Although Kurt is the soup maestro in the family, I do like to try my hand at crafting something he hasn’t made. When he reminded me we had several bags of sliced country ham left from New Year’s in our freezer, I scrounged amongst my jars of beans and found a container of split peas. I had no idea how long they had been sitting on my shelf, but I’m adventurous. I like to use split peas because they require NO OVERNIGHT SOAK!
I pulled out a half-pound of country ham; country ham is not at all like the sliced ham you buy from the deli or the packaged ham steaks you saute for dinner. Country ham (Virginia, of course!) is America’s version of prosciutto; it’s a salt-cured ham that is smoked and aged. It’s not as moist as prosciutto and quite a bit saltier; folks like me who grew up with country ham love the meat’s salty texture!
Cooking a country ham is a labor of love, and I do it only for big holidays like Christmas, New Year’s or Easter because the process involves soaking the ham for several days in one of our camping coolers, changing the water three or four times to leach out the salt, then boiling the ham. The ham is sliced thin for sandwiches or to fry for breakfast with red-eye gravy. (For the uninitiated, aka Northerners, red-eye gravy is a sauce made from country ham drippings and coffee. And yes, it is GOOD).
Yet I digress because I am a country ham fanatic like the rest of my family. The split pea soup I made is a little more work than throwing the diced ham and peas into a pot with some water (although I have had it that way, too). I decided to amp up the flavor by sauteing a mirepoix and adding a bay leaf, a glob of tomato paste and some dried thyme. It’s a foolproof soup because you can’t overcook it; you want those peas to completely break down into a rich, thick soup.
Although I made this on the stove, I bet you can make it in a crockpot. I would still saute the mirepoix separately to release more flavor, but that depends on how easy you want to make this recipe.
Split Pea Soup with Country Ham
- 1/2 lb country ham
- 2 carrots
- 2-3 celery stalks
- 2-3 medium onions
- 2 TB olive oil
- 2 c split peas
- 1 TB tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 8 c water
- 2 tsp cider vinegar (optional)
Chop the ham, carrots, celery and onion into a small dice. I never measure the amounts of the mirepoix, but you want the amount of onions to equal the combined amount of celery and carrots, like this:
My visual estimate is 3/4 c each of carrot and celery and 1 1/2 c onion. It all breaks down in the end, so no worries! Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot (I use a well-worn Le Creuset), then add the chopped vegetables, sprinkling a bit of salt over them:
Sweat the vegetables over medium heat until they have softened (onion will become translucent):
Add the diced ham,
followed by the peas,
Add the water and stir to combine.
Lastly, add the tomato paste and bay leaf, then the thyme and pepper:
Stir again to combine and bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 2 hours or until peas have completely broken down.
I add the vinegar at the end if needed to help balance the saltiness of the ham. Taste your soup then decide. Serve with a crusty, chewy loaf of bread and call it dinner!