Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ham & Split Pea Soup

When I was little, my dad had two solutions to dinner. One was a highly questionable dish he called "Steve's Surprise", which usually consisted of boxed Mac N' Cheese, cut up hot dogs, and some kind of canned green thing, usually peas (probably so he could tell my mom we ate a vegetable). The other solution was to take us kids to Denny's, which when I was little seemed like fun because we were allowed to drink hand mixed vanilla cokes with dinner.

Unfortunately, Denny's makes a very poor introduction to split pea soup. I mean let's be real here, the color of split pea soup alone can put some people off. And serving it lukewarm doesn't help matters either. Anyhow, I was convinced I detested the stuff. But a few months ago, my husband started wheedling me for it. Apparently he has fond memories of soup made with leftover ham bones. And that is exactly how this version is made.

To me what is especially magical about this soup is the slightly smoky flavor it takes on after the flavors have melded for a day, probably from the cumin. The peas make this soup thick and starchy like potato soup and it's studded with pieces of ham. After one bite, it rocketed into my top 5 soups. This is a great recipe to make after the holidays too because you can just freeze the bone from your holiday ham to make this later. Just leave at least a couple of ounces of the meat clinging to the bone. It can even be the tougher pieces of meat since the extended cooking time will soften them up.

You start by sauteing some onions and bell pepper in a stockpot.
Then you add some garlic and flour and saute a minute or two more. Honestly, I don't think the flour is necessary since the pureed peas thicken the soup a lot. So feel free to skip it. Then you add your ham bone, which should look something like this:
Then you add 1 pound of peas and the liquid ingredients. I highly recommend using low sodium chicken broth for this recipe since the ham is going to add a lot of salt.
You bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it go for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. It's really important not to rush the simmering time since the peas take a long time to completely soften. Then you take the ham bone out and cut off the meat, which should be falling apart at this point. You can see all the marrow and goodness have cooked out of the bone too:
You leave the ham off to the side, and add some calabaza squash to the soup. If you're not familiar with calabaza, it has a more tropical flavor than most squash and smells a bit like cantaloupe. There seems to be some confusion about the word 'calabaza' since it is also used as the translation of pumpkin and depending on the country can refer to several types of squash. But I'm pretty sure the cookbook authors meant this variety, which is a pale orangey tan or tan and green stripes with pale orange flesh. Butternut would also be fine, but here's what calabaza looks like:
After the squash goes in, you simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes and puree the soup. Then you add the ham back in along with the cumin and some butter and simmer another 20 to 30 minutes.
And you're done!

Ham & Split Pea Soup
Serves 6-8
Adapted slightly from Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban


2 cups onion, chopped
2 cups green pepper, chopped
5 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 pound split peas
1 ham bone with some meat still attached
5 cups water
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups calabaza or butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil or butter, for sauteing


1. In a large stockpot, saute the onion and bell pepper in some olive oil. Add the garlic and flour and saute another minute or until garlic is fragrant.

2. Add ham bone (can be frozen or thawed), peas, broth, water, and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally.

3. Remove the ham bone and separate the meat into bite size pieces. Discard the bone and any gristle and set aside the meat.

4. Add the calabaza to the pot and simmer 20 to 30 minutes more or until the calabaza is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in batches with a blender).

5. Return the ham to the pot and add the cumin and butter. Taste the soup and add salt and black pepper to taste. (Ham is so salty, I don't usually add any extra salt.) Simmer 20 to 30 more minutes.


  1. Looks delicious. Would love for you to share your pictures with us over at

  2. On WI Public Radio show Zorba Paster on Your Health, the doctor says low-sodium broth actually has more flavor to make up for the less salt.

  3. @Marv. I believe it. I always try and get low sodium broth. I'm a huge fan of Pacific Natural Food's organic line of broths. But they can be really pricey, $3 plus for a quart. One day when I have more freezer space, or I break down and buy the pressure canner I've been eying, I'll just make my own.