Friday, March 19, 2010

Soup of the Day

When I was little and hated all vegetables except for carrots and green beans, I still had to eat the occasional spoonful of peas. The stakes were high, but the thought of biting into those little balls of green mush filled me with dread. So I did what any child would do when dessert was on the line.

I swallowed them whole.

That's pretty much the last thing I remember about eating peas until adulthood, when I discovered the error of my ways. Now I freely eat snow peas, snap peas, even those once detested green peas. I actually chew them too.

In fact my love of peas grew even more during our recent trip to the UK. It was late afternoon, and we had just arrived in the coastal town of Fishguard in Wales after about five days in London with our friends Ali and Dan. We were strolling down a narrow sidewalk when we happened upon a little cafe. Feeling hungry from our long day's journey, we popped in for a bite.

The soup of the day was written on a chalkboard behind the counter. Pea and mint. That's all it said. Pea and mint. For some reason, that combination enticed me. The earthy, almost nutty, taste of the peas mixed with the fresh blast of mint. Two foods with intense flavors came together in the most subtle way. I was hooked.

Surprising to us, this delicious bowl of soup typified how we found the food in Wales. We had not expected much more than fish and chips, but every menu advertised the use of local and organic ingredients, often with vegetarian and vegan options. Sure I had my fill of chips, but we ate much better than I thought, which served us well as we walked for miles up and down the windswept Pembrokeshire Coast.

Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from

Knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
4 cups water
2 cups split peas (next time, I'm going to try fresh or frozen)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A bunch of mint, leaves only, roughly chopped
4 tbsp low-fat yogurt, to serve

Melt the butter with the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, cover and sweat very gently for 15 minutes or until completely soft.

Add the stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the peas and simmer for 10 minutes until the peas are soft. (*Since we used dry split peas, we let them simmer for about 25 minutes until soft.) Remove from the heat, add the chopped mint, and purée. Push through a sieve if you want a very smooth finish. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in small bowls, hot or chilled, garnished with a swirl of cream or yogurt, a sprig of mint and lots of black pepper. Serve with pumpernickel bread.

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