One of the simplest meals I make for my family is French pea soup. At its most basic, this is a one-ingredient dish. It’s just yellow split peas and water. You can flavour it with broth and spices if you want, but you really don’t have to. It’s really great with a little carrot and celery, and even better with some bits of ham thrown in. But if you’re hard pressed, you just need the split peas and something to cook the soup in.
Why Pea Soup?
Pea soup is sort of a gateway to cooking with legumes. Split peas are chock full of protein, fibre and minerals like iron and magnesium. But they aren’t as difficult to prepare as many other beans, and they take less time to cook.
Split peas are inexpensive, and you can find them in any grocery store. They take up very little space in your pantry, and if you include them in your food storage it’s no trouble at all to cook up a hot, nutritious meal during an emergency.
You may have only eaten pea soup from a can. If this is true, please cook your own at least once. you’ll appreciate the difference! Homemade pea soup is so much better than anything that comes from a can.
The most basic recipe for pea soup appears in the “bare bones” description below. You can half or double the recipe as needed. Read the other variations to learn how to make pea soup with leftovers, how to cook it in a crockpot, or even to make pea soup from your food storage during an emergency.
How to Cook Pea Soup
Bare Bones: Put 1-3/4 cups of split yellow peas in 8 cups of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, then cook about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally. When the peas are soft and the soup has reached the desired thickness, it’s ready to serve. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Slightly Fancier: Add a couple of diced carrots and celery, a minced garlic clove, and one diced onion to your recipe. Saute the veggies in a little oil or butter before you add the split peas and water to your pot. If desired, add a little thyme and a couple of bay leaves to the pot (but remember to remove the bay leaves before serving!) This dish is great for a meatless Monday, or for sharing a meal with a vegetarian friend.
For Meat Lovers: Add a ham hock or a pound of smoked sausage to the pot. Near the end of the cooking time, remove and chop the meat and the return it to the soup. When made with sausage, pea soup is often cooked using green split peas and is thinner than the Quebec-style pea soup that I learned to prepare as a young cook. It may also include a diced potato, along with the other vegetables.
Planned Leftovers: If you’re cooking a ham or making a dish that includes either sausage or bacon, cook up a little more meat than you need and plan to make pea soup the next night. If you’ve got just enough meat for one meal, that’s OK! You can simply use the cooking liquid from your ham in the soup instead of water, to give a bit of meaty flavour to your broth. This liquid can also be frozen in Mason jars, to be used at a later date. Some people like chicken broth in their pea soup, so keep that in mind if you’ve boiled a chicken or have a little leftover chicken broth when you make soup.
Crockpot Version: Layer the peas, vegetables and spices, and meat in a crockpot. For quicker food prep, you can do this the night before and refrigerate your covered slow cooker insert for up to 12 hours. Add water or broth in the morning and cook on low for 8-10 hours. (I don’t recommend cooking pea soup in a crockpot on high.) Don’t stir for the first several hours, despite the temptation! It’s best not to lift the slow cooker lid unless you need to add ingredients or check for doneness.
Make Ahead Tip: If you have extra meat but don’t want to cook pea soup right now, package your ham or sausage with some diced vegetables and spices, and store in a zippered bag or rigid container in your freezer. It’s fine if you just have small pieces of meat leftover, too. Cook your soup on the stovetop, or in your crockpot.
Cooking from Food Storage: In an emergency, cook your pea soup on a camping stove, buddy burner or fondue pot. Keep split peas in your emergency food storage, and use dried or canned meat and vegetables to make a tastier dish. Using canned ingredients is also a great idea for young people who receive such things in care packages from home, or for those who need to find creative ways to use odd items from their food bank hamper.
Rushing It: In a real pinch, you can microwave pea soup. It does need to be pureed after cooking, though, and it won’t be quite the same.
Freezing Large Batches: If you have made more pea soup than you need, you can freeze it in zippered bags or airtight containers. Bags are ideal if you plan to give individual portions to a loved one or neighbour. The soup can be reheated on the stove or in the microwave. It will be thick, so stir in a little water to achieve the desired consistency. Also remember to keep just a little in the fridge overnight for reheating: pea soup is one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day!
Pea Soup Trivia:
Did you know that split peas are just a dried, split version of the common garden pea? Peas that dry yellow are the dominant type, whereas the green ones are the result of a recessive gene.
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Original content © 2016-2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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