Split pea and ham is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s rich, delicious, and easy to make. It also uses the inexpensive ham hock and a short list of ingredients we usually have on-hand, so it’s a very cheap meal with plenty of leftovers.
The sugar in this recipe caramelizes the juices of the vegetables, perfectly offsetting the salty-smokiness of the ham, and creating a heart-warming comfort food. The vinegar brings a brightening acid.
Split Pea and Ham Soup
2-1/2 Lbs smoked ham hock, whole
4 qts water
1 bay leaf
1 T neutral oil, such as vegetable or avocado
2 large yellow onions, chopped medium
3 ribs of celery with leaves, sliced 1/4-in. thick
3 carrots, sliced 1/4-in. thick
1 T sugar
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Lb split peas, rinsed and picked through
3 waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold, in 1/2-in. dice
1 t dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
In a large pot, add the ham hock, water and bay leaf, and bring the water to a simmer. Reduce to very low, cover, and simmer for 2-1/2 hours. Remove the ham hock and place in a bowl to cool. Reserve the broth in another pot or bowl, and discard the bay leaf. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, pick the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the fat, skin, and bones.
Meanwhile, in the original pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and cook until they’re becoming translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the carrots and celery. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the sugar. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, for 15 minutes until a brown crust forms and the vegetables are tender. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Return the broth that the ham hocks simmered in to the pot and scrape the bottom well. Return to a simmer over medium-low, then add the split peas. Cook the peas until they are just tender, about 20 minutes. Then add the potatoes, ham and thyme. Cook until the potatoes are very tender and some of the peas are beginning to dissolve, thickening the soup. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
Serve in bowls with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.