Without a doubt, I would call myself a planner. But hidden between the lines of all my planning is a rather mercurial spirit, one that likes to twiddle the plans as she sees fit. I often make cooking plans that turn out to be too ambitious to execute during the work week. The cake I wanted to bake on a Monday night a few weeks ago? I baked it the following Saturday. And the split pea soup I was going to cook on a Wednesday? It turned into a red lentil soup on Thursday, and the split peas sat, soaked and plump, until Saturday, at which point they turned into the most delightful pea soup I’ve had in recent memory.
The wonderful thing about my fickle cooking plans is that occasionally they lead to surprising recipe finds. Although green split peas are cheap as dirt, I didn’t want to waste them. Once I’d starting soaking them, I knew I would have to cook them one way or another, so I started searching for recipes on Epicurious, a site that makes me deliriously happy every time I hop on it. I could spend hours on it, searching for recipes, reading reviews, bookmarking delicious things to make. It’s almost as addictive to me as Amazon or, my newest favorite site, The Happiness Project. Nothing thrills me more than learning, and my computer makes it a little too easy to pursue endless hours of new stuff.
But about those split peas: I think they have a reputation for being stodgy, heavy, stick-to-your-ribs fare, like the classic, thick-as-sludge split pea soup flavored with a salty, fatty hunk of pork. Split peas are a wintertime ingredient, their heartiness providing a solid defense against shivering and snowy landscapes. But I live in Texas, where wintertime is laughably mild, where a few weeks ago I sunbathed out by the pool while reading a paper. I do love it here, but I also love my wintertime cooking and the coziness of a busy stove. When I came across a split pea soup made with green peas and fresh dill, I thought, Ah-ha! A cozy soup made light and fresh with a few key selections from the garden—now this is a soup for a Texas winter.
Here I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of dill, so I decided to swap the dill for fresh mint. I blame Nigel Slater, who is always throwing mint around the kitchen in his book the kitchen diaries. I wanted some mint of my own. But the combination of green peas and mint is a pretty classic one, a pairing that showed up in another soup on this blog, Kiki’s Mint Pea Soup, a recipe shared by my friend Anne. Matt and I loved that soup. We made it one night while vacationing in Tucson, Arizona. I remember making the soup in the open, airy kitchen of his family’s ranch house, using a retro, 1950s-ish blender. There was a fantastic lightning storm that night, with rain and a sky illuminated by streaks of lightning. The power kept going off, cutting off the stereo. We ate by candlelight, and after the storm receded, the frogs sang us a lullaby. It was such a good night—one of my favorites of that whole summer.
Kiki’s Mint Pea Soup left me so full I thought I might burst—rich with butter and creme fraiche, it is greens peas and mint dressed up in silk and pearls. The split pea soup I want to share with you today is an earthier, dressed-down version of Kiki’s. It gets its creaminess from the split peas and a whirl in the blender, but it isn’t blended to utter smoothness. Instead, only a few ladles of the soup are blended with the mint and green peas, producing a creamy-bodied soup with some soft texture from a leek and the split peas. Its flavor is light and fresh with mint, but the split peas lend a deep, earthy-nutty flavor that makes this soup a good main course. Tonight I ate it hot with a platter of spicy, oven-baked French fries and found it to be a perfect Sunday night meal. It also makes a great deskbound lunch at room temperature, especially when accompanied by some cheese and crackers and a piece of fruit. It’s so good that I may have to make it again before this Texas winter dissipates into a string of 70-degree days.
Split Pea Soup with Green Peas and Fresh Mint
Adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe found on Epicurious
Makes 3-4 main-dish servings
I like to soak my split green peas ahead of time to speed things up on soup-making day, but according to the original recipe, it’s not necessary. Just check the cooking progress of your split peas by tasting them before taking the soup off the heat—they should have a nice creamy texture, not dry or chalky in any way. If they aren’t creamy, give them a few more minutes’ cooking time and check again.
A word about the vegetable stock: if you use stock cubes, as I often do, you might want to use half as much stock cube so that this soup doesn’t become too salty or too heavily flavored. For example, normally I would use two stock cubes for four cups of water, but in this recipe I like to use just one stock cube for four cups of water. Then I add a few pinches of sea salt to get just the right amount of salt to make the flavors sing.
1 cup split green peas, rinsed, sorted, and soaked in a few inches of cold water overnight
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, ends trimmed, the rest chopped and rinsed to remove dirt and silt
1 bay leaf
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed (or partially thawed—I don’t think it matters much)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, plus a few pretty leaves for garnish
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper to taste, optional
1) Prep the green split peas for overnight soaking.
2) Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add the leek and bay leaf and cook for about 5 minutes, until the leek softens and grows fragrant. Drain the split peas and add them to the soup pot, stirring to coat them with oil.
3) Add the vegetable stock (or water plus stock cube) and bring to a boil. Clamp a lid on the pot, turn the heat down, and simmer for 25-35 minutes or until the split peas are tender and creamy. Remove the bay leaf.
4) Pour 2-3 ladles of the split pea mixture into a blender. Add the petite green peas and mint. Blend to smoothness. Add the smooth mixture to the soup pot and stir it all together. Taste and add a pinch or two of sea salt if you like. Also, if you’d like to season with black pepper, be my guest. I don’t think this soup needs black pepper, but you might.
5) Serve hot, in deep bowls, garnished with a leaf or two of fresh mint.