Winter here in Ohio has been rough this year. This is what it looked like out my window today:
So of course I want warm, comforting, cozy food. Who wouldn’t?
As it turns out, I also have a vegetarian houseguest this week, so my normal go-to comfort foods (pot pie, roasted chicken, braised beef/bison/vension) are right out. No problem, I have lots of vegetarian go-to recipes. We made veggie lasagna earlier this week (guess how many pictures I took?) and that wonderful lentil-mushroom pot pie with gouda biscuit topping which you should totally make if you haven’t yet.
But, as it turns out, I’m also on a budget, so I have my go-to low-cost comfort foods. This recipe is a favorite fall-back. It’s largely based on Poor Girl Eats Well’s Smoky Split Pea Carrot Soup, but (as with all my food) I don’t actually measure anything, and I throw in whatever sounds good at the moment.
You start with (you’re never going to guess this): some chopped veggies! In this case, I started with garlic, an onion, and the most sad pathetic wilted limp floppy carrots you’ve ever seen, from the bottom of my fridge.
It didn’t seem like quite enough, so I added these two hakurei turnips from the same bottom of my fridge.
You could add all kinds of things here – potatoes, parsnips, celery (celery root?), jerusalem artichokes, salsify, maybe even rutabagas or a golden beet. I think I’d stick with root vegetables, and I’d stay away from normal red beets unless I wanted split pea borscht.
Olive oil in a pot, start the onions and garlic first. Add your spices now (cumin, salt and pepper, and smoked paprika – yeah!) so the flavors bloom some.
What’s that, Lyz? Bloom? Well, the flavor from spices comes from the essential oils in each spice, so you can really get way more out of your spices by adding them into your starting-saute and letting them sizzle for a few minutes. Don’t overdo it – burnt spices are awful – and remember that it’s not as effective with herbs (and doesn’t do a damn thing with salt).
Add the carrots (and turnips or whatever else you’re using), your split peas (rinsed and picked over, please!), and enough water to cover everything by an inch or so. You could also use broth, stock, or add in some bullion here – I didn’t, because I currently don’t own any vegetarian soup base. You could also add a ham bone (my butcher carries WONDERFUL smoked ham hocks for dirt-cheap) and/or some chopped-up ham here, if you were inclined to do so. Just remember, ham is not vegetarian.
Bring it up to a simmer and let it go for a while. PGEW suggests 20 minutes, which I have never found to be enough. I let mine go for closer to an hour tonight and it was lovely – but you could probably stop somewhere more like 40 minutes and be fine.
Now, while you’re waiting for your dinner to cook, let’s talk about split peas. Split peas are cheap, hearty food – lots of fiber and protein, plus some iron to boot. They come in two colors (at least!) – the typical green ones, and also in yellow. The yellow ones are theoretically a little sweeter, which sounds pretty good. However, the green ones come at something ridiculous like 69¢ for a pound at Aldi, and you cannot beat that price – so I’ve actually never tried the yellow ones. (Have you? Let me know how they are!)
Since your soup is obviously not done following our little pea chat there, go make some biscuits or get some bread to go with this soup. I got my spouse to make some herb-garlic-cheese dinner rolls, but even refrigerator biscuits or grocery store rolls/bread would be fine. Heck, sliced bread is fine. Go to war with the bread you’ve got.
Let’s assume that the soup has cooked for its allotted time by now. Your peas should be tender, not crunchy – crunchy peas are a total bummer in this soup, not that I’m sure there’s ever a time and place for crunchy split peas. Take about half the soup out, and blend one half or the other (or more or less, it’s up to you) with your favorite blending implement – if necessary. Mine just sort of smoothed out as I stirred it. (Incidentally, this is a good time to take out the ham bone if you put one in. We’re not playing “Will It Blend?” here.)
Then recombine your two parts of soup. You may need to add liquid, adjust seasonings, or reheat it some if it’s gotten cool while blending. If you didn’t add chopped ham before and you’ve changed your mind, this is a perfectly good time to throw it in and heat through. Top with your favorite soup toppings: bacon bits (not vegetarian!), crème fraîche, croutons, shredded cheese, toasted bread crumbs, crispy fried shallots, whatever. Or nothing. Nothing is a totally valid soup topping.
Eat. Warm. Cozy. Bread. Blankets. Kittens. Sleep.