Split Pea Soup with Ham

By Ann Fulton

Healthy, economical pantry ingredients combine with refrigerator staples in this hearty, comforting, slow cooked soup. Makes a big batch and freezes well, too.
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Wholesome, economical pantry ingredients combine with refrigerator staples in this hearty, comforting, slow cooked soup. Makes a big batch and freezes well too.


It’s funny how tastes change.  When I was little, the color and name alone were unappealing.  Now, I consider split pea soup to be a soul-warming comfort food and one of my favorite soups.

The fact that this savory bowl of deliciousness is wholesome and so easy to prepare is, metaphorically speaking, icing on the cake.

Funny enough, my kids have always loved this soup. Maybe it was a boy versus girl thing, but somehow green foods conjured up images of monsters and superheroes that made them seem power-inducing and exciting. Perhaps if someone had presented this as Incredible Hulk Soup when I was little I would have come around more quickly! (I was always amazed by how the calm and mild-mannered David Banner suddenly turned green and started popping out of his clothes!)

Color and funny names aside, this soup offers added appeal based on easy advance preparation followed by hands-off cooking. If I know time will be tight, I’ll chop the veggies the day before and store them in the refrigerator with the herbs nestled on top. Then, when ready to cook, I merely transfer everything to the slow cooker and turn it on.

Healthy, economical pantry ingredients combine with refrigerator staples in this hearty, comforting, slow cooked soup. Makes a big batch and freezes well, too.

If you want this to be an all-day cooking affair, use the low setting. If you’re making this in the afternoon for dinner that night, high will get the job done in half the time.

The resulting batch is a big one that’s ideal for leftovers throughout the week, sharing with a friend or freezing for future meals.

Healthy, economical pantry ingredients combine with refrigerator staples in this hearty, comforting, slow cooked soup. Makes a big batch and freezes well, too.

What exactly are split peas?

Split peas are mature green peas that have been dried. Once dried, the outer skin of the pea is removed, and the pea is split in half at the natural split in the seed. Splitting increases the surface area of the pea. As a result, split peas do not require soaking and cook more quickly than whole dried peas and many other legumes.

Because they do not have the outer skin, split peas also break down more easily than most legumes when cooked, yielding a pureed consistency without the need of a blender.

Green and yellow split peas are simply different varieties of the seeds of the Pisum sativum L. (or field pea) plant. They have a similar nutritional content and cooking time, but yellow peas tend to have a slightly milder yet earthier flavor, while green peas are sweeter.

What are the benefits of split peas?

  • Split peas are an excellent plant-base source of fiber and protein; as such, even a small portion of split peas is filling.
  • These legumes are packed with energy-providing complex carbohydrates and are an excellent source of iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorous and folate.
  • Split peas are naturally cholesterol-free, very low in sodium and virtually fat-free.
  • Studies have shown that a diet rich in split peas and other legumes may help reduce cholesterol, hypertension, the risk of prediabetes, and may also offer significant anti-inflammatory effects.

Did you know:

Split peas are both legumes and pulses. Pulses are part of the legume family (any plants that grow in pods), but the term pulse refers only to the dry edible seed within the pod.

Healthy, economical pantry ingredients combine with refrigerator staples in this hearty, comforting, slow cooked soup. Makes a big batch and freezes well, too.

Garlicky, herby Homemade Parmesan Croutons ⇩⇩ are easy to make with a variety of bread and add great flavor and crunch to this soup (and the gluten-free version is equally awesome!).

A simple mix of herbs, spices, olive oil and Parmesan makes snack-worthy croutons that add crisp crunch to soups, salads, casseroles and more. The flavor-packed bites offer a practical way to make use of leftover bread, from baguettes to sturdy sandwich bread, with an excellent gluten-free option. 
I hope this is as much of a hit in your house as it is in ours. Maybe it’ll also spark some fun conversation about childhood food memories!

Don’t eat ham? If you’d like to make this soup but don’t eat ham, read the first few comments below the recipe for a variety of suggestions as to how to replace the flavor provided by the ham hock. And as always, please feel free to offer your own suggestions and check back in with a comment if you try!

Split Pea Soup with Ham
Yield: 8 servings
A mere quarter cup of dried split peas provides 13 grams of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and 10% of your recommended daily iron intake. They're also high in Vitamin B1, folate, copper and a long list of other minerals. Here, they cook down into a thick, creamy soup so there's no need to get out the blender. To make this soul-warming soup even heartier, you can add a diced potato along with the following ingredients.
  • 1 (16-ounce) package dried split peas, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups (1 quart) low-sodium chicken broth (see notes)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped or cut into slices (about 1½ cups-although I often go heavy on the carrots)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup; I chop and include any leaves)
  • 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves** (or ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
  • 1 smoked ham hock (see notes)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional for serving: croutons (I love this recipe)
  1. Mix all of the ingredients except the ham hock in 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Nestle the ham in the center.
  2. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours (or on high heat for 3 to 4 hours) or until the peas are completely tender. Remove the ham hock from the slow cooker, and place on a plate or cutting board to cool slightly.
  3. Once cool enough to handle, pull the meat from bones, and chop or shred into small pieces. Discard the bones and fatty areas, and add the ham pieces to the soup.
  4. Stir well and add some freshly ground pepper and salt, to taste. (I add a lightly rounded teaspoon of kosher salt and a generous ½ teaspoon of pepper. Precise amount will depend on type of broth used and personal preference.) Garnish with optional croutons and enjoy.

*The smoked ham hock provides exceptional flavor in this soup. I trim some of the exterior fat before cooking and there is truly no flavor loss without it. I have also made this soup with all water and no chicken broth. In that case, you will need to add additional salt to replace what would have been in the broth.

**As a shortcut when using fresh thyme, I’ve recently started adding 2-3 nice sprigs and then remove the stems prior to serving. This imparts all the fresh flavor with one less thing to chop!

Leftovers: This recipe makes a generous batch that will keep for about a week in the refrigerator and freezes well. (They’re great for sharing with a friend, too.) Leftovers will thicken somewhat, which we enjoy, although you may add additional broth to thin if desired.

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  1. Nancy Fischer

    Hey Ann! Made this tonight using the leftover spiral ham we had for Easter. I usually use it for lentil soup but when I saw this split pea recipe, I decided I was ready for a change.
    Not only was it quick and easy to put together, but it was delicious – the perfect soup for this rainy, raw afternoon. And I love that I can get another meal, and then some, out of it. I didn’t make the croutons because I had leftover rolls I wanted to have with it. Next time I will definitely give the croutons a try.
    Thanks again for an another great recipe!

    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Nancy, I’m so glad you enjoyed! This soup is one of my longtime favorites and it would be especially perfect given this stretch of rainy, raw weather we’ve been having. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback and enjoy the leftovers!

  2. Patti

    We love split pea soup, I have always made it with a meaty ham bone left over from a big dinner. I think your choice of a ham hock is super and will impart a great flavor. I will try it!
    I do have a question I’ve been longing to ask. What brand of kosher salt do you use? There is a vast difference in saltiness between Morton and Diamond. Our area grocery stores all carry Morton, so that is what I use. However, it is the saltier brand. Diamond can be found on Amazon.

    1. Ann Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Patti. Split pea soup is so satisfying! Regarding the salt question, I use Morton because the brand is more widely available nationwide. I’d also rather have people who use a less salty brand have to add more rather than the other way around – where someone could end up with a too salty end result. I try to be as specific as possible without being too nitpicky, as there is so much variation among salts. Perhaps I should begin mentioning a brand for those who are wondering. Thank you for asking the question!

    1. Ann Post author

      I think smoked turkey would be a lovely option, Marcia, and you could absolutely use chicken or turkey sausage. Vegans could even add one of the many plant-based alternatives that are now widely available. As I mentioned in the above comment, I would opt for all broth rather than the broth-water combination, and adjust seasoning to taste. Hope you enjoy!

    1. Heather Jane

      I’ve been wondering the same thing, Lisa, because I love pea soup, but my husband doesn’t eat meat. I thought maybe kombu (or konbu) in its whole form might be a good flavoring agent, bringing similar salty and smoky notes. I haven’t cooked with kombu myself, but dashi broth, which it’s used to make, is full of flavor. What do you think, Ann? Have you cooked with kombu?

      1. Ann Post author

        Great questions, Lisa and Heather…something I should have mentioned above! I do tend to make this soup with the ham hock, but if I were to make a vegan alternative, there are a few things I would try. First, I would use 7 cups of a good quality vegetable stock, rather than the 4 cups chicken broth and 3 cups water. Also, smoked paprika would complement this soup and replace some of the smoky flavor afforded by the ham hock. I’d maybe start with 1 teaspoon, as too much can be overpowering, and then increase if you think it’s not enough. Kombu is another great idea. I’ve cooked more with, dulse, another form of seaweed, which does provide good umami. If using kombu, I’d try 1-2 strips. If opting for dulse, you could use the flakes or seek out a powdered form if you’d like it to be completely integrated. Yet another suggestion would be to stir in several spoonfuls of nutritional yeast. And a drizzle of tamari or soy sauce would replace some of the savory flavor. Beyond that, you’ll likely want to use a little more salt or maybe finish each serving with a sprinkle of flaky or coarse sea salt. Lastly, a sprinkle of za’atar might be nice.

        If you try any of these additions or come up with different ideas, please report back!

        1. Heather Jane

          Oooh, what great suggestions! I love the smoked paprika idea. It’s so interesting about dulse. I come from a part of Nova Scotia where dried dulse is a traditional food, eaten for generations. My parents both remember the huge barrels of delicious cured dulse that would come into their fathers’ stores. Yum! But when I a kid in Ontario, my inland friends thought it was so weird. LOL, now it’s cool. The very best dulse in my opinion comes from Grand Manan Island or Victoria Beach, both on the Bay of Fundy.

          1. Ann Post author

            I love your story about dulse and the image of those big barrels at what were, I’m guessing, general stores. And it is funny how certain things go from weird to hip over time. (Sometimes I guess that works in reverse, too!) Thanks for sharing the history as well as the prime sources dulse.

      2. Morwenna

        I always make this same soup (on the stove) using water instead of broth and a little liquid smoke or vegetarian bacon bits (like “Bacos”) instead of ham. Comes out great every time.