Split Pea Soup with Ham and Crispy Fried Potatoes with Truffle Oil
This is split pea soup for split pea soup haters. I mean, obviously, if you’re a split pea soup lover, you’re going to love it. But, I know for a fact that even those who “claim” to hate peas of any kind will still love this soup. More about how I know that later.
The soup itself is thick, rich, and flavor-packed, with just enough ham to make it interesting. But, at the risk of minimizing the deliciousness of the soup itself, I gotta say that the crispy fried potatoes with truffle oil are where it’s at.
Adding some potatoes to split pea soup is not a new concept. But, frying them in butter and oil until they are crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, then tossing them with truffle oil makes them 100% irresistible and takes a humble bowl of split pea soup to a whole new level.
Earlier this year, we spent a couple of weeks in California visiting some good friends, Jeff and Judy. It was the first time we’d visited with our little home on wheels, so we invited them over for dinner soon after we arrived and I made this soup. (For those of you are new here, my husband and I are full time travelers, living, working, and traveling around the country in a 5th wheel RV.)
After dishing it out and settling around the fire to eat, Jeff said, “This cannot be split pea soup.” I assured him that it absolutely was split pea soup and he said, “I didn’t want to say anything, but I really don’t like peas. But, this soup is fantastic. I can’t believe it’s pea soup.” And he proceeded to happily eat his entire bowl.
I absolutely love cooking for other people and try my best to make things I’m pretty sure they’ll enjoy. But there is something supremely satisfying about changing someone’s mind about what they think they don’t like.
Is Jeff suddenly happily scarfing down plates full of peas every night? Of course not. For the most part, he simply doesn’t like them. But, now we know that there is a way to cook peas that he will, genuinely, enjoy. With the exception of food allergies, I think that’s probably true for most of the foods we don’t like.
We all have preferences, likes and dislikes, but most kinds of food is extremely versatile, changing in texture, consistency, and flavor depending on how it is cooked and what it is cooked with. So, within all of our likes and dislikes, there is probably a substantial amount of wiggle-room, if we are only open to trying new things every once in a while.
Aaaaalllll that to say – if you are like Jeff and don’t typically like peas or pea soup, you just might like this version. Because friends, this soup is freaking delicious, if I do say so myself.
How to pack a lot of flavor into split pea soup
Hello, my name is Rebecca, and I love strong, complex flavors. My favorite dishes involve a wide variety of textures and layer after layer of flavor. I want to eat things that are multi-dimensional and jam packed with flavor.
There are five universally accepted “tastes” that are perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. In this recipe, every one of those components are added in one way or another, building the layers of flavor one step at a time.
Here’s how we do that in this split pea soup:
If 1 allium is good, 4 is better: This soup contains onions, leeks, garlic, AND scallions.
Most recipes include at least one thing from the allium family – onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots – because they provide a brilliant flavor foundation to nearly every kind of savory dish.
In this recipe, I included 4 out of the 5 main types of allium because each offers a delicious new subtle component of flavor. Onions leeks, and garlic infuse the soup base with pungent, savory, slightly sweet, flavors.
Then, right before serving, sprinkle on a few chopped scallions or chives to finish the soup with a delicate, slightly sharp, fresh flavor that cuts through the richness of the truffle oil and potatoes.
Add flavor and freshness with plenty of herbs and a tiny bit of sugar
This recipe includes a generous amount of thyme, coriander, and cumin, plus a 1/2 tsp of sugar. I LOVE this combination of spices.
Thyme has a woodsy, concentrated herbal flavor with a touch of floral for good measure. To me, it tastes like the woods smell – all fresh and wild – which is why it’s the perfect compliment to anything that grows.
Coriander leaves (aka, cilantro) have a tart, almost citrusy flavor. But, the seeds are another story. Coriander seeds can be used whole or ground into a powder. Either way they contribute an earthy flavor that’s a bit tart and a bit sweet, and, like thyme, slightly floral.
Cumin is also earthy and warm. But, it also adds a smokiness that brings out the flavor in the ham, and adds a slight bitterness that complements the flavors of onion and garlic, and balances the woodsy elements of this soup.
In addition to salt and pepper, Thyme, Coriander, and Cumin compliant each other nicely and bring out the flavor of the peas and ham.
So, why include a pinch of sugar?
Here’s a little known fact: Sugar increases the aroma of flavor, thereby enhancing flavor intensity. Most of us tend to think of sugar as a sweater, which of course, it is. But, sugar also helps us taste ingredients better.
In addition, sweet ingredients balance bitter and sour elements in food – not covering them up, but smoothing them out, giving them what you might call rounded corners.
For these reasons, I like to add a bit of sugar to all kinds of savory dishes, from soups to pasta sauce. You don’t need much to take advantage of sugar’s super powers. In this soup, just 1/2 tsp does the trick.
Pump up the comfort with Ham and Worcestershire
What is it about ham and split peas that makes them the perfect pair??? Like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, I’m not sure why they go together so deliciously, I just know that they do. There’s something about the meaty, slightly sweet, smokiness of ham that takes a humble pot of spit peas and turns it into comfort food.
Worcestershire Sauce includes anchovies and/or soy sauce, giving it a powerful umami flavor.
Because of this, I find myself using it ALL. THE. TIME, in marinara sauce and Latvian stew and Green Chili and Meatloaf and Classic Fish and Chips. It adds that illusive umami component of flavor to a wide variety of dishes, including split pea soup.
Crispy Fried Potatoes tossed in Truffle Oil
Ok. So, all the ways I’ve been talking about building layers of flavor into this split pea soup mean nothing when you’re topping it with crispy fried potatoes and truffle oil.
Perhaps that’s unfair… it IS important to start with a flavorful soup. But, the crispy potatoes and truffle oil take the cake.
I’ve seen a lot of split pea soup recipes that contain a potato or two. This is fine, but honestly, there are many better ways to cook potatoes besides boiling them.
Besides mashing them with cream cheese and butter, my absolute favorite way to cook potatoes is to steam or boil them JUST until they are barely fork tender, then fry or roast them in butter and oil. The technique results in potatoes that are creamy on the inside, and crisp and crackling on the outside.
Potatoes contain a lot of starch that begins to caramelize the second it hits a hot pan. This is good – it’s what gives potatoes that golden, crispy exterior that’s so delicious. However, if you simply chop up potatoes and dump them into a pan, the sugars will caramelize before the inside of the potatoes is cooked through resulting in a dry, tough interior and a burned exterior.
Boiling them first, just until barely fork tender, ensures that the center of the potatoes will be rich and creamy while the outside of the potatoes is golden and crispy.
Toss those perfect fried potatoes around in some truffle oil.
There seem to be a number of truffle oil haters in the world, but this girl isn’t one of them. I will say this: truffle oil has a very strong flavor, so you have to be careful to not add too much. Start by tossing the freshly fried potatoes in about 2 tbsp of truffle oil then drizzle a bit more over the individual bowls of soup if you wish.
As is the case in all of cooking, it’s important to taste frequently and often. Before haphazardly drizzling copious amounts of truffle oil over bowls of soup, taste a spoonful of soup with a truffled potato and go from there. Just that touch of truffle oil on the potatoes might be enough. Or, you might want to add a touch more.
It’s up to you, just go slowly, tasting as you do.
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tbsp butter, divided
- 1 cup chopped yellow onions
- 2 medium leeks, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 lb dried split green peas, rinsed
- 1 cup chopped ham (See note below)
- 8 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth, or water
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 - 3 tbsp lemon juice (to taste)
- 2 - 4 tbsp Truffle oil
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped chives or scallions, for serving (optional)
- Heat 2 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large, saucepan over medium heat just until the butter is melted. Add the onion, leeks, and garlic. Sprinkle in 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper. Cook, stirring every now and then, until the vegetables are soft, about 4-6 minutes.
- Add the thyme, coriander, cumin, and sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer.
- Add split peas, ham, broth, and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the peas are very soft and falling apart, about 1 1/2 hours. (Cover towards the end of the soup is getting too thick - see note below.)
- Fill a 2 or 3 quart saucepan with water and add 2 tbsp salt. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch pieces. As you cut the potatoes, drop them into the water.
- Set the pan over high heat, bring to a boil, and cook until the potatoes are soft, but slightly underdone. Drain in a colander in the sink.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the potatoes. Sauté the potatoes, turning them every once in a while, until they are golden brown and crispy. (Handle the potatoes as little as possible to allow them to develop a crispy crust.)
- Remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon, placing them on a plate or in a bowl. Drizzle 2 tbsp of truffle oil over the potatoes and toss gently to coat. Taste one of the potatoes for salt; if desired, sprinkle them with a bit more salt.
- Remove the split pea soup from the heat and stir in 1 tbsp lemon juice. Taste and add as much more salt, pepper and lemon juice as you like.
- To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with potatoes, a drizzle of truffle oil (optional), and chives or scallions.
While the soup simmers, make the potatoes:
Finish the soup and serve:
What kind of ham should you use in Split Pea Soup?
Use pretty much any kind of ham you like in this soup, but obviously, the better the quality and flavor of the ham, the better. I almost always make this soup when I've ordered a Honey Baked Ham for a holiday celebration. Inevitably, we have some leftover, which I freeze until I'm ready to use it in this split pea soup. But, I've also picked up a small package of ham slices, chopped them into bits, and used them in this soup. Use whatever you have, or whatever you like.
The consistency of this split pea soup is up to you
I prefer split pea soup to be rich and thick, not watery. To achieve that consistancy, simmer the peas in the soup with the pot uncovered. This allows some of the water to evaporate, resulting in a lovely thick soup. However, its important to keep an eye on it towards the end of cooking. If it starts to get too thick, either cover the pot for the remainder of the cook time, or add some more water or broth.
A note about salt
In all my years of writing recipes, I've leared that salt is a tremendously subjective flavoring ingredients, specific to personal tastes and dietary preferences. Therefore, I always list the minimum amount of salt a recipe requires and then trust the cook to add as much more as they like. In the case of this soup, I usually end up adding quite a bit more at the end of cooking. If you find yourself doing the same, do not be alarmed. It's a large pot of soup, so flavoring it requires a decent amount of salt.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 434Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 920mgCarbohydrates: 54gFiber: 9gSugar: 10gProtein: 13g