Spicy Split Pea Soup, and Thoughts on Comfort Food

September 10th, 2009  |  Published in All, Delectable Dairy, Peas & Pea Shoots, Veritable Vegetables, Weekend Projects  |  14 Comments

Spicy Split Pea Soup

Summer seems to have come to an end here in Hannover.  The skies are gray, there is a chill in the air, and I find myself caught in the rain more often than I would like.  The common adage when you carry an umbrella it won’t rain, and when you leave it at home it most certainly will has held true, and unfortunately I never can seem to remember my umbrella.  Shameful for a girl who grew up in Seattle.

With the onset of the cool weather, I have had the desire to make some simple, honest, “comfort” food.  For some, comfort food is pot roast or chicken pie or mashed potatoes.  But for me?  Well, to be truthful, there’s no one or two or three things that I think of as my comfort foods.  Something that is comforting in one instance in time can be repellent to me in another.  This got me thinking — you hear the phrase “comfort food” all of the time, but really, what does it mean?  is comfort food just a genre of American cooking? or is it something that is different for every person and really does provide comfort?

Whatever the answer, last weekend my heart was decidedly set on homemade split pea soup — a simple, healthful, and homey dish.  More than a few times on Friday I found myself daydreaming about dipping slices of toasted pumpkin seed rye into a steaming bowl of the split pea soup that I would make on Saturday.

If you want to enjoy this lovely homemade soup for a weekend lunch, it is easy to do: spend 10-15 minutes getting things going when you wake up, go have your coffee, check it now and then, and by lunchtime if will be ready.  Though the recipe take about 2 1/2 hours all in all, there is very little prep work (just chop an onion and some garlic), and most of the time the soup can be left unattended (for example, I left this simmering for an hour on Saturday while I went jogging — funny story — I got to my turnaround point, and suddenly the skies opened up and it started POURING rain… I was grateful for hot homemade soup when I finally got back home, completely drenched).  If you can’t fathom chopping onions at 9 or 10 AM, then just get them ready the night before and keep them in the refrigerator overnight.  You could even saute them with the spice mixture the night before, so really all you have to do in the morning is simmer and mix.  As a variation on this soup, you might consider adding a ham hock or sauteing the onions and spices in rendered bacon fat (a.k.a. bacon grease) for a little flavor boost and some added smokiness.

What are your thoughts on comfort food?  Is it just a genre consisting mostly of food from the American South? Or is it food that is genuinely comforting, and different for every person?

Spicy Split Pea Soup
Adapted from More-With-Less Cookbook

5 c. chicken broth
5 c. water
1 lb dried split peas, picked over
2 T. butter
1 fist sized (medium) onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 T. curry powder
3/4 t. ground coriander (freshly ground if possible, from ~1 t. seeds)
1/2 t. cayenne
1 t. salt
1/2 c. cream

Combine chicken broth, water, and split peas in a large soup pot.  Bring to a rolling boil, turn off heat, cover, and let stand for (at least) 1 hour.  Reheat, and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic, curry, ground coriander, cayenne, and salt, and saute for about 7-8 minutes, until fragrant.

Once split peas are tender, stir onion mixture into split peas, cover, and cook for 20 minutes over low heat.  Ladle out about half of the soup, and pass through the medium plate of a food mill.  Add pureed soup back into pan, and stir to mix well.  This results in a somewhat smooth soup that still retains some texture.  (Alternatively, use an immersion blender to lightly puree the soup in the pot, or use a blender to liquefy half of the soup before returning it to the pot).

Stir cream into soup, and reheat to serving temperature.  If too thick, thin with a small amount of water or cream.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a grind of black pepper, and enjoy!

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