Thursday, September 1, 2011

Perfect Split Pea Soup

I try very hard to resist tagging the word “perfect” onto things I make or talk about. After all, my version of perfect is almost certainly not your version of perfect, and there’s nothing worse than having your exceedingly high expectations dashed.

For example, to me the bowl of oatmeal that I make very nearly every day is, to me, perfect. It is just sweet enough, just salty enough, just cinnamon-y enough. But most people? Apart from the Christmas-like smell of the cinnamon, most people find it equal parts unappetizing and strange. But to me, it is perfect and in the end that is all that matters. But I’ve resisted sharing my “recipe.”

Today, though, I want to share with you what to me is the perfect split pea soup. Split pea soup is my absolute favorite soup and for weeks I had been craving it, which is crazy enough considering the temperatures have been flirting with triple digits here for the past few weeks. I couldn’t make it at home because my mom simply refused, but now, in our apartment, we can make whatever we want for dinner. (Case in point: my recent dinner of oatmeal + baked potato.)
I suppose normal people would opt to eat pizza or hamburgers or brownies and cake for dinner when allowed to cook for themselves. I, of course, chose to make split pea soup. (It’s merely coincidental that the day after I made this soup I developed a nasty virus that left me voiceless and sickly. So in case you're wondering, this soup also has healing powers.)

This recipe comes from Ina Garten, as so many of my favorites do. Unlike most split pea soup recipes, which are thick and porridge-like and flavored with ham, this one is sufficiently lighter and has a cleaner taste. Half of the split peas are added at the beginning of cooking. Halfway through cooking, the rest are added; what results is a soup with dual textures: half of the split peas break down, thickening the soup and making it creamy. The other half softens but remains intact, adding a pleasing and hearty texture to the soup.

Onions and carrots also add texture and, surprisingly, sweetness. I’d never noticed this sweetness before, but my roommate mentioned it, and I was surprised to find that I had never noticed it before. It’s not cloying or readily apparent, but it sort of hovers there in the background, complementing the savory chicken stock base and peas.

In all accounts, this is a bare bones soup: nothing complicated about it. But it has character; it is a bit unusual; it is perfect for welcoming the cooler temperatures of fall (it's September! Finally!); as is, there is nothing I’d change about it. To me, it is perfect.

Perfect Split Pea Soup 
Adapted from Ina Garten

If you like, you can also add a cup or so (about 3 small) red boiling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces. Add the potatoes along with the split peas and chicken stock. They'll make the soup a bit heartier, but are by no means necessary. Instead of chicken stock, you can use vegetable stock to make the soup vegetarian. Leftover soup thickens considerably. Add a half cup or so of stock to leftovers when reheating until it reaches your desired thickness.

Yield: 6-8 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil 
1 large onion, medium-diced 
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups medium-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 pound dried split peas
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they become translucent and begin to brown slightly, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until it becomes fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Season well with salt and pepper; add the dried oregano and stir to incorporate. Add the carrots, half of the split peas, and the chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits.

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes, skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Stir frequently to prevent the solids at the bottom of the pot from burning. After 40 minutes, add the remaining split peas and cook for 40 minutes more, or until all the peas are tender and soft, continuing to stir every so often to cook the soup evenly. Taste the soup and season accordingly with additional salt or pepper. Serve hot.

Leftovers will keep, stored in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week. The soup will thicken considerably as it sits. When reheating, add additional stock (about 1/2 cup) until the soup reaches your desired consistency.


  1. always wondered how to make it more soup-y and less porriage-y. must try, we eat soups year round-it's a great one dish meal.

  2. We make this at least once a week in the fall and winter with Rob's crock pot! It's so easy and wonderful! I love my soup with lots of dill though!

  3. this soup is delicious - but I still think it's too hot for it! (and I love that you made oatmeal and a baked potato for dinner :-)

  4. i like the addition of carrots to this! lovely!

  5. i'll take some! :) hope you're feeling better!