Split peas (Recipe: vegan split pea soup with challah croutons)
Updated in part from an archived post, with new photos, links, and printer-friendly recipe.
Do your split peas measure up?
We have standards, after all. By we, I mean the US Department of Agriculture, which has twenty-five pages of standards governing the appearance (size, color, and robustness) of whole dry peas, split peas and lentils.
Gives the term "taste police" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?
Split peas are a variety of field pea grown specifically for drying; they're harvested at a later point of maturity than ordinary garden peas, stripped of their husks, and split along a natural seam. Most of what we see in the markets in the US and Europe are green splits (from varieties that have green-colored cotyledons) and yellow splits (from varieties that have, yes, yellow cotyledons).
Dry split peas contain more starch than fresh peas. Generally, the yellow splits are a bit milder in flavor, and they are very slightly higher in calories, protein, and carbs.
One advantage of split peas over whole is that the splits don't require a presoak before cooking. Another plus is that they can be stored for months (I've had these for more than a year) at room temperature, in an airtight container. Be sure to pick through before using, and remove any small stones.
Split peas don't have much flavor of their own, but there's plenty of flavor in yellow split-pea soup with sweet potatoes and kale, kicked up coconut split pea soup, split pea soup with chicken sausage and carrots, split pea and green banana soup, and Afghan-inspired split pea and okra stew.
Vegan split pea soup with challah croutons
Make this with green or yellow splits, whichever you have in the pantry. You can add chunks of smoked turkey or cooked sausage at the end, if you're not serving this for a meatless meal. In a slow cooker, this soup couldn't be easier. You can make it on the stovetop, too. Serves 6.
1 lb (2 cups) green or yellow split peas
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 tsp thyme leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
2 Tbsp of your favorite hickory-smoked barbecue sauce
5-1/2 cups water
Place all ingredients in a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker. Set to HIGH and cook for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, stir the soup. The split peas should have broken down to make a chunky soup with great consistency. Taste and adjust for seasoning (more salt, more pepper, more BBQ sauce). If you want a smoother soup, transfer the contents of the slow cooker to a food processor (in batches, if necessary) and pulse to desired smoothness.
If you're adding smoked turkey chunks or cooked sausage, stir it in after the soup has reached the desired consistency.
To make the croutons: Cut 2-3 slices of challah (or brioche) into 1-inch cubes. Toss with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. Toast in a frying pan over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until the croutons are crisp on all sides.
Serve the soup hot, topped with croutons.