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FOOD | The Importance of Soup

Split pea soup. (Wikimedia Commons)
Split pea soup. (Wikimedia Commons)

I may have written about split pea soup before on my personal food blog Mookie’s Food Odyssey, and, again, I reserve the right to repeat myself. This discussion about split pea soup is an important addendum because it isn’t only a recipe (which dozens of other websites can offer you) but also a revelation, an exigency of sorts.

I happen to have always adored split pea soup. While working in Downtown San Francisco, it became my go-to choice at a soup restaurant. I’ll drop a hint, here, about which franchise I frequented: while in line, soup-servers always ask if you’d like cilantro. Ah, so very Mexi-Californian. Of course, I wanted this herb I didn’t grow up with.

I didn’t know how fond I was of split pea soup until a family friend, the late Ruby “Mike” Henning, made it for me some time during the 80s. I am, perhaps, further dating myself for my Mills College readership when I explain that Mike had lived through the Great Depression and never stopped appreciating her family’s cream cheese and olive rations. She seemed to be one of the few urban composters my family knew, accumulating food scraps in a coffee can to heap on the mound. That a municipality would issue a large plastic can to this end is something she would have chuckled at. She took care of her own.

Much in the way that novelist Amity Gaige’s mother does: Gaige, a reformed candy-hoarder, is the author of an essay “My Worst Excess,” which I read before going to bed last night. All her life, Gaige has been engaged in a somewhat tense conversation about food with her Latvian-born mother. Without ruining the essay’s reveal (for more, see Feed Me: Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image, edited by Harriet Brown), I’ll just say that I went to bed thinking about split pea soup and woke up desperate to grab hold of the past. When my great aunt died earlier this year she was, perhaps, the last of a generation of women in my family who first shared recipes by writing them out long-hand and then, either personally or via the postal service, delivering them to a friend. This was nothing short of an act of love, and to have someone admire your culinary creation, always made from scratch, was a big honor.

Our everyday conversation about food is changing. It’s too easy to eat too quickly, to eat too much, and to favor the microwave to the stove. The things we shouldn’t have access to (sugary cereals, for example) are ubiquitous, and it seems less likely that future generations will have to familiarize themselves with the colossal hardback cookbooks that our parents came to know. I liked the conversation that took place when I learned to cook. These days, we are speaking less and pointing-and-clicking more.

I want something to change. I want to spend long hours at the lunch table in France again. I’d like to be able to afford the farmer’s market offerings, and for my friends to have more time to eat sitting down at my table.

I shall tackle one thing at a time, and today I’d like to share an economical soup recipe with you. As the weather gets cooler and the nights longer we have time and money, at least, for soup. For soup, and for thinking, if not talking and writing, about long-ago stories.

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

-makes 6 cups-

1 1/2 cups dried split peas
4 cups water
1 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup carrots
1 tsp. each: garlic powder, cumin, salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. olive oil


*Wash peas thoroughly in cold water, discarding any foreign matter or discolored peas.
*Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer for one hour or until peas and vegetables are soft.
*Garnish with cilantro and sour cream if you’d like. I usually sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese and I always add a dash of Tonys Chachere’s (pronounced “Tony Sacheries”) Original Creole Seasoning. Available at many supermarkets.
*For that meaty flavor, add a drop or two of liquid smoke.

Recipe inspired by The Going Vegetarian Cookbook by David A. Gabbe (1997).

*As always, the Joy of Cooking offers a perfect split pea (with ham hock) recipe.