February 4, 2010

Pea Soup

Pea soup never looks truly appetizing in a picture, right?

Winter's chill turns one's thoughts to sludgy, porridge-like soups, and pea soup fits the bill.

Years ago, when I was young and broke in New York, I used to love the pea soup at the Kiev restaurant in the East Village. A couple of dollars would get you a steaming bowl of dill-laced Ukrainian pea soup and two thick slices of buttered challah bread.

The Kiev isn't there anymore (Isn't that what makes us old New Yorkers—knowing of places that aren't there anymore?) but I still use a lot of dill in my pea soup.  Maybe it's the Eastern European in me, but dill and soup just seem to go together.

I'm not giving you a recipe for pea soup today, because I never use one. I just kind of wing it, and you can, too. Pea soup is forgiving that way.

I usually start with some leeks sauteed in olive oil or bacon fat or lard or whatever you want. If you don't have leeks, you can use onions. Add some celery if you want. Or not. And some carrots. I don't use always use carrots, because sometimes I like my soup to be all green. However, carrots add some necessary sweetness, so instead I will often add a special ingredient:

They're pea leaves, and I get them in Chinatown. I just chop them up small and add them into the soup. I feel they ramp up the pea flavor and add a sweetness that would be lacking without the carrots.

I also add about a half a large bunch of dill, chopped, and the same again of flat leaf parsley. This time I also added some cilantro, because it was in my fridge. Really, you can't go wrong. Trust me.

Then add the peas, rinsed, and enough water (or broth) to cover them by about 4 inches. Add salt and a ham hock or hambone if you want. Add a smidgen of crushed red pepper. I do. This time I also added a handful of barley.

tangent: Did you know barley, besides being delicious and good for you, also has a very low glycemic index—for those of you interested in these things? Barley is great and I'm always looking for ways to get more of it into my life. Try it instead of rice in risotto or pilaf. Cook it in broth and mix with chopped vegetables, oil and vinegar, and feta cheese for a salad.

I make pea soup in my pressure cooker (Have I mentioned how much I love my pressure cooker?) so I bring the whole lot to a boil and then cook it under high pressure for about 10 minutes. But you could do the same in a regular pot, it'll just take you a lot longer. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cook it for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

When the peas are done and have melted into a liquid sludge, check the consistency. Want it thicker? boil it for a while. Want it thinner? Add some water.

When it's the consistency you want, taste it and add salt if needed, and, if you like a slight acid bite, about a tablespoon of cider vinegar.

At my house we enjoy pea soup as is with a few shakes of Texas Pete or some other vinegary hot sauce. But you could also top it with croutons or creme fraiche or whatever your heart desires.

And you can make it with yellow split peas, too. They cook exactly the same way. So use whichever color peases you.

1 comment:

catspinster said...

OK, sweet girl, I'm going to try it in my new crock pot. I LOVE your blog. I loved your writing in college, and I love it now. We have a butcher near us called D&D meats that has multiple aisles of hot sauces, so I'll look for Texas Pete!

Any chance you'll come out to Seattle again? love, Claireee

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