I'm not sure if this has come across yet on this blog, but I often feel I belong to a different generation – one where no one wore sweatpants outside the home, cell phones hadn't yet been invented, courting was prized, and jazz music reigned (oh Dizzy, I love your cheeks!) I realize this might make me a bit of an anomaly, if not a little square.
Another anomaly? Downtown Toronto on the weekends. During the week, the sidewalks are filled with pedestrians who may or may not know where they are going or headed to, and the streets are packed, bumper to bumper, with cars. It's a dangerous place for someone like myself. I've almost been hit three times in the last month by ambivalent, distracted drivers. I glare at them, I stomp my feet, I raise my voice and express my disapproval in an über-polite manner ("I have the goddamn right of way, asshole!"), but still, it continues. My mother wasn't kidding when she told me to look both ways before crossing the road.
On the weekends, the hustle and bustle of the city relaxes.
The streets mellow out into a drug-induced haze, and I can walk freely without being bumped into. After accompanying a lovely friend to the subway station the morning after a rowdy party (or a girls' night of Sex and the City and wine, where everyone who's leaving has left by midnight), I went to the public library and walked around Yorkville, ooo-ing and aww-ing at the Anthroplogie store and all of its gorgeous, overpriced offerings. I picked up plain yogurt. And then I walked back to meet up with another friend whom I haven't seen since the winter holidays for an afternoon of egg sandwiches and conversation. It's been a nice weekend, one that reminded me that my life is round and full.
To demonstrate just how crazy I have become, I made soup. Yes, soup. It was 30°C all of last week (that’s around 86°F for you Americans) and felt about 10, 000°something with the humidity. So I made soup, naturally.
This insanity began innocently enough: it started with a Greek fava spread. Michael Psilakis, who bears a striking resemblance to celebrity chef Michael Symon, suggests spreading the mixture over pita bread and garnishing it with a sprig of dill. However, when I got to the notes and learned the spread also makes for a divine pea soup, I was sold. I love a good dip, but I love pea soup even more. Not even this spontaneous Toronto heat wave can stop me – take that, heat. My kitchen did not love the idea so much, but it came around.
I first came across Michael Psilakis months ago when his cookbook, How to Roast a Lamb, received some serious critical acclaim. He’s known for revolutionizing Greek cuisine in North America and it’s easy to see why. His recipes are shockingly easy to follow, even for the most amateur of home cooks. The ingredients are mostly common and relatively inexpensive, with the exception of the use of olive oil, olives, and cheese. For those who are interested, many of the recipes are vegetarian or vegan. How to Roast a Lamb? It may or may not be the most fantastic title, but the contents more than make up for it.
I finally got my hands on this book last month when I found it at my local library, and I’ve been salivating all over the pages ever since. It’s just that kind of cookbook.
Like most of us pea soup-lovin’ kind, I assume, I grew up with ham and pea soup, or sometimes pea soup with bacon. If you’re ever fortunate enough, I might divulge my ham and pea soup recipe, but in the meantime, you get this one – a garlicky, slick soup made from basic ingredients. Quite frankly, the way it comes alive on the tongue puts all other pea soups to shame. If you’re a very sane person and uninterested in eating soup at this time of year, try it as a spread or bookmark the recipe for the cooler months. You won’t be sorry.
Adapted from Michael Psilakis
I realize this recipe really isn’t fooling around with the garlic; don’t be scared. Yes, you’ll be equipped to ward off vampires with your breath, but it’s worth it. Once garlic is cooked, the sharpness mellows quite a bit and sweetens up. However, as a warning, the garlic flavour intensifies the longer the mixture sits in the fridge, so if preparing it in advance, I’d recommend scaling back on the aromatics to account for this. You can always add more minced garlic just before serving.
Secondly, Psilakis originally calls for the use of shallots instead of onion. I had (a very strong) onion on hand, so that’s what I used. If you’re unfamiliar with shallots, they’re small, mild-flavoured onions, and in my experience are significantly easier on the tear ducts. If you’re interested in using shallots, replace the onion called for at the beginning of the ingredients list with 10 shallots.
2 tbsp oil (I used olive oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1lb yellow split peas, rinsed
7 cups of water
4 dried bay leaves
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
7 cloves of garlic
¼ onion, or 2 shallots, chopped
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 pepperoncini (pickled yellow peppers) roughly chopped (I used pickled jalapenos)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried dill
In a heavy-bottomed, large pot (such as Dutch oven), warm the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the aromatics have softened but haven’t yet browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add split peas and stir for a couple minutes. Rip the bay leaves slightly to release their flavours, and add them along with the water, 1 tbsp sea salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Cover the mixture and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and let cook for about 50 minutes – 1 hour, until the peas are fully cooked but haven’t yet lost their structure. Drain well and let sit until the water has completely drained out, about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
Combine one third of the mixture with the garlic, onion (or shallots), lemon juice, and pepperoncini in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Add the olive oil with the motor running as if you were making a salad dressing. Mix with the rest of the pea mixture and add the dried drill. Taste, and adjust your seasonings (dill, salt and pepper.) Michael calls for another tablespoon of salt to be added here, but my mixture was plenty salty. If making soup, thin the mixture using water, milk or cream to the desired consistency. Top with a dollop of plain, Greek-style yogurt or a sprinkling of smoked paprika if desired. If using as a spread, serve with pita bread, pita chips or even corn tortilla chips. It would also be tasty with raw vegetables. Use within the week or freeze.
Yields 1 quart.
*The title of this entry comes from "Miracle Ice Cream", a poem by confessional writer Adrienne Rich.