As my family and friends enjoy the blistering heat of the Caribbean sun, I have to settle for temperatures which are starting to dip below the freezing point and it will only get colder as we move into January and February. However, with a huge pot of ham bone soup simmering away on the stove, nothing brings me more comfort and memories of the sunny Caribbean. Ham bone soup is one of those meals I look forward to after the holidays… not only is it very delicious and easy to make, it helps me forget how cold it is outside as we get set for the shorter days and frigid temperatures.
Soup is a traditional “Saturday” dish on the islands and it’s one of those traditions we take with us wherever we may now call home. Go to any West Indian market on a Friday evening or early Saturday morning and see people busy shopping for salted meats and ground provisions. No joke.. I even saw two women almost fight for the last ‘hand’ of green fig (banana) a few years back at a West Indian store.
This is one of those soups where you put everything in the pot and allow it to do it’s thing as it takes about an hour and a half to cook. Ham bone soup is an excellent one pot meal when you don’t feel like staying hours in the kitchen and it’s very delicious and filling.
1 Ham Bone (or any smoked bones)
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 tablespoon salt (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper
1 large onion
1 large carrot
3 large potatoes
3 cloves garlic
4 sprigs thyme
2 cups dry yellow split peas
1 1/2 lb butternut squash
2 tablespoon olive oil (or veg)
10 cups water
Optional – (flour dumplings)
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of sugar
Notes. If you don’t have a ham bone, you can use ham hocks and if pork is not your thing, smoked turkey or beef bones would work just as well. I used about 1 1/4 tablespoon salt, but since your tolerance for salt will be different than mine, start off with a tablespoon and adjust accordingly. You can certainly use stock instead of the 10 cups of water I mentioned, but I like to get the true flavor of the ham bone, so I try not to overpower it with any sort of stock.
We’ll start off by peeling and chopping all the ingredients. With the squash, carrots and potato, be sure to leave them in huge pieces so when they cook down they won’t totally melt away.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on a med/high heat, then add the sliced garlic and onion and cook for a couple minutes (until they’re soft and edges start going brown). Now add the black pepper, thyme (I left the thyme on the sprig as I love the extra flavor from it – at the end of cooking I can remove the sprigs), cubed potato, cubed quash and carrot. Give the split peas a good rinse with cool water, drain and add it to the pot as well. Give everything a good stir.
Since I had some leftover meat with my ham, I stripped what I could off the bone and gave it a rough chop (cubes). Now add the coconut milk and salt to the pot and give it a good stir.
Add the pieces of ham, the ham bone and the scallions (rough chop them) to the pot and stir as best as you can (it may be difficult with the huge ham bone).
Now is when you add the water (make sure everything gets covered) and place the habanero (or any hot pepper you have available) whole, to the pot. By adding the pepper whole, we’ll get some flavor and not the heat. However if heat is your thing, you can chop the pepper before adding or burst it later on in the cooking process as I did.
Turn up the heat and bring the pot to a boil. As it starts to boil you’ll notice some frothy stuff at the top, skim that off and discard. Now turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and allow to cook for one and half hours. Remember to stir things every 15 minutes or so. You will notice that as the split peas become tender the soup itself will get very thick… this is when it’s important to stir as the peas can stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
After 1 hr and 15 mins the split peas should be close to being fully cooked and there should be a wonderful scent throughout your kitchen and home. It’s now time to make the dumplings. In a bowl add the flour and a pinch of sugar, give it a stir with a fork, then start adding water to form a dough. In the video below you’ll see how I did it. Basically you’re looking for a soft, smooth dough. After the dough is made, pinch off pieces (about the size of a large marble) and form into a large cigarette and add to the pot. Basically all you do is… roll the dough between both hands to form the shape of the dumplings.
After adding the dumplings, allow it to cook for another 15 minutes, then it’s all done. Check for salt as I’m sure your tolerance for salt will be a bit different than mine. Now is when you would fish out the habanero pepper and the sprigs from the thyme we added earlier in the cooking process.
This is a huge pot of soup, so why not make it a family affair and invite some relatives and friends over. If not, put the remainder in a freezer container and freeze for a couple months at least. All you do is thaw, add some water in a pot and reheat. Additionally, this soup will get VERY thick when it cools down, so if you’re reheating on the stove, do add about 1/2 cup of water to thin it out a bit.