It has occurred to me recently that my predilection for soups and stews is a bit unorthodox. I’ve never thought twice about cooking up a hearty beef stew in the height of summer, and I am pretty much always down for a savory noodle soup regardless of the season, weather, and so on. Basically nothing can get between me and my love of food in steaming, semi-liquid form.
Not to mention soups and stews are perfect for feeding a crowd on a budget and for packing (or hiding—hey kids!) nutrient dense veggies into a balanced one-bowl meal. I am a vegetable freak and can never get enough of ‘em, but what I love most about soups is that I can whip up a big batch with little to no effort, have a number of meals already prepared for the week, and have enough leftover to pop a few extra servings in the freezer for later.
My go-to recipe happens to be split pea. As much as I love bacon and ham, I try not to keep such tempting porky goodness on hand all that often. These ingredients lend a great deal of flavor to a soup like split pea, but I’ve found that plenty of vegetables and a bit of spice can go a long way on their own. I’ve included this meatless adaptation below. And believe me, it is just as delicious without the ham!
But now, if you would be so kind as to disregard split pea soup’s traditionally autumnal connotations, here’s a bit of background on the infamous pea:
Although this dish is quite simple, peas have been a staple in the human diet for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of wild pea consumption by humans as far back as 9750 BCE. 1 Apicius de re Coquinaria, a 4th or 5th century collection of popular Roman recipes contains numerous listings simply for the preparation of these round little seeds. 2
As these green legumes spread throughout Europe, the dried versions became a stable and affordable source of food for peasants, while the French regarded fresh peas as a popular delicacy. 1 Once Europeans began exploring other corners of the globe, nonperishable foodstuffs such as dried peas were crucial to their survival and the success of their lengthy expeditions. The classic children’s nursery rhyme “Pease Pudding Hot” refers to a traditional British version of split pea soup that is usually much thicker and is still eaten today.
Split peas are actually pulses, or legumes (seeds) that are dried. Even aside from all the other vegetables in split pea soup, the main ingredient in this dish is high in dietary fiber and folate, low in fat and sodium, and a complete source of (meatless) protein. 3 This is good news for vegans, vegetarians, and individuals who are looking to reduce their meat consumption. Additionally, split peas are gluten-free, low-allergen, and low on the Glycemic Index (GI) meaning they help control appetite and prevent blood-sugar spikes.4
Scientifically, pea plants are also quite extraordinary. They were the stars in Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking genetics experiments in the mid-1800s that helped to shed light on dominant and recessive traits or genes.5 Today, laboratories are even working on using different forms of pea protein as an egg substitute.4
Peas really are quite fascinating, but let’s get down to the good stuff!
Split Pea Soup
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 3 small red potatoes, unpeeled and chopped
- 3 ribs celery, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and minced
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb. split green peas, rinsed and picked over
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
Combine onion, carrots, celery, garlic, jalapeno, and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the chicken stock, parsley, bay leaf, potatoes, and peas. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are soft (about 45 minutes to an hour). Stir frequently to avoid burning and sticking at the bottom of the pot. Depending on your consistency preference, more stock or water can be added if the soup becomes too thick. If you prefer a creamier texture, carefully process soup in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender. Serve hot with a piece of good, crusty bread.
Apicius. (2009). Cookery and dining in imperial rome [Apicius de re Coquinaria] (J. D. Vehling Trans.). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/29728-h/29728-h.htm
Peas, green, split, mature seeds, raw. (2014). (No. 16085). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved from http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4798?manu=&fgcd=
Pulses: The heart of healthy food [Brochure] (2010). USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
Mendel, G., & Bateson, W. (1925). Experiments in plant-hybridisation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5962/bhl.title.4532