Saturday, February 6, 2010

Darn good imperfect split pea soup

I wasn't going to post until I found an awesome recipe or took an amazing picture or something, but then I realized that strategy would probably result in an average of one post per year. If that. So, I'm going to try a different approach. I'm going to post about the things that I cook, even if they're neither perfect nor photogenic. Because cooking isn't really about perfection, in my opinion, it's about good food.

So. Last week, I made some darn good split pea soup by adopting the ideas that I liked from three different recipes:

1. Veganomicon has a recipe called "double pea soup with roasted red peppers," which calls for both split peas and frozen peas. I think this is a stroke of genius. Normal split pea soup is dull green and not all that appetizing in appearance, whereas the addition of frozen peas makes the color much brighter and also adds some texture.

2. I wanted to use Indian spices, so I found a pea recipe ("carrots and peas with ginger and Chinese parsley") in a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and approximated its mixture of spices. (I didn't have fenugreek or mustard seeds. I'm not sure I even know what fenugreek is.) Then I looked at the Veganomicon recipe more carefully and realized that it did call for cumin and coriander...oh well.

3. The Veganomicon recipe makes "6 to 8 servings," which sounded like overkill, so I used the proportions from the split pea soup recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I liked the flavor of this soup a lot. I liked split pea soup before I was a vegetarian, when my mom made it with ham or bacon, and it turns out that you can also make something really good without any animal products or Bac-O-Bits. (Did you know that Bac-O-Bits are vegan? Kind of freaky, isn't it?) Which I guess is hardly surprising, considering that a significant part of Indian cuisine is about making legumes taste good to vegetarians.

Besides adding the frozen peas, I changed the cooking process a bit by caramelizing the onions on their own and adding them at the end, rather than cooking them along with the soup. I think this gave them a better texture, and it was definitely more time-efficient because I didn't have to wait for the onions to finish cooking before I could start the soup. I used roasted garlic because I had some left over from a different recipe, but if I'd used fresh garlic, I would have cooked it along with the onions.

The next time I make this, I'll use more spices, and I'll add something hot-spicy. And maybe a little more lime.

Anyway, here's how I did it.

Darn good split pea soup, version 1
(with help from Veganomicon, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and An Invitation to Indian Cooking)
(took somewhat more than 1 hour, made about 5 servings of soup)

4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups dried green split peas, picked over and washed well
6 cups of water
the cloves from 1/2 head of roasted garlic, squeezed out of their skins
1 onion
1 cup frozen green peas

I heated 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When it was hot, I added the spices and let them cook until they were fragrant (about a minute), stirring constantly. I added the split peas, water, roasted garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I stirred it to make sure the spices weren't stuck to the bottom of the pot, then turned the heat to high so that it came to a boil. Then I turned down the heat to low and covered the pot. I let it simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (I accidentally left a lot of water in the peas after washing them, so there was a lot of liquid in the pot. This meant that the peas didn't stick at all. It might be different if you drain your peas better, but you don't have to worry about it a lot.)

While the split peas were cooking, I chopped the onion. I heated the rest of the olive oil in a skillet, over medium low heat, and cooked the onion with a pinch of salt until it was medium brown. This took about as long as it took to cook the peas.

When the split peas had cooked for 45 minutes, I tested them to make sure they were soft (they were) and added 1/2 cup of the frozen peas. I stirred the pot and let it simmer, covered, for five minutes. Then I blended it thoroughly with an immersion blender and tasted for salt. I believe I added about 3/4 of a teaspoon more, a little at a time. (I go through a lot of tasting spoons when I cook.) Since there was too much water in my soup, I boiled it down for about 5 minutes, but this step would not usually be necessary.

I added the onion and the rest of the frozen peas and simmered for five more minutes, until the frozen peas were warmed through and bright green.

I served this with bread (and butter, because I'm not really vegan, I just steal their soup recipes) and salad.

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