winter warm me up

It's starting to get real cold here in Chicago. Nothing says Winter warm me up better than a hot bowl of soup for dinner with some crusty bread. Usually I'm not a big soup for dinner person. I don't have what you would call a 'dainty' appetite. But I've been cold this past week, real cold and sometimes you just need some soup to warm you up! 

Growing up I was never a big fan of split pea soup. I think it was probably due to the brownish-green color which just seemed scary or possibly my distaste of peas. I've gotten over my fear of green food and my hatred for peas and have fully embraced split pea soup! This version is made with ham stock that gives it an extra hearty flavor.  I like my soup on the thick side - makes me feel like I'm eating a meal instead of drinking my dinner. Plus, who doesn't love some ham goodness?! Don't worry, if you're not a fan of ham I have improv suggestions at the bottom of the recipe. Although I'm not sure we can be friends if that's the case...

split pea soup
yields about 8 cups of soup


for the ham stock:
1 ham hock
8 cups water

for the soup:
3 T. olive oil
1 onion
3 carrots
2 c. split peas
1 clove of garlic
3 bay leaves
3 c. diced ham
salt + pepper to taste

To make the stock: You can do this up to a week in advance if you like. Take a big knife and notch your ham hock a few times. Try to hit the bone so you can release all of that great flavor while it cooks. Place in a large pot with 8 cups of water (this isn't science, make sure the hock is covered and that you'll have at least 6 cups of stock by the time it's done cooking. Put heat on medium high and let simmer for about 2 - 3 hours. So easy! Then strain your stock with a fine mesh strainer (or whatever you have). You can either let it cool and place it in the refrigerator or set it aside until while you get the rest of your ingredients ready.

To make the soup: Dice your onion and your carrots into small bite-sized pieces. Place in a large pot with your olive oil heated and cook until softened. Add in your dried split peas and cook for an additional minute. Add in your garlic, bay leaves, and 6 cups of ham stock. Give it a good stir and let it gently simmer for about 1 ½ - 2 hours. Stirring every 10 minutes or so (you don't want the bottom of the soup to burn). It's that easy! The soup will get nice and thick and you know it's done with the peas have softened and broken down a bit. Just before serving, add the ham chunks and cook for 1 - 2 minutes more. Just enough time to heat it through. I like my soup chunky but you can put it in a blender or food processor and puree it before you add the ham. Finish with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt and you've got sheer perfection!

improv style:
ham... let's talk about it. not everyone has a ham hock lying around. and while i think it's worthwhile to go to the butcher or your grocer (if they carry them) and get one, sometimes it's not convenient. you can substitute chicken or veggie stock if you like and it will turn out just fine. i just happen to LOVE the depth of flavor and richness that the ham stock gives it.

if you're looking at the ingredient list thinking where the heck am i going to get ham, or what type of ham are you talking about? if you have leftover ham from a holiday dinner, use that ham. if you don't happen to have a hunk of fresh ham, i would buy the thick sliced ham they sell in the grocery deli aisle (they usually come in packs with 3 - ½ inch slices). You don't want to use shaved deli meat you get from the counter unless it's your only option. 

on to the rest... make this soup with your favorite veggies. you can use more or less of all of those ingredients. it just depends on how many chunks you like, and how much veggies you prefer. celery, potatoes or bell peppers could be interesting additions. you could also do bacon or pancetta instead of ham chunks or leave the pork out if you're a vegetarian. don't have bay leaves? no problem... leave them out. your soup will turn out just fine. it adds a subtle depth of flavor that i really enjoy but it's not essential. 

i'm into thick soup. if soup is my meal, i need to feel like it's hearty and got some depth. if you're not into super thick soup, just add more stock to thin it out. this recipe is as thick as it comes!


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