We had our second snowfall of the season this week in Paris, which once again, blanketed the entire city with a stunning layer of snow. It illuminated what was previously gray and drab, and brightened things up when everyone’s spirits were beginning to sag. Still, a number of people were miffed about it, wishing that winter was over for good. But for once, I didn’t join the chorus of râleurs and seemed to be the lone voice of dissent (“Pas de fraternité, Daveed!”) and basked in the icy crystals spreading light everywhere, covering up a multitude of sins, and gave me a rejuvenating view of Paris.
In addition to a blanket of politesse that also enveloped the city – drivers slowed down, people yielded to others hobbling and sliding around on icy sidewalks – snow and winter also means soup to me. I had picked up a package of locally grown split peas which sounded like a good idea when I got them in the fall. And sure enough, they came in handy this week when the temperatures fell and I needed something warm to keep me going.
Split pea soup one of my favorite soups, which I started making way back in my vegetarian days. But now that I eat meat, I like the smoky flavor that bacon gives the soup. But its simplicity is also what makes it an attractive recipe: You basically sauté a bunch of ingredients in one big soup pot, add the split peas, and let it simmer. And within an hour, you’ll be ladling soups into bowls.
I’ve always been a big fan of this soup, in spite of the lingering question that I’ve been unable to answer: To blend? Or not to blend? Well, that all depends. Some soups benefit from being velvety smooth, but I don’t know if Split Pea is one of them. I like it to have some texture, and to see – and taste – a few little bits of carrots and bacon in the thick liquid, here and there.
Speaking of thick, years ago a friend of mine’s Norwegian grandmother told me that split pea soup should be so thick that you should be able to slice it with a knife. I don’t know about that, but I sometimes like it so thick that a spoon will practically stand up in it. Either way, it’s a wonderfully hearty soup, perfect (and easy) to make, when the weather is cold and frosty and you want to huddle over the stove a bit.
The best accompaniment to this soup du jour is good bread and cheese, preferably a tangy blue cheese or something strong-tasting, which offsets and compliments the richness of the pea soup. You can, of course, make the soup without the bacon and add a touch of smoked salt over the top to give you that warm, smokiness that one craves in the winter, whether there’s snow outside, or not.
Split Pea Soup
I actually bought a ham hock to use in this soup, but didn’t use it because serendipity (and practicality) made me switch to smoked bacon. I wasn’t sure if what are called ham hocks in America (and elsewhere) are similar to what are called jarret avant demi-sel in France, and things that are “smoked” – at least in the states – are much more heavily smoked than things in France. But if you’re the type that likes ham hocks, omit the bacon, reduce the salt, and cook one with the soup ingredients, shredding the meat and adding it to the soup, when done.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup (100 g) diced bacon
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2-3 teaspoons salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 potatoes (1-pound, 450g), peeled and cubed
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) dried split peas
- 7 cups (1,75l) water, or more, if necessary
1. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the bacon, onion and carrots, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are completely wilted. Add the garlic, thyme, salt (you can start with the smaller amount and add more later), some very generous grinds of black pepper, a bay leaf, the cubed potatoes, and the split peas.
2. Pour in the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a very low boil. Put a lid on the pot, but leave it askew with room for steam to escape, and cook the soup, stirring every once in a while, until the split peas and potatoes are very soft, about 45 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Pluck out the bay leaf. Puree the soup to whatever consistency you like with a stick blender. (Or you can use a traditional blender, letting the soup cool to room temperature before blending it. Never fill a blender more than half-full with hot liquid, which can be dangerous.) Add additional water to get to the soup to the consistency that you like, and season with additional salt, if desired.
The soup can be served as is, or you can scatter sliced scallions or chives, crumbled bacon, and perhaps some smoked salt, pepper or a bit of hot sauce, on top.
Split Pea Soup Recipes
Split Pea Soup (Simply Recipes)
Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks (Gluten-Free Girl)
Spicy Harissa Split Pea Soup (Lunch Box Bunch)
Spanish-Style Split Pea Soup (Kayotic Kitchen)
Slow-Cooker Split Pea Soup with Sausage (Soup Chick)
Vegetarian Split Pea Soup (101 Cookbooks)
Indian-Style Split Pea Soup (Lisa’s Kitchen)