Sunday, December 23, 2007

Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham

When it comes to Christmas dinner, does tradition dictate most of the meal, or is yours the type of wild and crazy family that changes it up from year to year? When I was growing up, we went the traditional route. Even though sides, desserts and even the location of the meal changed, we always had a baked ham for Christmas Day. Just like we always had a turkey for Thanksgiving. I have to admit that there is some comfort in cooking routines, even though I was never a great fan of the sometimes dry, sometimes salty ham.

One thing I did like about the Christmas ham, however, was the yellow split pea soup my mom made with the leftovers. To make good split pea soup, you really need to have a ham bone to flavor the broth. All those little leftover pieces of meat can be added at the end to make a substantial, creamy soup infused with the flavor of pork--serious comfort food.

Mike and I don't have a traditional meal we eat every Christmas, but this year we decided to give the baked ham another shot. But instead of having it for Christmas dinner, we baked our ham a couple weeks ago and have been loving the leftovers, especially this Golden Split Pea Soup. Ham really shines in leftovers--think sandwiches, omelets, frittatas or pasta dishes. My mom had an aversion to green split peas, and no wonder--the brownish-green color of a green split pea soup isn't exactly appetizing. The yellow ones, on the other hand, are just as easy to find and result in an inviting, cheery-hued soup.

For this recipe I turned to Cook's Illustrated and adapted a version on their website. It's easy and so, so good. You just simmer the ham bone to create a smoky broth, then cook the split peas until nearly dissolved and creamy, along with some potatoes. Caramelized aromatic veggies are added at the end, along with leftover ham pieces. It is of course even better a day or two later, as it thickens further and the flavors develop. Whether or not you usually eat ham for Christmas, it is perfectly fine to get one for the sole purpose of using the leftovers in recipes like this.

Onions, carrots, celery and garlic--caramelized and buttery.

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Golden Split Pea and Ham Soup

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
You don't have to pick the ham bone clean. Just trim off the large pieces of fat and all the nice chunks of meat you'll want to add to the finished soup. Sauteeing the vegetables separately and adding them at the end allows them to retain their texture and caramelized flavor.

Serves 4-5

3 quarts water
Bone from a baked half-ham or ham shank
3 dried Turkish bay leaves
14 oz. yellow split peas, rinsed and picked through
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, plus a pinch
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 tbs. unsalted butter
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups new potatoes cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 to 2 cups ham cut into bite-sized pieces
Optional Garnishes: fresh thyme, diced red onion and/or balsamic vinegar for serving

Bring the water, ham bone and bay leaves to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove bone from pot and discard. Add the split peas, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook, stirring frequently for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the liquid they release evaporates. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of dried thyme. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until vegetables are deeply browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter and garlic, cook for 3 minutes and set aside.

After the potatoes have simmered for 15 minutes, add the vegetables and ham pieces to the soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Skim any fat off the surface if desired. Taste for seasoning and serve.


Kristen said...

I love how versatile ham can be. This looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

I was searching for a ham & pea soup for leftovers and settled on your recipe because it sounded delicious. I was very pleased with the end result, a very tasty soup, the veg. gave it some texture and the garlic provided a lovely freshness. I'll certainly keep this recipe on file.

Julie said...

Anonymous: Thanks you for letting me know how it turned out! I'm glad it was what you were looking for. I'm anxious to make this soup again for myself!

Soup George said...

I made this soup with left over ham from thanksgiving. The family loved it so much I had to purchase another ham just a few weeks later just for the leftovers to make this soup again. GREAT recipe and well worth trying.