- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. — After all the fancy holiday food, a bowl of simple soup seems just right. The easiest soup to make from scratch is split pea.

You don’t have to presoak the split peas overnight, so you can make a big pot of creamy split pea soup in about three hours from start to finish. If you have a bit of leftover ham, add it to the pot for seasoning, but quite honestly, split pea soup is just as tasty with no meat seasoning.

Dried green split peas are sold in 1-pound packages. While you can reduce a recipe and make half a bag of split peas, it’s best to use the whole pound and freeze the leftover split pea soup.

According to John F. Mariani in his book “The Dictionary of American Food & Drink,” the pea is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world.

The Web site www.farmbuilt.com is full of information about peas. A product of Nelson Family Farms in Troy, Idaho, which grows lentils, peas, wheat, barley, grass seed and other minor crops, the site gives a history of the pea, which probably came from northwest Asia and which some archaeologists think may have been cultivated, with lentils, more than 20,000 years ago.

Peas were reported to have been brought to the West Indies by Christopher Columbus in 1493, and Mr. Mariani writes that by 1614 they were being cultivated at Jamestown, Va. Most of the dried peas sold in the United States are grown in the Midwest and Canada, but some dried peas are imported from Turkey and India.

Product labeling does not require country-of-origin information on dried peas, so it’s difficult to determine where dried peas sold in bulk packages come from.

The label on a 1-pound package of Camellia brand green split peas states: “Dried beans and peas are a naturally grown, raw agricultural product. Although they have been mechanically cleaned before packaging, some foreign materials may be present. Wash and carefully sort before cooking.”

When purchasing green split peas, look for bags of split peas that contain a minimum of powdery bits and debris. The Camellia brand green split peas carried a sell date on the package. If another brand does not include this information, be sure that the store selling the split peas has a good turnover in product. When dried split peas get old, they take significantly longer to cook, and sometimes a few split peas will stay hard and dry.

Bags of green split peas should be stored in an airtight container away from heat. A properly stored bag of split peas will keep for a year.

Green split peas impart an earthy flavor, not the expected sweet flavor that fresh green peas have. Recipes for split pea soup often contain chopped carrots to provide the sweetness lost when the peas are dried.

The Web site www.wholehealthmd.com offers nutritional information about dried peas, saying they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.

The peas are also an excellent source of folate or folic acid and the B vitamin thiamine, and they supply manganese, potassium and iron.

There are slight variations in recipes for green split pea soup. My advice: Keep it simple.

Split pea and hambone soup

This recipe is from “Soup’s On” by June Ruopp. She says it is one of her husband’s favorite soups. Add a salad, hot bread or rolls, and you have a meal that is fit for a king, at a low cost.

1/4 cup bacon drippings, or use 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 hambone with meat pieces

8 cups water

1-pound package split peas, rinsed in warm water and drained

3 tablespoons barley

1 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped carrots

teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 or 2 medium potatoes, optional

16-ounce can diced tomatoes, add juice and all

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place bacon drippings in a large soup kettle and allow to get hot. Add onions, saute until soft.

Add hambone, water, peas, barley, celery, carrots, thyme and soy sauce.

Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If soup should be too watery at this point, peel and shred 1 or 2 potatoes and add to pot.

Add tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 hour or more.

Remove hambone and meat. Cut up meat left on bone and add to soup with extra scraps you may have. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Split pea and ham soup

This recipe is from “The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. “We’ve added lots of fresh vegetables to dress up our split pea soup. Adding a bit of sherry just before serving makes the taste special and lighter.”

1 pound dried green split peas

5 cups canned chicken broth

5 cups water

1 meaty hambone, or 2 smoked ham hocks

2 ribs celery, leaves included, diced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon leaves

4 tablespoons ( stick) unsalted butter

1 cup diced, peeled carrots

1 cup diced onion

1 leek (white part only), rinsed and sliced

1 cup slivered fresh spinach leaves

2 tablespoons dry sherry

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the split peas in a strainer and then combine them with the chicken broth and water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil.

Add the hambone, celery, 1 tablespoon of the parsley and the tarragon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, onion and leek. Cook until the vegetables are wilted, 10 minutes. Add them to the soup pot, along with the spinach. Simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat. Remove the hambone, and shred the meat from the bone, removing any excess fat. Return the meat to the soup.

Add the sherry, pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley. Heat through; serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Green split pea soup

This recipe was adapted by the author from the soup recipe on the Camellia brand green split pea package. The original recipe calls for ham for seasoning and uses plain water in the stock. It’s a good recipe, too.

1 pound green split peas

1 large onion, chopped

3 cups canned chicken broth

3 cups water

1/4 teaspoon red pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, optional (I don’t use any)

4 carrots, sliced

2 ribs celery with leafy tops, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup milk, optional

Rinse and sort peas.

Put rinsed peas in a big soup pot. Add all the other ingredients, making sure that the liquid more than covers the split peas. Add more water, if needed.

Simmer on medium-low heat for 2 to 2 hours or until split peas are tender and the soup is creamy.

Sometimes you might want to add about 1/4 cup milk to the finished soup to thin it a little. I like a chunky green split pea soup, so I don’t strain the soup or puree it in a blender. Makes 6 servings.

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