We were getting spoiled a bit by the glorious warm October days, don’t you think? We did know the chilly, rainy (and–yikes!–even snowy) weather was coming eventually.
Even though I love those splendid fall days, I have to admit that all along I was yearning for the cozy soup-making weather to commence.
So, the first thing I did after returning from Vermillion last night and unpacking the truck was to pull out my little slow cooker and start tossing good things into its oval crockery bowl.
What I made was something that I think must be an acquired adult taste. Do you love split pea soup like I do? Yes? But did you like it when you were a kid? I bet not.
When you’re a kid that hammy, pea-green concoction that’s thick enough to stand your spoon in it is about as appetizing as chicken livers (which, I’ll admit, I still haven’t gotten oven my distaste for).
I came to love split pea soup as an impoverished vegetarian just out of college, and so the recipe I used then was without ham hocks–but not without flavor. The version I first fell in love with, out of Jeanne Lemlin’s Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, was heavy on the garlic and red wine instead–and just as satisfying.
Living in Madison, Wisconsin in the mid-nineties, I was exposed to other versions of lentil, split pea, and other bean soups–most notably the fantastic dal at the little Himalayan restaurant on State Street called Himal Chuli.
I’ve come to love both yellow and green split pea soups–a traditional or a garlic-and-wine-enhanced vegetarian version of the green and a curried dal-like version of the yellow. And I’m glad to see the Granary Co-op here in Ortonville carries both colors of organic split peas!
The version I made last night marries all of these styles, and is rapidly disappearing throughout the course of the day. One caveat about making split pea soup in a crockpot: it doesn’t break down quite as well as in a pot on the stove–you may have to purée it in a blender or food processor.
First, I cleaned and smashed four or five big cloves of garlic under the blade of my knife and tossed them in the pot. I threw in a whole cayenne pepper, too.
I took a ham steak out of the freezer, broke it in half on the edge of the counter, and that went in as well. While I was digging in the freezer, I found a little package of blanched and frozen kale that seemed like a good idea.
A chopped sweet pepper beckoned to be added. A few crumblings of dried yellow summer squash. And then I thought it should be a curried-type soup, and I went looking for curry powder and didn’t have any.
Shoot! So, I started by throwing cumin seed in–a sprinkling of cinnamon, some Coleman’s mustard powder, a little ancho chili powder. Good enough.
Then I added about a cup and a half of yellow split peas, water to cover, then slapped on the lid, put the soup on low, and went to bed.
The problem about cooking something savory low and slow through the night is that you tend to wake up and wonder, momentarily, if someone is out in your kitchen making a really yummy-smelling midnight snack that you should get in on.
And then you remember and go back to sleep with a smile, knowing what a treat awaits you for lunch the next day.
This morning I removed the ham and cayenne pepper and puréed the soup just enough to thicken it, then pulled apart the ham and added it back in.
To serve, I dolloped a little plain yogurt on top, swirled it in, and ate heartily. I’ve eaten it so heartily, in fact, that I may only have a little bowl left for lunch tomorrow!
Local ingredients: ham, kale, garlic, cayenne, sweet pepper, yellow squash.