When planning ahead for a holiday feast you would do well to also plan for the leftovers. If you’ve had turkey as your centrepiece recently, turkey soup, pot pies and sandwiches are usually the go-to ways to enjoy the feast to the last morsel. This year we had a large family dinner so decided to serve a ham as well. And whenever we have a ham, we follow it up with split pea soup.
French-Canadian Habitant Pea soup is the best way to finish off the ham once and for all; it uses up all the scraps of meat, bone and all, it’s inexpensive, hearty and delicious. Served with homemade oatmeal molasses bread it is one of our favourite winter dinners. For dessert, how about chomeur? Is this possibly the most Canadian menu of all time?
Split peas are simply processed dried peas, the common pea, pisum sativum. They are dried and mechanically cut in half along their natural split. You will see them as either yellow or green varieties but they are both varieties of the same plant. Yellow peas have the dominant gene and green are recessive, so the reason for buying one over the other is largely subjective, a matter of appearance. That being said, some folks consider the yellow pea to have a milder taste than the green pea which is often described as sweeter, or possessing more “pea” flavor. In keeping with the theme, I like to split them down the middle; whenever I cook with them I use a 50-50 yellow/green mix.
Peas, incidentally, are really good for you, packed with energy and protein and very little fat. This is great news as I would eat them anyway. A half cup (100g/3.5 ounces) of dried, split peas offer 341 calories, real stick-to-your-ribs food. The same amount also gives you a whopping 25g of protein, 26g of dietary fibre, 60g of carbohydrate and gives you over 30% of your daily requirement of iron, 61% RDA of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) a third of your RDA od Vitamin B5 and 69% of your daily requirement of Vitamin B9. And only 1 g of fat, hello, so the fat from the ham and ham hock are actually welcome. Add to that the goodness from the onion and carrots that you will add to the soup and you have a soup that is a nutritional powerhouse. No wonder it has been warming hearts and fuelling Québécois/e for eons!
Making Split-Pea soup is super easy, but it does take a little while. If you start it in the afternoon and let it slow cook it will be ready for dinner. This is great because you can make your bread while the soup slowly cooks. Some recipes call for you to soak the peas overnight then boil them before using them for your recipe, but this is not necessary. As we all know, a great stock comes from slow cooking the bones in their broth or water for a good 3 hours. This is plenty of time for the fat and meat and collagen in the ham joint to break down and add their essence and nutrients to the stock, and plenty of time for the split peas to soften and completely break down, no pulverizing or immersion blender needed. Just a little stir every now and then, and as it thickens make sure the thick peas are not sticking to and collecting on the bottom of the pot.
One further note; make sure your pot is large enough to completely cover the ham bone! You will see in the photos that I started this soup in one pot, but had to switch to a larger pot once I added the bone!
Split Pea Soup
1 tablespoon lard
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
I large ham bone
8 cups water
2 ½ cups split peas
4 bay leaves
optional: 1 or two cups small ham pieces.
salt and pepper to season
In a large pot over medium heat melt the lard. Add onion and carrots and celery and sauteé until onion is soft. Add ham bone and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and stir in the split peas. Lower heat to a simmer and add bay leaves. Let simmer for about an hour. Once peas start to break down reduce heat to low and add chopped ham pieces if so desired, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so. Lots of water goes into breaking down the peas, and a fair amount is lost to evaporation over the 3 hours cooking time, so if your soup appears to be getting too thick for your liking stir in water to desired thickness. But remember, it is supposed to be thick, right? Also, avoid adding any salt until you taste the soup towards the end of cooking, there is likely enough salt courtesy of the ham. Serve with thick slices of molasses bread and butter.