Why It Works
- We keep it simple with aromatics, ham, and stock as the background for green split peas.
- Puréeing the soup with a blender produces a creamy and thick texture.
Fresh shelled sweet peas have a fleeting season, just a handful of weeks in the spring when they are small, tender, and relatively high in the simple sugars that give them such a pleasant flavor. As they age they grow increasingly starchy, making them less and less enjoyable to eat as a just-picked vegetable. But that doesn't mean a pea's edible life has come to an end: Dried like so many other of their fellow beans, peas become a shelf-stable and versatile ingredient that are perhaps best known as the main ingredient in split pea soup.
There are countless versions of this soup all over the world, but this simple rendition with smoky pork is an American classic. It hits all the right notes, from its affordability to its deliciousness and its undeniable ability to warm bellies in the colder months. And while it's not exactly a "quick" recipe, given the hour-plus it takes to simmer the peas to melting softness, it couldn't come together more easily. Simply sauté some aromatic vegetables like onion and celery in butter, then add liquid (water works fine, but stock will add more flavor), the peas, and smoky ham, whether diced ham steak or a ham hock. No need to soak the peas first, they'll soften and break down to form a creamy broth just fine after enough time simmering in the pot.
If you want, you can quickly blitz the soup with a blender (even easier: do it right in the pot with an immersion blender) to make the soup even creamier and thick. Then hang you nose over a steaming bowl and breathe in—that's the smell of comfort.
This recipe has been lightly edited to more clearly specify when the ham and/or ham hock is added to the soup. A new headnote was also written in 2022 to replace the original.
3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 6 ounces; 170g)
1 large rib celery, finely diced (about 4 ounces; 125g)
6 ounces (170g) ham steak, diced, or 1 smoked ham hock (see notes)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 pound (450g) dried green split peas
2 quarts (2L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock, or water
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and ham (if using diced ham) and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
Add peas, chicken stock or water, and bay leaves; if using a ham hock, add it now. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Cook until peas are tender, about 1 hour. If using a ham hock, transfer to a plate, let cool slightly, then pick meat, discarding bones.
If a creamier soup is desired, pulse soup using an immersion blender (or puree a portion of the peas and broth in a countertop blender before returning to soup pot), until very roughly pureed but still chunky. Return picked ham hock meat, if using, to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Soup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Dutch oven, immersion blender or countertop blender
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 6g||8%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 40g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 15g||53%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 11mg||56%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|