January’s not over yet, and neither is my soup fixation, not that it is in any danger of ending when the month turns over. Orange Coast’s restaurant critic earlier revealed a posole-with-bonus-sopapilla connection, and a senior editor for the mag confessed the source of her favorite chicken tortilla soup. Interesting how top-of-the-mind Orange County soups are often Mexican, innit. To complete the trifecta I’ll offer a personal fave, the ethereal crema de poblano at the La Habra branch of El Cholo, where my family has eaten since I needed a booster seat, though this particular soup is of far more recent vintage.
Today, however, I have peas on the brain, in addition to soup. In all the years and all the times I’ve made split pea soup, it’s always been green. Mine has as its model the famous one from Andersen’s, the California roadhouse restaurants in Buellton and Santa Nella, a Danish-style vegetarian purée based on the recipe I gratefully gleaned from the “Los Angeles Times California Cookbook” (Abrams, 1981). (Fantastic, practically essential book for California cooks, by the way, if you can find a copy.)
From another California cookbook, “The Bells are Ringing: A Call to Table,” the recently reissued cookbook of the Mission San Juan Capistrano Women’s Guild, I made a different Scandinavian pea soup—Swedish. Uses yellow peas, which I’ve always seen there in the Mother’s Market bulk department while resupplying my organic green. The peas, however, that actually went into this soup were from my beloved Mission Ranch Market, which I wrote a bit about in ToOC previously. Middle Eastern and Indian markets typically have fantastic selections of dried beans and grains, and MRM is no exception. (I know that the classic Swedish dried yellow pea is whole rather than split, and it is possible Ikea has them, for those who are either classicists or masochists—or both.)
The recipe called for a ham bone, a ham bone I did not have and did not anticipate having in the foreseeable future. I decided on a small smoked pork hock instead, blanched and then soaked in cold water overnight to tone it down a little as well as activate the gelatin-rich skin. Lent the body and the faint smoked-meat flavor that I was after, without the chalkiness that ham bones inevitably contribute. There is also a touch of ginger, just about imperceptibly small but adding a little something. Also, I cooked the soup in an enameled cast-iron pot in a low oven rather than on the stovetop.
A trip through the old Vitamix, an unshy dose of heavy cream and a breath of nutmeg grated over the smooth school-bus yellow at service—can a pea soup be a WOW? The cream and the unmistakable, deep umami of the smoked-pork element made my army-green all-veg (vegan, even) Andersen’sesque seem not just austere but downright ascetic. Which is completely OK—there’s room for more than one pea soup in my rainbow.
“The Bells are Ringing: A Call to Table” is available at Mission SJC’s website and gift shop.
Swedish Pea Soup
Makes 8 servings.
2 cups dried yellow peas
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 ham bone
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
6 cups cold water
1 cup cream or heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated nutmeg to taste
Soak peas in water to cover for 8 hours or longer; drain. Combine the peas with the carrot, onion, ham bone, ginger, and cold water in a saucepan. Simmer until the peas are very tender. Remove and discard ham bone.
Pour the soup into a blender and process until smooth. Return to saucepan and stir in cream, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer just until heated through. Ladle into small soup bowls and sprinkle with nutmeg.