I’ve mentioned a time or two that I was a little girl when my mom died, so I really don’t have as many food-related memories of her as I would like to. I can’t pinpoint a specific memory that I have of my mom and split pea soup like I can with my dad and his doctored-up Campbell’s Bean with Bacon Soup and toast on Sunday nights or Chicken Cacciatore in the Dutch oven or cinnamon rolls and egg casserole on Christmas morning. But somewhere in the back of my brain, I know that Split Pea Soup with Ham is somehow linked to my mom and that those are good memories.

I usually end up making this a few times a year after some ham-related festivity because I have to start getting really creative in thinking up ways to use up all the leftover ham. However, my kids have also decided that in spite of the visual evidence to the contrary (my son says it “looks like swamp”), they both love it and are more than happy to eat it up when I make it. In fact, my little boy loves it so much that he actually asked for it for his birthday dinner this last weekend. And since it also happens to be super healthy, I figured it would fit right in with the other healthy recipes we’re posting this month!

You start with a pound of dry split peas (.77 for a bag–not too shabby, right?!), herbs and spices, chicken or vegetable broth, carrots, onions, garlic. You’ll also need a tiny bit of malt vinegar which ends up being the secret ingredient; my soup kept feeling like it just needed more depth and I found the malt vinegar in the back of my cupboard and it just made the flavors pop. Finally, you’ll need ham. Ideally, you can use a ham bone leftover from some ham-centric large dinner, but you don’t want to use said ham bone if it the ham was seasoned with stuff like brown sugar, cloves, etc.–that’ll add a weird flavor to your soup. Also, unless dinner is regularly like a post-funeral luncheon, who makes a ham more than, like, once a year?

The good news is that you have a few options. For this particular go-around, I used a bone-in ham steak. It was great because I could buy a 1-pound steak (exactly what I needed), trim it of excessive fat, cut the bone out, and cut it into tiny pieces and we were in business. I’ve also often seen ham pieces sold at the grocery store close to the regular hams. Don’t be scared, it’s just pieces of ham that have fallen off while a ham was being spiral-cut, so you still get that spiral ham, it’s just in smaller pieces and quantities and perfect for cutting up and using in soup. Aside from the spiced, sweet hams, the ones you want to stay away from are the super-lean cubes of ham (not enough flavor) or lunch meat (it will fall apart).

Then all you need to do is place the ingredients in a slow cooker and set it to go! You can cook it on high for 4 hours, low for 6-8, or high until it boils and then turn the setting to low until you’re ready to serve it. If you’re at a high altitude, you may need to plan on more cooking time or try soaking the peas first because it will most likely take longer to cook. You’ll want it so the peas are completely (and this is kind of a dirty word in the food biz) mushy. They will fall apart and thicken the soup and yes, contribute to that swamp-like appearance. It’s just the name of the game; if they’re undercooked, they’ll be crunchy or taste like raw peas, which really isn’t what you’re after.

Remove the bay leaf and add any additional seasonings if you need to. Also, the soup may separate–just stir it up to make sure you’re getting a little of everything. The leftovers might also be quite thick; just heat it up and then add a little water or broth until the desired consistency is reached. This soup is awesome topped with Sara’s Sourdough Garlic-Herb Croutons (and I really, really encourage the whole sourdough part; it just matches the soup so well!) This soup is perfect for cold, yucky days and nights like we’re having here in Louisiana right now!



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