A few years ago I stumbled onto a pea soup recipe that was certainly different from my mother’s. It had curry and cream in it and was, my family thought, lip-smacking good. Here’s that starting recipe, which I found in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook:
• 1-1/4 cups dry green split peas
• 1 smoked ham shank (Don’t use hocks. They don’t have as much meat, but they do have a lot of outer skin which I don’t think tastes very good.)
• 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
• 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
• 1 tablespoon curry powder
• 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or thume or 1 teaspoon of the dried version
• 1 bay leaf
• 5 cups chicken broth
• 1 cup cream (or half and half, but of course the cream is better)
• Salt & pepper
The original recipe called for putting this in the crock-pot, but my crock-pot wasn’t big enough, so I did it the old-fashioned way, on the stove. I put the ham shank into the soup pot about 5 hours before I wanted to serve it. After about 3 hours I add the veggies and the peas, because they don’t take as long to cook, and if you soak the peas overnight, they’ll take even less time.
When the meat is tender remove the shanks from the pot and take the meat off the bones. A lot of people chop it up, but I prefer to pull it by hand, shredding it and ensuring that bits of meat are present in every spoonful. Then add it back to the soup pot. The cream is added and mixed well just before serving.
The recipe mutated a bit after a while. I discovered “spicy curry” by Spice Islands. I mention the brand because curries vary widely, and someone else’s “spicy” variety might not be quite the same. This has crushed red pepper in it, which gives the soup that little bit of heat that I love in a lot of my dishes. We like the spicy curry so much that we order it online, since our local groceries don’t carry it.
By now I figured the recipe couldn’t be improved, but then we started getting really serious about healthy eating, and I started to worry about that cream. It called for only one cup, and in the whole scheme of things that one cup, divided by several servings, probably wouldn’t do much damage to us even though we try to avoid saturated fats.
One day I wondered if I could find a nice, creamy substitute–no skimmed milk, please! So, without saying anything to George, I used coconut milk instead–the good kind, extra virgin, organic. Yes, it has saturated fat, but plant-based, and thus without the negative properties of animal fats.
The result was wonderful! And George thought so, too.
Yesterday, the soup took yet another twist. I decided at the last minute to make it, and hoped I’d have everything I needed. I always keep a ham shank in the freezer, so that was good. I didn’t have chicken broth, but I did have a jar of vegetable water from recent vegetable steamings. Lots of good vitamins caught and saved.
I dumped that in the pot along with the ham shank, and added “some” water. I didn’t measure, and when it came time to add the peas, I didn’t measure those either. I guessed that the peas I had left in two different bags would be enough. Well, I guessed wrong.
About an hour before dinner, I realized the soup was much too thin. So, I thought, how do I thicken this up, preferably with “real” food? George’s eyebrows went up when I told him what I added.
“Really?” he said. “In pea soup?”
I added rice. It’s that delicious organic basmati brown rice that is my new favorite. I hadn’t a clue how much to add, so I did three handfuls. The rice itself soaked up some of that extra liquid, and it also released its own starchy thickener that completed the job.
I’ve never heard of rice in pea soup. Potatoes, yes. Maybe even pasta. But as far as I know, rice is a first, for me anyway. And it’s really, really good. What was a rescue operation will now be my newest mutated version of pea soup, thick and hearty and perfect for these cold winter days.
I have to wonder, though: what other tweakings lie in the future?