Spiced Yellow Split Pea Soup

‘Tis the season to always have a hearty soup to hand, and this is a BIG soup in every way. It’s filling, warming, comforting and delicious, as you would expect, but this recipe makes 20 portions so you’ll need a very large pot.

I have made it with half the quantity of split peas, adjusting the spice quantities down by a third, but – for some otherworldly reason that defies logic – this is just a better soup in every way when it is made in a larger quantity. Perhaps that is why Paul Merrett, from whose ‘Spice Odyssey’ this recipe came from, specifies it be made this way. Not to worry, this is a soup that disappears very quickly once you’ve made it, and you’ll be asked to make it again.

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RECIPE serves 20

100ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

5 fat garlic cloves, crushed

a large knob of ginger, grated

4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cardamom seeds

1.5 kg yellow split peas

1/4 tsp asafoetida

fresh coriander leaves, to serve


METHOD

First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Most cooks peel their ginger but I don’t think you need to; many also advise against grating ginger because of its fibrous nature, but I find that I end up with a soft mound of ginger flesh and a handful of fibres which are full of ginger juice, which I always squeeze into the dish. Ginger gives spiced dishes excitement, so I’m always generous in how much I use.

Prepare your other ingredients, and put the cumin, garam masala and ground coriander in a small bowl with just enough water to make a loose paste.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a very large pan and add the onion. Fry gently until translucent.

Add the ginger and garlic and continue cooking for a minute or so, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, celery and carrot, cook for another minute, stirring.

Now add the spice paste, chilli flakes, fennel and cardamom seeds, turn the heat up and – stirring constantly – cook the spices for a minute or so until they are strongly aromatic.

Now add the split peas and 5 litres (!) of water. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the age of your split peas.

You may find some grey scum forms on top as it cooks, it’s not harmful but it should be skimmed away using a large shallow spoon. More likely, you will get a more colourful foam, with a white base – no need to skim this, just stir it back in occasionally.

When the split peas are tender but retain their shape, remove from the heat, add the asafoetida and use a stick blender to blitz the soup to your desired consistency. We like it slightly rough, with plenty of whole split peas remaining, but this is entirely a matter of choice. Asafoetida powder is made from the gum of a variety of giant fennel and adds a slightly sulphurous, onion-like depth to a dish. Its effects when cooked are subtle but dramatic, if that makes any kind of sense, and it is perfect for lentil dishes because it marries beautifully with them and also acts as a digestif that helps to combat flatulism!

Now season carefully, remembering that this will take a lot of salt because there is so much of it, and also because split peas take a lot of seasoning anyway.

To serve, add the fresh coriander into the soup so it wilts and releases its essential oils, or if you have a coriander-hater in the house you can bring it to the table in a bowl and allow your guests to add it to their own servings.

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