Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
A few years ago I wrote a column about my split pea soup-making failures and asked my readers why, after 16 hours of cooking, my split peas were still like little rocks, resistant to blenders, the microwave and even the pressure cooker.
The best advice I got was to put a little baking soda into the soup, so I did that the next time. The soup foamed up dramatically and succeeded in softening the hard peas, so I thought I had the problem licked.
For a long time I didn’t make any pea soup at all but, with a surfeit of holiday ham on hand, I tried it again last week. Now that I knew the baking soda secret I was very cavalier about it, just throwing everything together – onions, celery, lots of chopped ham, salt and pepper – and, to my shock and horror, it did not turn out well.
The peas were soft but not pureed as they should be, and I had to cook it until the ham had almost dissolved. After six hours, I called it a day and went to bed, only to wake up early and give it another go and, in the process, getting distracted and scorching the bottom of the pot – luckily not so bad as to ruin the whole thing.
The cure for a scorched pot (or, in my case, usually a smoke-filled room and a half-inch of black cement on the bottom) is to fill the pot with warm water and let it sit overnight with a sheet of fabric softener in it, an Internet tip.
So it was that I went deep into the Internet for more tips on the soup itself, and have just almost completed an excellent pot of split pea soup. For a finishing touch, I added three slices of bacon, simmering as I write, and this is the point where I probably should have left well enough alone. If you have one last chance to burn up the pot or screw up the soup, you’d best not take it.
Anyway, this is that I learned from all the eager participants on the net.
1. If you have hard water, which we do, use some form of filtered water. This time I used the filtered water built into my refrigerator instead of the short-cut of hot water from the tap.
2. Check the expiration date on the peas. This time I used Goya peas, which seem greener and fresher than other brands.
3. This is very important. DO NOT ADD SALT, spices or HAM to the soup until the peas are completely done. You can (and should) add the onions and celery, so that they will dissolve with the peas, but SALT deters the peas from breaking up.
4. Add one-quarter teaspoon of FRESH baking soda when you first begin cooking the peas, not later on when you are in despair.
Here’s the final recipe. Rinse a bag of split peas in a sieve while heating up 6-8 cups of good water. When the water is hot, add the rinsed peas and the quarter teaspoon of baking soda. Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes, taking care that it doesn’t boil up all over the stove (it will, at some point). Turn off the heat and let it sit for one hour.
Add a chopped up onion and four or five sticks of chopped celery and let it simmer on low, stirring occasionally (I whip at it with a wooden fork when the peas start to soften), for two hours. I have an electric stove and put it on one, which can get too low so I goose it up (this is when you can burn up the pot if you forget) and then turn it back down again.
When the peas are completely done and like baby food, add the ham and all the salty things you care for (onion salt, celery salt, garlic salt, chicken bouillon) – that’s when I should have put in the bacon, which was an afterthought.
Simmer and stir, simmer and stir. As the soup reaches the desired consistency, the more likely it is to scorch on the bottom.
Using this method you can make split pea soup in four hours, including the initial soaking hour – not exactly fast food, but a lot better than 16 hours and ending up with pea sand.
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