I don't remember my parents making a lot of non-Filipino food when I was growing up. There was the occasional spaghetti -- a jar of Ragu simmered with finely chopped onions, celery and ground beef. We'd sprinkle buttered toast with garlic powder and bam! Italian night. Or my dad would make steak and fried rice, or sometimes mashed potatoes. Then there was this dish that my mom made just for me, a package of frozen meatballs heated in a mixture of barbecue sauce, ketchup and onions, which I'd eat over white rice. I loved that stuff. I'd still eat that stuff.
But there was no meatloaf, or chicken pot pies, or biscuits and gravy. For me, traditional American comfort food came already prepared in cans, boxes and microwavable containers. Canned soup. Kraft macaroni and cheese. Budget Gourmet frozen dinners: Swedish meatballs, beef stroganoff, Salisbury steak with veggies. I'd eat them on the floor in front of the TV in my parents' room and wonder what it would be like if every meal included a side of peas rather than white rice. If there was ketchup on the table instead of shrimp paste. I wasn't ungrateful for the food my parents made -- I loved Filipino food. Lumpia, pancit, adobo. But when you're young, and all your friends and the people on TV are eating certain kinds of food, you kind of wish you could be like them, too. At least just some of the time.
My favorite canned soup was Campbell's Chunky Split Pea and Ham. I'd heat it up until it was scalding hot, then burn my tongue on the first few bites every time. (To this day, I still eat my soup like this.) But unlike my precious packaged ramen noodles that you could never ever convince me to give up, despite its empty calories and outrageous sodium content and general icky processed food stigma, I haven't had a can of split pea and ham soup in years. In fact, the last time I remember buying it, I was in college, standing in the grocery store aisle with my new boyfriend/future husband, sneaking it into the cart and hoping he wouldn't break up with me out of disgust when he saw it.
The reason for the end of canned split pea soup in my life is, of course, that homemade is just so much better. Especially when you can get your hands on the ham bone from Christmas or Easter dinner, although good luck with that one if you didn't bake the ham yourself. No one wants to give up that ham bone. Believe me, I've asked. Even my own parents, who always insist I take food home whenever I visit, get very quiet when I ask them for the ham bone. They know what kind of soup it makes, and I don't blame them for refusing to give it up.
So, I get ham shanks from the grocery store. Whole Foods sells especially large, meaty, delicious ham shanks, but they're more expensive than the ones you'd get at your regular market. I've posted a split pea soup recipe here before, but this is the one I've been making for the past year or so, and I'll probably keep making it until the day I die. It's all about the slow cooker. Really incredible slow cooker meals can be hard to come by, especially ones that require no browning of meat but simply throwing everything in and calling it a day, so when you find a really good one, keep it. I'll be making this one for my own kids, along with pancit and meat loaf and fried rice and pasta and adobo and baked mac and cheese and tacos and and and ...
Slow Cooker Split Pea and Ham Soup (from Whole Foods)
This soup gets very thick over time, so when reheating, just add a bit more water until it's the consistency you like. And Speaking of my parents and ham bones, they actually asked me to make this soup over Christmas with the bone they had frozen from Thanksgiving. So if you're willing to share the soup, you might find someone willing to share the ham bone. Also, can you believe that photo up there has been sitting in my Flickr stream for over a year now, just waiting patiently to be posted on the blog? I need to get better at this, clearly.
1 (16 ounce) package dried green split peas, rinsed
1 meaty ham bone or ham shank
1 cup potatoes, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup onion, diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
Layer ingredients in slow cooker in the order given, adding the broth and water last. Do not stir ingredients. Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours, until peas are very soft and ham falls off the bone. Remove bone from slow cooker. Shred ham using a fork, discard bone and return meat to slow cooker. Stir and serve.