It’s November and even in Southern California, we’re starting to feel the season (there’s pretty much only one) change. It’s still sunny out, and sometimes near 100 degrees at midday, but by three or four in the afternoon, the temperature suddenly dips down into the 60s and people start complaining about it because they left their sweaters at home or in the car. And their hair is getting messed up. So even though you wouldn’t think it was necessary out here, split pea soup is on the menu.
There are two kinds of pea soup worth eating. Fresh (or fresh-frozen) peas make a sweet, delicate, beautifully green soup if you blend them with some water or milk and a little chive or onion or shallot and dill. Fresh pea soup also takes only five minutes to make, which is perfect for LA’s average springtime patience level. But that’s for spring–when the temperature suddenly hits an insistent 95 in mid-March and people start reaching for their waterbottles and sunglasses again. And declaring loudly, “Ah, it’s finally Spring!” when in reality we’ve had 80-degree days in December and January.
Split pea soup, the starchy thick heart of winter comfort eating, is another beast altogether. Most people either open a can of indifferent and hideously salty soup with mysterious lumps that claim to be carrot or–well, carrot, it’s the politest guess. Or else, if they actually cook, suffer a two-and-a-half-hour boiling-with-hamhocks-all-throughout-the-house kind of ordeal. Not that it doesn’t smell wonderful during that time, but with gas prices the way they are, and the sun still beckoning at midday, no one in their right mind wants to bother.
Doing it the old-fashioned way, it takes the full 2.5-3 hours for the peas to fall apart and make soup. And when you go to bed at night your pillow smells like split pea with hamhock…you really have to be dedicated to put up with that. Microwaving might just be the best solution. Mine is minus the hamhock, because this is a kosher-to-vegetarian kind of blog, but you can add a precooked piece of hamhock to yours if you’re serious about it–precooked for safety, because this soup may be too fast for a meat bone to cook all the way through the way it would if you boiled it to death on the stovetop.
High-Speed Microwave Split Pea Soup
- 1/2 lb (half a 1-lb bag…) dried split peas (or a whole pound, see note #2)
- water or low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, about 2 qts.
- 1/4 yellow onion
- 1 fat clove of garlic, mashed, grated or minced
- 1-3 t. curry powder, to taste
- 1/2-1 t. each ground coriander and cumin
- 1/4 t. ground caraway, optional
- juice of 1 lemon
- pinch or two of salt, to taste–don’t overdo it
- Rinse the split peas well in a colander, then scrape them into a 2.5 qt pyrex bowl, cover with water or broth (I prefer water, but your mileage may vary) by two inches at least, and cover the bowl with a lid or microwaveable plate.
- Nuke for 7 minutes on high and let it sit covered, not cooking, for maybe half an hour in the microwave. The peas will swell and take up most of the water.
- Scoop the peas into a food processor–leave the liquid behind in the bowl for now or you’ll get a lot of hot backsplash and the peas won’t puree well. Grind the softened peas down with the onion, garlic, lemon juice, and spices.
- As the peas grind down to a thickening mass, pour a little of the cooking liquid into the bowl in a slow stream.
- Once you have the consistency thick but pourable, add a little more water, put everything back into the bowl, stir well, and taste for salt. Don’t add more than a little–if it’s still not salty enough at the end, people can add their own at the table. Nuke the soup covered for 3 or 4 more minutes to reheat and cook the onion. The soup will probably thicken considerably, and you may have to stir in more water before serving.
1. The flavor of lemon tends to weaken on reheating, so if you serve this soup throughout the week, reheat and then add a fresh squeeze of lemon.
2. You can make a whole pound at a time just about as easily–you may want to add another couple of minutes to the cooking times before blending if the peas aren’t done enough at the times listed above, but they may well be.