The answer to wintry weather is a hot pot of split pea soup
This is a favorite time, not because I like to shovel snow or dig through the ice; it's winter soup time.
A pot of soup slowly simmering in my oven (I'll get to that in a bit) fills my kitchen with warmth and tantalizing aromas -- a double winner.
I'm making a soup I haven't made in years, triggered by finding large ham hocks at my farmers market. These ham hocks are, of course, farm-raised locally, with no added nitrates.
There was a time when I had no idea what a ham hock was. Today I know that it's the lower part of the ham. A ham is essentially the upper thigh of a hog's leg.
The section of a hog's leg tapering down from the ham is the hock, like a hog's ankle. The meat on a hock has loads of connective tissue and collagen that softens when cooked in liquid, similar to what happens when simmering a beef chuck roast.
Split pea soup is the perfect way to cook a ham hock and flavor the soup. Split peas, like all legumes, are not exactly low in carbohydrates, which led me to think that a split pea path may be a mistake.
A quick search through my nutritional information program showed me it didn't matter much which beans or peas I used for soup; all were comparatively high in carbs. A big plus, though, they're all also naturally high in fiber.
Since split peas are split, they cook fast. If cooked at a vigorous simmer, it's possible to finish cooking split peas in an hour.
However, my go-to method for preparing any scratch-made soup or braising is a low-and-slow simmer in a 225-degree oven. That's an energy-efficient cooking method, too -- the pot's surrounded by heat rather than being heated just from the bottom.
My experiments over the years to determine the best temperature for a solid, low simmer in my oven turned out to be 225 degrees. My oven holds that ideal temperature similar to a sous vide (vacuum-sealing and immersing in warm, tightly controlled temperature water) cooking can do.
I've made many split pea soups with ham bones. At one time, a baked ham store sold the ham bones from their spiral-sliced hams. Those bones were loaded with bone-hugging ham and were pocketbook bargains that made great soup, especially split pea.
My farmers market ham hock sent a smoky, mouthwatering aroma drifting around my kitchen.
I stopped using my blender to puree soups since it could spit hot liquid right out the top. I've used an immersion blender, sometimes called a stick blender, for pureeing hot liquids for more than 20 years, making my split pea soup perfect -- not too smooth, not too chunky, but just right.
My soup tasted great, especially from the combination of sweet and smoked paprikas. The red paprikas did tame the green color of my soup a bit; however, the flavor they added made their addition worthwhile.
This hearty split pea soup is just one way to hold our lousy winter weather at bay.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bowl of warm and smoky split pea soup is the answer to this wintry weather we're having.
- Courtesy of Don Mauer
Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham Hock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
3 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and diced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 medium bay leaf
1-quart bottled water
1-quart low sodium, organic chicken broth
1 teaspoon sea salt
1-pound organic split green peas, rinsed and picked over
1½-pound smoked ham hock (pasture-raised, no-added-nitrate, if possible)
Place the oven rack in the middle position and begin heating to 225 degrees.
Add oil to a large, oven-safe pot and place over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and sauté, stirring once in a while, until the onion is soft and starting to get slightly brown around the edges, about 6 or 7 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, paprika, pepper and bay leaf and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the water, chicken broth, salt, split peas and pork hock and bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
Cover and place the pot in the preheated oven for at least two hours and up to four hours. Carefully remove the pot from the oven, remove and set pork hock aside; remove and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until somewhat or very creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve.
Nutrition values per serving: 250 calories (12.3% from fat), 3.4 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat), 35.6 g carbohydrates (29.6 net carbs), 3.3 g sugars, 6 g fiber, 17.8 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 355 mg sodium.
Suggestion: Depending on the meatiness of the ham hock, the meat can be removed, chopped up, and added to the soup before serving. One ounce of meat from a pork hock would add 90 calories, 6.3 g fat (2.3 g saturated), 30 mg cholesterol, 243 mg sodium, and 7.5 g protein per serving.