This hearty Sopa de Chícharos recipe is the Cuban version of the classic split pea soup with the wonderful addition of potatoes, squash, cumin, and chipotle flavors! The whole family loves this easy to make comfort food soup and I love that it is equally suited to stovetop, Instant Pot, or Crockpot preparation!
It's officially soup season here as my family and I await the next cold spell and early snow here in Minnesota. What's the best thing to do when you're not ready for the impending cold season? Make soup!!
Not just any soup will do this year. I've already been out with a snow shovel clearing the patio and hiding away the remnants of my container herb garden. No, when it's already dumped snow and been below freezing in October it's definitely time to heat up with some great Latin recipes!
This flavorful soup is as traditional and classic in Cuba as our split pea soup is here in the States. The warm flavors of cumin and chipotle pepper powder are a welcome addition to this good-for-you bowl of deliciousness!
What are Chícharos
Cuban chícharos, also called sope de chícharos or potaje de chícharos, is a green split pea stew. Chicharos in itself is the split peas part of the soup or stew. Sopa meaning 'soup' and potaje meaning 'potage' from the Old French term 'pottage' which includes many soups, stews, or porridge made in a pot with various ingredients boiled in broth, water, or other liquids.
How to Make Sopa de Chicharos
This is an extremely easy soup to make, don't let the ingredients list fool you! It only takes a few minutes to saute your vegetables, then add the rest of the soup ingredients and let your sopa de chicharos simmer to perfection!
- Olive Oil -the perfect oil to start your soup out with. The olive oil will work better at a higher heat than butter, so if you'd like to swap out and use butter, reduce the heat and cook the vegetable base a few minutes longer.
- Vegetable Base - a combination of sweet yellow onion, carrots, celery, and garlic that will saute in the olive oil to release the base flavors of this fantastic soup!
- Calabaza Squash - a wonderful winter squash that is also known as Abóbora, Auyama, Calabasa, Calabash, Cuban squash, Green pumpkin, West Indian pumpkin, and Zapollo. The squash can be omitted or another winter squash variety can be substituted.
- Red Potatoes - several medium-sized red potatoes that have been cleaned and diced. There's no need to peel the potatoes unless you prefer them without any skin!
- Ham - tender pieces of ham are a staple ingredient of this hearty soup! Pork belly, bacon, and chorizo can also be added as proteins with the split peas.
- Split Peas - a one-pound bag of split peas is used, do follow the rinsing and soaking instructions that are on the packaging. My split peas were soaked overnight, but a minimum of 4 hours is usually recommended.
- Seasoning - this tasty combination of herbs and spices is one of the Cubano elements that make this soup so amazing! Cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, ground chipotle pepper, garlic powder, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. I'm heavy-handed on my cumin seasoning and add more than given in the recipe card. If you love the cumin flavor too, try a full tablespoon instead. Oh! And some adobo sauce is divine!
- Liquids - chicken broth, bone broth, or chicken stock can be used in equal portions with water. Use low-sodium chicken broth to reduce the salt in the soup so you can control the sodium content better if you like. Wait to season with salt until the end of the cooking time. This way your flavors have come together and you can best judge how much salt to add at that point before serving.
Cook The Sopa de Chicharos
- Prepare your packaged dried split peas by rinsing and soaking the peas for a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight ( or follow the package instructions ). Rinse the soaked peas again before adding to your soup.
- Bring a large stockpot or Dutch oven with the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and saute stirring frequently for 3 - 4 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Add the chopped calabaza squash ( or butternut squash ) and chopped red potatoes.
- Add the liquid smoke and bay leaves, plus all of the seasoning including dried oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, ground chipotle pepper, salt, and pepper.
- Dice up your ham meat, or use a meaty ham bone, and add them to the stockpot. Bacon, pork belly, or chorizo can also be added.
- Place the soaked and rinsed split peas into the stockpot.
- Finally, pour in the liquids including equal parts chicken broth, bone broth, or chicken stock. Use 4 cups of each, both the chicken broth and water. If you like a brothy soup you can add more water or broth toward the end of cooking. Stir the ingredients, cover, and bring the soup to a rolling boil.
- Stir the soup again, and reduce heat to simmer the soup for 1 hour 30 minutes. Stir occasionally during the cooking time.
- At the one hour mark of simmering, remove the ham hock ( if using ), allow the bone to cool slightly, then remove the meat and return it to your soup.
The ham and peas should be tender when the soup is ready. You can use a hand-held immersion blender, if desired, to make a creamy soup. You can also use a potato masher to just break things up a bit.
Serve with large chunks of hand-torn pan Cubano ( or French bread or baguettes ) to enjoy every single bit of this hearty, tasty green split pea soup!
Storing Your Chícharos
Transfer any remaining sopa de chicharos to an air tight storage container and allow the soup to cool completely before storing it in your refrigerator. The soup will be better on day two! It will last up to 3 - 4 days when properly stored.
Refrigerated sopa de chicharos will tend to thicken, but will thin back out a bit when reheated. If needed, a splash of water to thin it out more can be added until your desired consistency is reached.
Can Sope de Chicharos be Frozen
Yes! This soup freezes very well! Make sure that the potaje de chicharos is completely cooled before storing it in an airtight freezer container. Leave about ¾ of an inch of air space to allow for expansion when frozen.
Thaw your frozen soup in the refrigerator overnight before reheating. Use a paper towel over your bowl if reheating in the microwave, or reheat over low heat in a saucepan.
Best Substitution for Calabaza Squash or Pumpkin
Since calabaza squash and pumpkin are both sweet and from the same Cucurbitaceae family (along with gourds), the best substitution for one works equally well for the other. I have found that when using calabaza or pumpkin for baking, that I can substitute either butternut squash or acorn squash with superb results!
All four of these winter squash varieties have a fine, smooth texture that is suitable for baking or cooking with. They also all feature a similar slightly sweet, slightly nutty, mild flavor that does not overpower any other ingredients that they are paired with!
Sopa de Chícharos
- 1 lb dried split peas (16 oz package - follow the directions to soak overnight if needed)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1 large yellow sweet onion (diced)
- 1 tablespoon garlic (minced)
- 6-8 ribs celery (chopped)
- 3-4 large carrots (chopped)
- 4-5 medium red potatoes (chopped)
- 10-12 oz calabaza squash (or butternut squash)
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- ½ tablespoon dried oregano
- ½ tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon each, salt & pepper (or more to taste)
- 10 oz ham (1 - 1 ½ lb ham shank with meat on it is ideal)
- 4 cups chicken broth (bone broth or stock)
- 4 cups water
- Soak the dried split green peas as needed, follow the package instructions to determine the quantity of water and length of time needed to ready your split peas. Rinse the peas thoroughly before and after soaking.
- In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Add the chopped calabaza (or butternut) squash and chopped red potatoes.
- Add the liquid smoke, bay leaves, and seasoning (dried oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, ground chipotle pepper, salt, and pepper).
- Add the diced ham or a whole ham hock with plenty of meat still on the bone.
- Drain and rinse the soaked split peas and add them to the stock pot.
- Add the chicken stock or broth with an equal part of water and stir the ingredients.
- Cover and bring your soup to a rolling boil, stir and then reduce the heat.
- Simmer for about 1 hour 30 minutes, stirring the soup occasionally. After 1 hour of simmering, you would need to remove your ham bone. Allow the bone to cool for a few minutes, then pull any meat off the bone, shred it, and return the meat to your soup.
- Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking before serving. Also, if the soup consistency is not looking thick enough you can remove the lid for the last 20-30 minutes of the simmering cook time to help thicken your sopa de chicharos.
- Add all of the ingredients in your slow cooker (that is at least 4 qt in size). Modify the liquids amount to 2 cups less than the stovetop version (so 3 cups each chicken broth and water, or 4 cups chicken broth or stock plus 2 cups water).
- Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours, then remove the ham bone and strip any remaining meat from the bone. Shred or dice the meat and return to the soup.
Instant Pot Instructions
- Set your Instant Pot to 'saute' and heat the oil. Add the diced onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and saute stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Press 'cancel' on the Instant Pot.
- Modify the liquids amount to 2 cups less than the stovetop version (so 3 cups each chicken broth and water, or 4 cups chicken broth or stock plus 2 cups water).
- Add the broth and water, calabaza (or butternut) squash, diced red potatoes, ham meat or ham bone, plus seasoning (dried oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, ground chipotle pepper, salt, and pepper). Stir to combine.
- Place the cover securely on the Instant Pot and set it to 'Manual' mode for 15 minutes.
- Once the 15 minutes cook time has passed, allow your Instant Pot to natural-release the pressure. Quick-release any remaining pressure after that 15 minutes is done and remove the ham bone. Remove any meat from the bone and return it to your soup. Stir, and adjust seasoning to taste.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!