Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

Split pea soup is ONE of my many favorite comfort foods starting today. Yes, you read that correctly. Today. I’ve only had split pea soup once in my lifetime before today, and I was in my early adolescent years when I tried it. We were taking a family trip to the Bay Area to see some friends and family for dinner, and decided to stop at Pea Soup Andersen’s for, well, a bathroom break. But what was supposed to be a bathroom break turned into an early lunch. We had always heard rave reviews of this place, and decided to see what all the hype was about for ourselves. For those who are unfamiliar with Pea Soup Andersen’s, it’s a California classic famed for its all-you-can-eat split pea soup, with a few restaurants found up and down California.

Well, we came, we saw, we conquered. And me no likey-likey at that time. I didn’t understand split pea soup. It looked like a big glop of green goo in my bowl. The texture, the color, and the flavors were unappealing. I had half a bowl, and did not pursue any further all-you-can-eat bowls. I mean, that’s what all the hype was about? Blech. So as a finicky teenager eater, I opted for some “real food” – pancakes – while my parents were eating bowl after bowl of soup. And to drive home my point of how “gross” I thought split pea soup was at that time, my brother also had the same experience as I and opted for pancakes, too.

One of our New Year’s resolution for this year was to make more soups. I was going down a list of soups to make today, and none seemed to appeal to my partner. Actually, she’d interject “split pea soup” after each soup suggestion I made. I made a yucky face at my partner’s suggestion, and was not excited. But I agreed, with some hesitation, which she doesn’t know (at least up until now). So I decided to give split pea soup another chance today. And I’m sure glad I did! OH EM GEE, I can’t believe what I missed all these years! I can’t wait to make this again.

I’m realizing I should listen to my partner more often… this seems to be a common theme this week :)

The recipe below is my own take on split pea soup. I searched through many different split pea soup recipes, but just wasn’t excited about any one in particular. I decided to use a few ideas here and there from several recipes, and added my own twists to make this fantabulous soup.

Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon and Miniature Open-Faced Grilled Cheese “Sandwiches”

5 cloves garlic, minced
4 large leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, chopped into small pieces
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yukon potato, diced
1 pound (one 16 ounce bag) of dried green split peas, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2 quarts (8 cups) of low-sodium chicken broth
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
6 slices of canadian bacon

Heat a large pot or a dutch oven over medium-high heat, and heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add garlic, leeks, carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Cook until vegetables have softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add potatoes, split peas and chicken broth.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about two hours, until soup is thick. Remove the bay leaves at this time. With a hand-held immersion blender, pulse until you achieve a smoother texture. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin out the soup with more broth (if you have extra on hand) or water. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!

Optional toppings:
1) Crispy, crumbled bacon, pancetta, canadian bacon, or Spam

Heat a nonstick skillet lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Pan-fry your choice of pork on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from skillet, and when cool to handle, dicepork into small pieces. Mix into the soup, or topped on the soup.

2) Miniature grilled cheese “sandwiches”

4 slices ciabatta bread, cut into bite-size squares
1 tablespoon melted butter
Smoked Gouda cheese, cut into thin slices

Brush butter on bread. Spread bread on a cookie sheet and place cheese on about half of the pieces. Broil bread until cheese is melted. Then, sandwich pieces together and broil until golden brown.

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