like). And drum roll please… here is the most exciting ingredient in this fabulous soup…. add one cup of peeled and chopped white fleshed sweet potato. This makes your soup stand out from the others. Fantastic!
I’m pretty sure it’s the “Hannah” sweet potato that I use. Just make sure it has white flesh. If you can’t find that kind of sweet potato, you can substitute a Yukon Gold potato, which is on the sweet side. The potato is what helps to create the velvety quality of this soup.
Oh, and another trick? If you have an annoying cutting board that swivels around when you are using it, put a tea towel underneath it to keep it from moving. My friend Johanna taught me that trick. She is magic in the kitchen.
Stir the veggies and let them simmer for about ten minutes, until tender.
Now add 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, and 1 teaspoon cumin powder. And also 1 clove crushed garlic. Another trick? Place the clove on a cutting board or steady surface. Place a knife blade flat on top of the clove, and bang once with the heel of your hand. This breaks the clove and makes the garlic so easy to peel! Don’t show this picture to dear husband. It will make him nervous.
Stir veggies and herbs and cook another five minutes or so.
In the original recipe, it says to now add the veggies to the stock pot, but I really like every speck of deliciousness that has accumulated in the veggie pot, so I choose to just pour in (carefully!) the split peas and water into the dutch oven. You can use a ladle to do this if you are worried about splashing.
Let it simmer for another 45 minutes or so. Now, if you don’t have an immersion blender, I must beg you to go and get one. Borrow one from your neighbor. Just get one. It is one of the best kitchen inventions ever. Using your immersion blender, blend the soup until it is the consistency you like.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can ladle some of the soup into a blender or food processor to purée it, and then add it back in. Keep doing that until you get it to the right consistency.
The soup will be sweet, so add about one and half teaspoons salt (or to taste) and some fresh cracked pepper. The original recipe called for white wine as well, but I find it delicious as is, so I don’t add the wine. This soup is fabulous served with a good crusty bread.
Or if you didn’t plan ahead, you can always whip up some biscuits to go with it.
This soup, like most soups, is wonderful as leftovers. Even better than the first day. Store the extra in your fridge (use within a week) or in the freezer (should be fine for up to three months). When reheating, you will find that the soup has thickened a LOT. Thin it with broth or water to the consistency you like.
Finally, as an afterthought, I just wanted to say that I think this soup is beautiful. You can leave it not fully puréed, so that you have mini specks of orange and white, or you can fully purée it. Either way, I love the ruddy green color and velvety smooth texture. It is much different than what you might be used to. You can also add tiny cubes of ham to it if you like. Add them at the end, reheat, and serve. They will add a nice burst of salty, smoky flavor. Garnish with toasted pine nuts or pepitas… you know, be creative! Or just enjoy it plain, as I usually do.
Here is what you will need to make this soup, aside from a large stock pot, a heavy bottomed soup pot, and an immersion blender or regular blender:
- One pound (16 oz) split peas
- 4 quarts cool tap water
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1.5 cups diced carrots
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced white fleshed sweet potato or yukon gold potato
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried marjoram
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 clove garlic
- 1.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper (or to taste)