Pease porridge hot…

Are there any dishes more Canadian than split pea soup?

Certainly Canada isn’t the only place it can be found, but pea soup is definitely part of the fabric of Canadian, and especially Québécois, cuisine. I mean, the brand I grew up with was called Habitant! It’s a great dish for a region with a long, hard winter, because it relies on ingredients that store well: dried peas, carrots, onions and salted pork.

With the weather getting colder around here, I’ve been making more and more soups lately. (Unfortunately, it’s tough to make photos of soup look interesting.) When I realized how long it had been since I last made pea soup, it quickly rose to the top of my “to-cook” list.

I picked up a smoked ham hock and some dried peas and, working from a recipe in Jehane Benoit’s New and Complete Encyclopedia of Cooking, simmered them for a couple of hours with some carrots, onions and salted herbs. I also added a pinch of baking soda, which helps dried legumes break down while they’re cooking; I like my pea soup to have a thick, pureed consistency. I mixed the shredded meat back in (and then coaxed it into a little pile for the photo above), but you could arrange a pile in the middle of the bowl and pour the soup around it for a slightly more elegant presentation. I almost always grind a little black pepper over top, too.

How to make Canadian pea soup

1 Tbsp. rendered bacon fat (or butter or vegetable oil)
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 smoked, cured pork hock (about 1 pound)
1 pound dried split yellow peas, rinsed and drained
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. salted herbs (or substitute a mix of fresh celery leaves, parsley and savory)
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Melt the bacon fat or butter, or heat the vegetable oil, in a large soup pot, and sweat the onions and carrot until softened but not browned. Add the ham hock, split peas, bay leaves, salted herbs, baking soda and 2 litres of water (or enough to cover the peas and mostly cover the ham hock), and stir. Bring to a boil, skim, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for two hours, flipping the ham hock and stirring the peas occasionally. When the meat and peas are tender, remove the bay leaves and ham hock. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and skin. Puree the soup, if desired, adjusting the texture with more water as needed. Return the shredded meat to the soup, taste and adjust seasoning, and serve with freshly ground black pepper.

How do you like your pea soup?

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