I know you're thinking turkey today. Also stuffing. Cranberry sauce. Mashed potatoes. Maybe Brussel sprouts and creamed onions. And pies! Apple-cranberry, pumpkin, pecan, and a real doozy called grasshopper (don't even ask; it's made with creme de menthe and not remotely local) are the staples on our Thanksgiving table. I'm thinking all those things too—which is why I decided to start the week by making split pea soup. I thought we'd work up to the excesses of Thursday with something a little more, well, spartan. Spartan but good.
Nothing could be easier (or less expensive) to make than split pea soup. I like to make it with a smoked ham hock, assuming I can get one from a reliable source. We bought several for our freezer this year from Crystal Spring Farm, where we have a CSA, so I was all set in that department. The only other ingredients I needed were carrots, celery, and onions, all of which I bought at the farmers market on Saturday. And the peas, of course. Can you get locally grown split peas? Ask around. I was thrilled to find that Maine-grown split peas are available (here, for example).
While the wind howled and the temperature plummeted last night, I got out the big soup pot, chopped the veggies, and put the soup on the woodstove to cook. It was a bitter cold night, but with the soup simmering on the woodstove, we felt downright cozy. One of the great things about this soup is that it needs almost no attention; you just give it a stir every now and then while getting on with all the other things you have to do—which in our case was planning our Thanksgiving menu. By the time we went to bed, we had two-and-a-half quarts of delicious pea soup (and a killer menu). It should be just enough to feed Jan and me for lunch today through Wednesday. Then the cooking—and the eating, with family and friends—will begin in earnest.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
SPLIT PEA SOUP
This recipe is about as simple as it gets. It makes a fairly thin pea soup. If you like yours on the thicker side, add a few potatoes with the other vegetables. I happen to love carrots in my pea soup, as you'll see from the list below; you can always use fewer if you don't share my obsession.
2 cups split peas, either green or yellow
1 smoked ham hock
10 cups water
1–2 stalks celery, diced
5 large carrots, diced
2–3 medium-sized potatoes, diced (optional)
a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
1–2 tablespoons chicken bouillon; I like Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base (optional)
sea salt, to taste
In a large soup pot, combine the split peas, ham hock, and water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then turn off the soup and let it sit for an hour. (This will help the peas soften.) At the end of the hour, turn up the heat again, to medium or slightly lower, and add the diced vegetables and black pepper. Simmer the soup, partly covered, for another hour or more, stirring occasionally, until the peas are completely soft—meaning you shouldn't be able to discern individual peas anymore.
Now taste your soup and see what you think. If it seems a little bland, add the bouillon; although it's chicken, it's amazing how well it enhances the ham flavor. Remember that the bouillon has a fair amount of salt; if you use it, you probably won't need to add salt as well. Now remove your ham hock and let it cool. Remove the rind from the hock and carefully cut the meat off the bone. It won't be all that much, but it will add a lot of flavor. Mince the meat into small bits, being careful not to get any gristle or bone in it, and return it to the soup. Time to eat!