How life does get away from me sometimes.
I've been offline for days. My meals have been simple, formulaic, and unphotogenic in the early evening darkness: brussels sprouts with brown rice; pasta tossed with tomato sauce and mozzarella; simplest turkey soup with a rich stock from Thanksgiving's carcass.
But the clearest sign that things are not as they are supposed to be? Today is the third day of December, and I have not baked a single cookie. No spritz, no shortbread, no gingerbread, no spiced-treacle, no pumpkin. With a full weekend scheduled—my best friend is in town to visit—I don't know if I'll have an opportunity to rectify this situation before my parents come into town mid-week.
Something had to be done to take the edge off, and I declared that something to be yet another pot of soup. In the winter months I cling to soup like it's the only thing to keep me warm (and with no central heat in our southern California home, it's sometimes true). I miss true winter, with icicles and snowmen and big heavy boots and an endless supply of hand knit mittens, gloves and scarves—but without that available to me, I open my doors to the cold coastal air, put on a sweater and make soup.
I had never eaten split pea soup until a few years ago. Split peas were in the "just throw everything in" vegetable soup from my childhood, but the classic split pea was something reserved for restaurants, where it often looked grey, crusty, and altogether unappetizing.
On a whim one winter day five years ago, I pulled out my computer, some cookbooks, and a plastic tub of green legumes, and a few hours later, I was converted.
Often split pea soup is puréed and sieved into a smooth, sauce, but I prefer to mash the soup roughly with a potato masher, leaving a chunkier soup with more body. No one is ever going to claim that split pea soup is a particularly attractive—in fact, I hesitate to even post a picture.
Shall I? Oh, what the heck. Here is is, in all its baby food-like glory.
Split Pea Soup
For some extra flavor, feel free to add diced ham, lardons of bacon, or a hambone where noted below; otherwise, a sprinkle of smoked salt adds some depth to the flavor of a vegetarian soup.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium bunch carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 ½ cups)
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 cup ham, chopped, or 4 ounces of bacon, sliced, or a small hambone (optional)
2 cups dried green split peas
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cups (or more) mild stock or water, or a mixture of the two
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Add the carrots and onions and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the meat, if using, and stir for a few minutes to distribute.
Add the split peas and herbs and stir well, then add the 4 cups stock and/or water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, until the peas are tender and beginning to fall apart, 1 ½ to 2 hours. Add more stock or water by half-cupfuls if the mixture gets dry.
Mash roughly in the pot with a potato masher or big wooden spoon. The soup may be quite thick—add additional stock or water to thin to your tastes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
Serves 4 as a main course or up to 8 as a starter