I am jetlagged. Yesterday was my first day in Seattle (I flew in from London Sunday night) and my brain feels like Cheerios. Which means that last night I stared dumbly at the vegetables at the Madison Market for at least five minutes feeling not simply indecisive, but incapable of decision. Picked up some yellow cauliflower (cool looking, but $4.49 a pound. A pound!), put it down. Picked up some white radishes, put them down. Looked at the beets, felt like I was going to cry. When I wandered to the baking aisle I couldn’t deal with all the bags of things. So many packages! All with letters on them, all in a row, so OVERWHELMING. So it was with a feeling of weepy relief that I decided to make split pea soup.* Split pea soup was a staple of my diet when I was young, broke, and vegetarian (I am still one of those things! Guess which!) and my split pea soup is bitchin’.
It is simple. It’s basically split peas cooked with a mirepoix and plenty of garlic. You can add bacon, if you want (substitute bacon fat for the olive oil and garnish with crispy lardons), but it’s not necessary. Shit. Now I want bacon.
1 cup split green peas
1 and ¼ liters water
1 carrot, chopped into small dice
1 onion, chopped into small dice
1 stick celery, chopped into small dice
2 large or four small cloves garlic, minced
2 small or one medium potato, diced
About 1/3 cup shelled peas (fresh if you can manage, otherwise frozen will do)
2 tablespoons olive oil (or three to four rashers of bacon – optional)
1-2 bay leaves
1 and ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon crushed red chiles (red chile flakes)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraiche for garnish (optional)
Rinse and drain the split peas, picking out any stones and debris. Put in a medium saucepan with the bay leaves and one liter of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer uncovered (or partially covered) for approximately 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the peas are simmering, heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet and then sauté the garlic, onions, celery and carrots with the cumin, crushed red pepper, ground black pepper, thyme and one teaspoon salt until the onions are transparent and the carrots are semi tender. (If you are using bacon fat, fry the bacon rashers in a skillet, remove the bacon when crispy, and discard all but two tablespoons of bacon fat. You will use this fat to sauté your veggies.)
Add the vegetables to the pot with the split peas, deglaze the pan with ¼ liter of water, stir into the split peas, and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the peas are tender, about another 30-40 minutes. When the split peas are soft, remove from heat, remove and discard bay leaves, and puree until smooth. Return to heat, add the remaining salt (and additional water if the consistency is too thick for your liking) and stir in the potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the potatoes are cooked through. (This shouldn’t take longer than 10-15 minutes, max.) Stir in the lemon juice and the cayenne pepper (if you want a bit of kick to your soup – otherwise, omit), and adjust seasonings. Add the fresh or frozen peas, and cook until they are tender but not mushy (about another 5-7 minutes). Serve, garnished (if you wish) with the yogurt/sour cream/crème fraiche. (And the bacon! Naughty carnivore.) This soup is even better the next day.
* I may well have discovered THE CURE FOR JETLAG. After making and consuming my split pea soup I slept like a baby for ten hours and awoke feeling semi-human. Hooray!