Charles Siskin: Yellow Split Pea Soup Goes South Of The Border

Friday, February 17, 2017 - by Charles Siskin
- photo by Charles Siskin

Where are those dark cold days of winter? Being superstitious I shouldn’t ask but so far, Ground Hogs, those little rodents notwithstanding, we are having another amazing winter.  Okay I lost my lantana but they should make an encore appearance before long. Furthermore my azaleas are blooming like wacked out spring breakers being hauled off to the county jail.

I really do appreciate maybe 8 hours of winter because during those dark and dreary hours I have visions of steaming hot bowls of homemade soup. I also enjoy the pleasure of chili which I can never get just right like my late aunt used to make. Or a hearty cabbage soup that my mother was taught to make by my paternal grandmother.

That was a recipe my grandmother brought from Eastern Europe by way of Chicago.  Eastern European immigrant Jews were very poor in those early years of the 20th Century and a filling soup with potatoes and cabbage and perhaps the luxury of tomatoes was a poor man’s borscht. Later, as money became more plentiful, there was the addition of the mysterious flanken, which I later learned was the Yiddish word for short ribs.

My mother had a favorite butcher who would call whenever he had a piece of flanken set aside for her. I thought the word sounded quite exotic. It was apparently coveted by mother and probably other Jewish ladies in the community. Later, of course, I discovered neither mysterious or exotic. Today beef short ribs are still coveted until you check out the price in the meat department at the supermarket.

As to the Russian version of borscht there is the addition of beets and served with a good dollop of sour cream and thick slices of black bread. It also calls for the music of the Balalaika and Cossack Dancers. Way too much drama for soup?  Perhaps but it would be one heck of a presentation at your next party.

The problem for me in making soup begins with the fact I cannot make soup for just two people. Well I could but many of my recipes, which were mostly in my families heads, never written down as though that  would have been a show of weakness or dementia, demand large pots. Yes, I do freeze the leftovers but somehow not so good as the just made that has sat overnight in the fridge to meld all those flavors together.

I do cringe when I see all those ads for canned soup. I wince at the thought of the sodium, even the low sodium.  I am keen on buying those prepackaged beans in the cellophane packages with the little packets of seasoning. I just throw out the packets. And, also now that I have succumbed to the siren call, you know the one from Greek mythology that caused men to crash their ships against the rocks, personally I rock over a tasty bean soup like black bean.

Most Saturday’s my bride and I will take off to Destin and shop those markets unavailable to us out in Santa Rosa Beach. It may be Fresh Market one week end and then change up and to Whole Foods the next. Either way we drop a wad of cash. Of course we don’t take a shopping list. There is no challenge in doing that. I take that list to Publix and free base at the two aforementioned over priced emporiums with the stunning displays. 

Seriously, have you ever seen an apple polished to such a high sheen or an eggplant fairly gleaming? Moving on to the loose grains and beans, I cannot resist the Israeli couscous and the yellow split peas and the green ones too. More than likely I need to go through high-priced supermarket withdrawal. 

Recently I stopped for a quick lunch at one of my favorite Grayton Beach restaurants, Chanticleer.  When I asked about the soup specials I was told it was a choice of Tomato Basil or Broccoli Cheese. BORING! Reflecting about it over my to die for warm grilled veggie salad, I realized that either of those two soups are a staple on just about everybody’s menu. Where is my white bean smooth as silk soup with bits of ham?

When it comes to seafood gumbo best to head to New Orleans to Cochon over on Tchoupitoulas. Second choice is to try to reproduce this classic recipe at home . Just remember the holy trinity of green peppers, onions and celery and stir that roux of oil and flour slowly until it turns a reddish brown color. 

How many times have you had some neophyte send out a gumbo that tastes seriously burned? That’s the same fool who thinks all your food billed as Cajun should be blackened and so highly seasoned that you need a paramedic to standby or the fireman dude in the ad that comes down some pole to your rescue with a chewy little indigestion pill while some goofy girl swoons. Really? It’s about heartburn you turkey.

I made a ginger carrot soup recently that was greeted with a good bit of “doubting Thomas” on my wife’s part. That is until she tasted it and discovered how really tasty and healthy it was, not to mention what beautiful eyes she will have.  One more elegant soup, especially the presentation, is classic French Onion. We had it on a late summer day at Le District, the French food hall down in at the Battery in New York.

I hadn’t thought to order it myself but my daughter did and the presentation was as good as the soup. That melted cheese, Gruyere, set under a broiler just long enough to brown the edges, served on a plate with a crisp white napkin under the bowl alongside a glass of equally crisp white wine could surely transport you to a small intimate restaurant in the totally hip Marias neighborhood of Paris. Note: This is absolutely my favorite Parisian neighborhood.

Paris, New Orleans, Grayton Beach, Florida or your own kitchen, soup is the answer to those wintertime blaahs. There is no question.

Yellow Split Pea Soup Mexicana (serves 4)

Ingredients
 ½  pound dried yellow split peas
½ cup diced sweet onion
1 teaspoon cumin
2 Bay leaves
1 stalk celery diced
1 carrot diced 
3 – 4 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse peas and put in pot add broth bring to boil and skim off foam
Reduce heat add onions, bay leaves, celery and carrot and cook at a simmer for at least one hour or until peas are soft
Off stove let cool, taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then run at least half of the soup through a blender to puree (save back enough to give the soup some texture)

When ready to serve heat soup then place in individual heat proof ramekins or soup bowls and top the bowl with at least ½ cup of grated Mexican cheese
Run under broiler or in a microwave to melt cheese
Garnish with chopped cilantro, sour cream,  dice of tomatoes (optional) and sliced jalapeños
Serve with a slice of corn bread



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