Today’s Yellow Split Pea Soup is a riff on a childhood favorite. This soup was a constant in my house growing up and a particular favorite of my dad’s. My rendition is different than the one I grew up with. For one thing, my mother always used green split peas not yellow. But yellow was what was available at my local grocery store and I was feeling mildly adventurous. There are a few other differences that I will discuss in greater detail. But apart from that, this is my childhood in a bowl. And while it may not be the prettiest bowl of soup in the world, it is, in my humble opinion, the most comforting. The bias of nostalgia is real, though, so take my assessment with a grain of salt.
As I mentioned, pea soup was a fixture in my house growing up. A vat of it would always come out of the holiday rush. It was and is my mother’s preferred method for using what remains of a Christmas ham. And she would always make enough to feed a family quadruple our size. So she would freeze vast quantities of the soup, usually in repurposed ice cream containers, which was deeply cruel and misleading, and would serve it all winter long. Of course, by the time March hit, we were all more or less done with the stuff. But those first few bowls, well, they were my favorite part of the winter. The only winter associated thing I looked forward to apart from skiing.
Today, I’m making a much smaller rendition of my mother’s pea soup. Now, I live in a two-person household, so ham dinners aren’t usually on the table. So instead of the leftover ham bone, I’ve subbed in a smoked ham hock. And I have to say, it did a great job and it also limited the amount of soup I was left with, which again in a two-person household is a very good thing. The other change is the addition of collard greens. This is not something I grew up with but I do love adding kale and other greens to soup and for this pot of soup, in particular, collards felt like a natural pairing.
Collards simmered with ham hocks is a staple of African-American cooking, so I figured the greens would be right at home in a ham hock and split pea soup. And my hunch paid off. The collards solved two problems I have with straight-up pea soup. The texture can be repetitive. Sure, you have a few hunks of ham but you’re more or less dealing with a mushy velvety concoction, which initially is lovely. But by the last few spoonfuls, it can feel overdone. A few leaves of tender yet toothsome collards break up the textural monotony exceptionally well.
The next pea soup drawback is its visual appearance. Its presentation, like its texture, is one-note. A sea of muted green or yellow about sums it up. Now, looks are not the most important aspect of a meal. I know people love to say we eat with our eyes. But honestly, I am incredibly capable of eating and enjoying less than attractive dishes. It wasn’t too long ago that I was lamenting the fact that so many delicious foods are a drab shade of brown. But as a food stylist, obviously, I care what my food looks like. So I was thrilled to find that the collards managed to make a stunner out of this Yellow Split Pea Soup.
The collards maintain their green hue, and the ribbons break up the visual field of the bowl so beautifully. And while my bowl of Yellow Split Pea Soup, like every bowl before her, is unlikely to win any beauty competitions, I think she at least exudes an elegant coziness. The soup looks inviting at the very least.
Now, let’s talk about the method. A few years back, I called my mom for her pea soup recipe with a pen poised ready to take notes. She just about laughed me off the line. Apparently, there is no recipe. She told me to saute my mirepoix, pour in a bag of split peas, cover it with water and leave it to simmer until it’s mush. Add water if it gets too thick, and simmer for longer if it’s too thin. That’s pretty much the recipe. I now know why my mom never bothered to write it down.
Obviously, I’ve given far more guidance in the recipe below. But that really is how easy it is to make split pea soup of any stripe. You could easily skip the ham hock and make this vegetarian. You could stir in some soaked chickpeas, add Swiss chard instead of collards, or some fresh peas for a little extra interest. This soup is a blank slate. Even the carrots, onions, and celery are negotiable. Just have a jug of water and a bag of split peas and see where they take you.
That’s pretty much everything you need to know about this Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks and Collard Greens. The chillest of chill cooks, this soup exudes cozy from the moment the onions hit the pot. This is such a simple recipe and I have no doubt it will become a wintertime staple in your home just like it is in mine.
Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks and Collard Greens
- 1 Large dutch oven
- 1 small piece of cheesecloth
- Butcher's Twine
- 3 stalks celery
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 4 medium-sized carrots peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 12 cups water
- 454g (1lb) dried yellow split peas
- 12-14 black peppercorns
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 8-12 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large smoked ham hock
- 1 bunch collard greens stalks removed, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar optional
- Remove the leaves from the celery stalks and cover them. Transfer to the fridge and chill until the soup is ready to serve. Coarsely chop the celery stalks and set them aside.3 stalks celery
- Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté until slightly softened. Add the garlic and saute for a minute more. Pour in the water and the split peas and bring the mixture up to a boil.3 stalks celery, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 yellow onion, 4 medium-sized carrots, 4 cloves garlic, 12 cups water, 454g (1lb) dried yellow split peas
- While you’re waiting for the mixture to come to a boil, place the peppercorns, cloves, and thyme in the center of a small piece of cheesecloth. Wrap the cloth around the spices to form a bundle and secure it with a piece of butcher’s twine.12-14 black peppercorns, 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, 8-12 whole cloves
- When the soup comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add the spice bundle, bay leaves, and ham hock. Cover and simmer the soup for 2-3 hours or until the ham is falling off of the bone. **2 bay leaves, 1 large smoked ham hock
- Remove the spice bundle, bay leaves, ham hock bone, and skin from the pot and discard. Taste and season the soup accordingly. *** Stir in the collards and simmer the soup for another 30 minutes or until the greens are tender. Take the soup off of the heat and stir in the vinegar if using.1 bunch collard greens, ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- Spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with the celery leaves you set aside earlier. Serve immediately with fresh ground pepper and crusty bread.