You are probably wondering how I arrived at a soup containing split peas, two different kids of lentils, ham and sweet potatoes.
I assure you, this did not involve a visit from the soup fairy.
I started with a meaty ham bone for which I had already envisioned a soupy destination. More precisely, split pea soup. This was a tradition in my family, making split pea soup from a ham bone. It usually came out very thick, or something like molten library paste. I like mine thinner, but with texture.
I was ready to make a run to the Whole Foods for split peas when I checked myself, thinking a quick peek in the pantry might save me a trip. Sure enough, in a big jar gathering dust on the top shelf, there was the remains of a bag of split peas. Not nearly enough to make a pot of soup, however. In the same container I found a handful of yellow Indian lentils. Again, an obvious insufficiency. There was also a small quantity of French Puy lentils, memory of some long-ago stew.
Neither of the three would suffice on its own. But with all three together, I had a soup and no need for a shopping trip. I also had part of a sweet potato, left over from making a rustic chicken stew (stay tuned). Voila, split pea-lentil-ham soup with sweet potato.
First, cut a medium yellow onion and three carrots (peeled) into small dice. Start these cooking in about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil over moderately low heat. Stir in about 1 teaspoon coarse salt to draw out the liquid. Add two or three cloves garlic, thinly sliced.
Cook until the onions are soft, about 8 minutes, then add the ham bone plus 1/2 cup split peas, 1/2 cup yellow lentils and 1/2 cup French Puy lentils. Add 1 cup sweet potato cut into bite-size pieces. Pour seven cups water into the pot and add a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf tied into a bundle. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook very slowly for three or four hours.
As it cooks, the ham will eventually fall off the bone. The split peas and yellow lentils will completely disintegrate, leaving the French lentils very soft but still holding a bit of texture. At this point you can remove the pot from the heat and fish out the bones and any clumps of gristle, as well as the herb bundle, using a pair of tongs or slotted spoon. Season to taste with ground black pepper and salt.
Serve the soup hot, perhaps with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or maple syrup. A crusty piece of bread will work nicely. This is a great soup for cleaning out the pantry. Don't be afraid to amend it to suit your particular cleaning needs.