Back when I was just a cub reporter in Raleigh, N.C., the city had an array of perfect lunchtime dives - restaurants that had been around forever with the scars to prove it. At least once a week, a group of us would climb the creaky stairs to a place appropriately called "The Upstairs," where Nell Styron and the ladies served a serious split-pea soup, thick and flavored with ham.
But the thing that set this split-pea soup apart was the barley.
Barley is a true secret weapon if you’re trying to make a soup that’s velvety and thick without being gloppy, and finally, comforting and homey. (I also use barley instead of potatoes in my vegetable-beef soup.)
Sadly, The Upstairs closed in 2000, and I really miss that soup. No doubt it was an heirloom recipe, but nonetheless Alicia and I set out to see if we could create a suitable substitute.
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We realized quickly that the best way to get the signature texture was to cook the soup in a slow cooker. And that’s fortunate because it means the soup is practically effortless to make.
Just think how great it’s going to be when you walk in the door from work to the smells of simmering Split-Pea Soup with Barley and Ham. I envy you already.
For another easy legume-based soup – this one is a 20-minute, top-of-the-stove recipe – check out our Speedy Black-Bean Soup at www.KitchenScoop.com.
Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are mothers whose cookbook is called “Desperation Dinners!” Send tales of woe or success and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Slow-Cooked Split-Pea Soup with Barley and Ham
Makes 6 servings. Start to finish: 10-minute prep, four to eight hours unattended slow cooking, depending on temperature chosen (see Cook’s note).
1 cup dry split green peas
1/2 cup medium pearl barley (see Cook’s note)
3/4 cup chopped ham
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3/4 chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
4 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Barley is usually found on the rice or dried-bean aisle, but sometimes it’s near the oatmeal. Do not use “quick” 10-minute barley in this soup, as it will turn mushy.
Can be doubled easily if serving larger crowds.
Layer the ingredients in the order listed (except salt and pepper) in a 2-quart or larger slow cooker. Do not stir.
Cover and cook on high four hours or low eight to nine hours, until the peas reach the desired texture.
Remove the bay leaf, stir well, and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once.
Cook’s note: Cooking four hours on high or eight on low produces tender peas, but not a mushy texture.
Approximate nutritional value per serving: 192 calories (7 percent from fat), 1.5 grams fat (trace amount saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams protein, 33.5 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams dietary fiber, 300 milligrams sodium