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Split pea soup: A seriously simple, satisfying standby

By Diane Rossen Worthington, Tribune Media Services

This article was originally published January 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Updated January 16, 2013 at 10:50 a.m.

Split pea soup is an inexpensive and easy dish to prepare and is a go-to dish during cold days and evenings.

Split pea soup was a favorite during my college days — inexpensive, filling and straightforward to prepare. I liked to add smoked bacon and lots of carrots. I may not be a college girl anymore, but I still feel the same way about split pea soup — it’s a satisfying soup for cold days and evenings. I prefer using yellow peas, which I find to be prettier to look at and more delicate in flavor than the green variety. They are a perfect backdrop for more assertive ingredients like bacon and spices.

Split peas are actually a pea variety grown specifically for drying. They are often used for soup making because they act as a thickener and almost fall apart as they cook. Unlike beans, split peas don’t need soaking, making this soup a perfect Seriously Simple soup standby. Split Pea Soup With Yam and Cumin includes the sweet yam, along with the aromatic and bold cumin flavor. You’ll be surprised at how harmonious these flavors are together. If you add more broth and thin it out, you could serve this soup as a first course. This is a family standard at our house on cold days.

The other version below, Yellow Split Pea Soup With Mushrooms and Smoked Turkey, is definitely fit for a main course on a cold day. This simple soup has a couple of surprises: smoked turkey instead of the usual ham and a garnish of shredded sugar-snap or Chinese peas for a garden-sweet crunch. Most of the turkey goes in right before serving, so the texture is preserved.

Whichever soup you choose, make sure to serve it alongside a bright-green salad tossed with toasted pine nuts, sweet cherry tomatoes and an assertive lemon vinaigrette. Bread is a must for this rustic hearty meal. Depending upon my mood, I might accompany this with warm crusty French or sourdough rolls, thick slices of whole wheat bread or even cheese bread. A glass of a Rhone varietal like Syrah or Shiraz will bring it all together. Serve sliced pears and sharp cheddar cheese for a perfect ending.

Helpful hints:

• Check for and discard pebbles, then rinse the split peas in a large strainer before cooking.

• Add extra fresh herbs to freshen the flavor.

• Use green split peas instead of the yellow, and add a 10-ounce package of frozen peas after the split peas are cooked.

• To make this a vegetarian soup, use vegetable broth, omit meat, and for a smoky flavor, add some chipotle or ancho chile powder or chipotle puree.

• For added flavor, add a peeled and diced parsnip or winter squash when you add the carrot.

• These soups may be prepared up to four days in advance and refrigerated. You may also freeze the soup. Make sure to adjust the seasonings and add fresh herbs when you reheat the frozen soup.

Split Pea Soup With Yam and Cumin

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, sliced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 medium yam, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cup yellow or green split peas, rinsed and picked over

8 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 bacon slices or small ham hock

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Garnish

6 strips bacon

Directions:

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onion for 3 to 5 minutes or until softened. Add the celery, carrots and yam, and saute for another 3 minutes or until just slightly softened.

Add the split peas, broth, bacon slices or ham hock, salt and cumin, and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. Partially cover and cook for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until the peas are tender. Remove the bacon slices or ham hock.

While the soup is cooking, place the bacon strips in a skillet on medium-high heat and cook until crisp on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel and drain. Break into pieces and reserve.

When the soup is finished cooking, coarsely puree the soup with a hand blender right in the pot just until the desired texture is reached. Taste for seasoning.

To serve: Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with the crisp bacon pieces. Serve immediately. Refrigerate or freeze any leftover soup.

Yellow Split Pea Soup With Mushrooms and Smoked Turkey

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 celery rib, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 medium yellow pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 cup yellow split peas, cleaned and picked over

1/2 pound smoked turkey, coarsely chopped

6 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 pound sugar snap or Chinese peas, cleaned and thinly sliced

Garnish

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Fresh thyme leaves

Directions:

Heat the oil on medium heat in a 6-quart soup pot. Saute the onion for 3 to 5 minutes or until softened. Add the celery, carrots, mushrooms and yellow pepper, and saute for another 2 minutes or until slightly softened.

Add the split peas, 1/4 cup of the smoked turkey, broth and fresh herbs, and bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Partially cover and cook for about 50 to 60 minutes.

Coarsely puree the soup in the pan using a hand blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the remaining turkey, salt and black pepper and return to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Just before serving, add the sliced snow peas and heat through. Serve immediately garnished with the fresh herbs.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 20 cookbooks, including her most recent, Seriously Simple Parties (Chronicle Books, 2012), and is a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. Contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.

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