If you’re getting tired of reading about beans, do I have good news for you: This post is about split peas.
I know — only a botanist makes the distinction. In most of our imaginations, the various peas and lentils occupy the same nutritional and culinary space as beans. There is one important difference, though: cooking time!
The non-bean legumes don’t have to be soaked, and they cook up in a comparative hurry. They have innumerable uses, from spicy Indian food to that bland crap they try to feed you in the more hippified vegetarian restaurants.
Yesterday was cold, at least for Portland, and the morning was foggy (see above). So my thoughts turned to split peas, naturally.
When I was young, our heat and hot water was provided exclusively by firewood, which we would get from one or the other section of the pine forest in the Central Oregon High Desert. This was hard work for the entire family; a shocking amount of our lives revolved around fetching the wood, splitting it, stacking it in the big pile out back and then hauling it to the small pile on the porch. And we had to pay for the pleasure: Apparently, the authorities view taking dead wood from a forest without a permit as stealing.
During the cold months (nine or ten months per year in Bend), we kept the stove going all the time, but sometimes it would go out when we were gone during the day. As the first person home in the afternoon, it was my job to get the fire going again, either by tossing the glowing cinders with newspaper and kindling or starting from scratch.
Lest you think I am like, 80, I would then go play Nintendo till everybody else got home.
Frequently on cold weekend mornings — here’s where the peas come in — I would wake up to the smell of split-pea-and-ham soup simmering on top of the wood stove in a giant cast iron dutch oven. If it got too hot, my dad would lift it off the stove for a while, letting it cook slowly all day long. Everyone pitched in with the firewood, but the peas, as well as most of the better food in our house, were entirely my dad’s scene.
The two wood stoves have been replaced by propane ones, and I haven’t eaten a chunk of pig friend since 1995.
That doesn’t mean I don’t hanker for a big hearty pot of smokey split peas. And I’m happy to say that I made this happen.
The biggest downside to split peas (especially the green ones) is that, when cooked, they closely resemble what a kind person would call orphan food — as in the slop they feed poor Oliver in that dumbest of Charles Dickens novels. An unkind person would say it looks like baby diarrhea. So no, we didn’t eat our smokey split peas out of china teacups with twee little garnishes.
Full disclosure: I set dressed this to detract from what the dish actually looks like.
Aesthetics aside, it’s really good. And anyone would swear there was pork in it.
Secret Smokey Split Peas
- One large onion, chopped
- Half a clove of garlic, diced
- One turnip, peeled and chopped
- Three chopped carrots
- Two tablespoons of olive oil
- One tablespoon of thyme
- One-quarter cup of Bragg’s (or soy sauce)
- Two generous tablespoons of vegetable bullion paste (or Marmite or miso paste or three bullion cubes)
- Three cups of split peas
- Five or six cups of water
and for the secret smokey ingredient:
- A tiny can of very cheap chipotle peppers in adobo sauce — like this — don’t buy expensive dried ones! Yes, they are spicy. I am pretty sure you can find other, milder peppers in a smokey preparation, however (chipotles are made with jalapenos).
Here’s what I did
You guys, this is super easy. Saute the vegetables in olive oil on medium-low heat for twenty minutes. Add the thyme toward the end of this. Tear up about half of the chipotle peppers (they come out of the can on the verge of falling apart, no reason to use a knife) and add them, along with three tablespoons of the sauce, and saute for about five more minutes. Turn the heat up to high and deglaze with the soy sauce. Add the peas, add the water, add the bullion.
The water should cover everything else by one or two inches. After the soup comes to a boil, turn the heat way down (peas have a tendency to stick, which is why a slow cooker is ideal for this), cover and stir from time to time. The peas will turn mushy, as will the turnip and carrots after an hour or so. That’s how you know it’s done. If you want a thicker consistency, take the lid off and let the fluid evaporate.
Hearty, filling, vegan, gluten-free. (Don’t worry, I’m still a huge fan of cheese and biscuits.)