What's for Dinner? Hearty but Healthy Split Pea and Ham Soup

The perfect solution to Thanksgiving excess would be to reschedule it to late July. That way, we wouldn’t feel so bad eating salad in the days that follow to compensate for all that overindulgence…

Sadly, Thanksgiving is not a summer festival, and the wintry skies and icy winds that follow Turkey Day demand even more comfort food: more pies, more heavy sauces, more carbs, more-of-the-same.

So here’s something to give thanks for: a hearty, satisfying Split Pea and Ham soup that is actually something very healthy in disguise.

This soup’s rich, comforting texture easily allowed me to smuggle its healthy goodness past my pea-refusnik children who each ate a bowl…. although I have an inkling that the buttery, salty, crispy croutons I served with it might have something to do with that…

6 generous helpings

  • 1 lb (2 1/4 cups) green split peas
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 tbsp butter and 1 tbspolive oil
  • 1 well-rinsed ham hocks (or you could make the cheats’ version and use a few rashers of bacon – you lose a lot of the depth of flavor, but nevertheless it still makes a good soup)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional garnish – small toasted croutons, chopped parsley or thyme

Start by heating the butter and a glug of olive oil in a 4 quart pan. Once the butter has melted. Fry the onions on a gentle heat until they are translucent. If you are using bacon, now’s a good time to add the small pieces and fry for a few minutes.

In the meantime, pick over the peas and remove any stones and then wash and drain them. Add the peas to the pan along with the carrots, herbs and 2 1/2 quarts of water. At this point, I usually add the ham hocks as they give the soup a smoky, comfort-food richness.

Bring to a simmer. Skim the scum off the top of the soup for several minutes, until the scum ceases to rise. Cover loosely and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, basically until the peas are tender. Stir occasionally so the peas do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Remove the ham hocks—if you used them—from the soup and purée everything that’s left in a blender, remembering to always take care with hot liquids in the blender.

Return the puréed soup to the pot and heat to serve. Season it generously and then lovingly ladle it into warm bowls and garnish with croutons and parsley or thyme.

A good tip is to keep the ham hocks, cut away the outer skin and remove the meat from the bones. Dice the meat and serve with the soup.

To make toasted croutons:

Take 2 or 3 slices of day-old French or Italian loaf bread (but any old bread will do – use what you have), cut into cubes. Let dry out a bit (can put in 200 degree oven for 10 minutes to help dry). Melt a tablespoon or two of butter on medium high heat in a large skillet. When hot, add the bread cubes, spread out in a single layer. Let toast on one side and then turn to other sides. Add more butter if necessary. Alternatively you can toss the cubed bread with olive oil and let toast in a 350°F oven until lightly browned.

I swear I saw a few snowflakes in Baristaville yesterday, and that reminded me that Thanksgiving is not a summer holiday. Luckily, I have the antidote in a bowl.

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