Right now I’m loving the solidarity we all have regarding winter. As horrid as it is, hearing everyone in North America (and in Europe and the Middle East too!) complain about the lack of sun, the frigid temperatures, and the ungodly amounts of snow makes me feel like I’m part of a community. Tonight, along with everyone else in Virginia, I’m batting down the hatches and preparing for the worst–Winter Wallop III is on its way and this time I’m prepared. I’ve stocked up on fresh green vegetables (collards, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli) and I’ve amped my workouts for the week to counteract the sloth that I’ll turn into when the snow hits. And three’s a charm, right? So maybe after the third apocalyptic winter storm of the season we won’t have any more. My fingers are definitely crossed!

Three is also a charm when it comes to split pea soup, I’m finding. Fall of 2007 I made V*Con’s roasted red pepper and split pea soup and it was pretty good. Not what I was looking for, but pretty good. Fall of 2008 I came up with my own recipe which incorporated seitan ham and involved the use of a blender to get the perfect texture. This year, however, I think I’ve hit pay dirt. I think I’ve found the perfect smoky, ham flavored, mushy split pea soup of my childhood.

Ham flavored? Mushy split peas? I know, I know, you’re wondering what deep end I’ve plunged into. Neither of those sound to good. And, well, when I reveal the secret ingredient, I know a lot of you aren’t going to approve of it. I mean…it’s just not an acceptable flavoring in most circles. But bear with me, the soup is worth it.

I can’t remember when Renee first posted about the Goya Ham Concentrate but when she did I became a tad bit obsessed with the idea of it. Something easily found in your everyday grocery store in the Mexican aisle, something that’s vegan, and something that’s named “ham concentrate?!?!” Yes, yes please. True to word, it is vegan. But there is a but. The two main ingredients? 1. salt 2. MSG. Well, the third one is pretty funny too, “artificial ham flavor.” Ok, sure, the seasoning is pretty bad and it contains MSG and I understand why you would be averse to MSG, but remember, MSG in small quantities isn’t bad for you. However, that said, the flavoring is totally optional. You could throw in a little liquid smoke and extra salt to make up the difference.

The point is, I’ve finally made the ham soup of my childhood–sans fatty pieces of ham floating around in it. The mushiness is good–in fact, it’s required. And while the blended recipe was satisfying, my mom never blended hers. Instead she let the split peas cook down until they got mushy and thickened the soup. MSG or no MSG, this one is a winner in my book, if only because it’s so darn simple.

Smoky Split Pea Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp aleppo pepper (or 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 c dried split peas
7 c vegetable broth
1 packed Goya Ham Concentrate (optional)

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute until tender, 6-7 minutes. Add the garlic and spices and saute for 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add the split peas, vegetable broth, and ham concentrate and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower to a simmer and cover.

Cook for 1-1 1/2 hours until the peas being to break down and thicken.

Serves 6