It occurred to me the other day that I don't have a split pea soup recipe on the site. Given that pea soup is a Nordic staple, I thought it was high time to fix that!
I considered doing something more traditional, with a ham hock or some other pork product added to the soup for meatiness and flavor. But then I decided that it would be nice to have a really good vegetarian version of split pea soup, one that was just as hearty and satisfying as those containing meat.
The inspiration for this Vegetarian Split Pea Soup with Barley comes from Deborah Madison's indispensable Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. What really caught my eye about her recipe was the inclusion of smoked paprika which gives the soup a smoky quality similar to what you might get with ham or bacon. Another small but impactful ingredient here is a tablespoon of soy sauce added at the end. While this isn't enough to make your soup taste like soy sauce, it is just the right amount to amp up the umami factor, adding a savory depth that can be hard to achieve in vegetarian cooking. Add some aromatics and chopped fresh herbs and you've got yourself a satisfying base for vegetarian pea soup.
You will notice that the recipe calls for a pinch of baking soda. While this might seem odd or out of place, the baking soda actually helps soften the split peas more thoroughly and quickly by changing the pH level of the cooking liquid. But no more than a pinch! Too much baking soda can lead to off flavors in the final product.
Finally, I wanted to add something for textural contrast to give the soup a bit more heft. I immediately thought of pearl barley. I liked the idea of cooking it separately and topping each serving with a generous spoonful or two of hearty barley grains. This was just what I was looking for! I now had a savory, smoky and satisfying version of vegetarian (vegan, even!) split pea soup that could compete with its meaty counterparts any day of the week.
I hope you give this soul-warming soup a try. I know we can all use a little comfort food these days, and this Easy Vegetarian Split Pea Soup with Barley is both satisfying AND nourishing in the best of ways.
Easy Vegetarian Split Pea Soup with Barley
- 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 1 large onion diced small
- 2 carrots peeled and diced small
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 ½ cups yellow split peas picked over and rinsed
- 4 cups vegetable or low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 cups water
- Pinch of baking soda
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Coarse salt and pepper to taste
- Cooked pearl barley for serving see note
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, smoked paprika and rosemary and cook for an additional minute.
- Add split peas, broth, water, baking soda and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until peas are very tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Add soy sauce and parsley and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pearl barley and serve.