Alright, so since we’re talking about favorite children’s books (or at least, I am, and I really do think you should be too), let’s talk about peas shall we? If there is any better vegetable for a snippet of action in a children’s book to center around, I’m sure I can’t tell you what it is. Peas have it all. They have a funny name. They look funny, all green and rotund. They come in pods…It’s the ultimate trifecta of catchy vegetable characteristics! Of course, mostly peas are the subject of disgust in children’s books, especially if they’re in soup form. Though, I distinctly recall that the girls in the Little House books loved peas porridge (hot or cold!).
But, when I think of fresh spring peas, I think of a scene from one of my all time favorite books, The Ordinary Princess. In this scene, having run away because she hated how boringly proper she had to be as a princess, Princess Amy is hiding and has gotten work as an assistant kitchen maid in the kitchen of the royal palace of the neighboring kingdom. Amy and her friend Belinda (who really is a kitchen maid – rather than a princess pretending to be a kitchen maid, you see) are sitting shelling peas for a royal banquet and discussing what it might be like to be a princess. Wonderful situational irony. All the while Belinda keeps absent-mindedly popping peas into her mouth as they shell them and talking in a thick dialect. When she gets excited, she drops her Hs.
Anyway, it was this jolly image that I had in my mind as I prepared the peas for this soup, listening to the pop, pop, plop, plop of them tumbling into a bowl. I had peas leftover from making my spring vegetable jumble, and I had quite simply fixated on making a soup of them. I wanted to keep it light and fresh and was at first planning to let the flavor of the little peas carry the dish. But, then I remembered that I had some leftover coconut milk from the sauce for the lamb. Waste not, want not! Why shouldn’t this work just as well as cream for stirring into the soup for body and depth and, well, creaminess?
The coconut milk then compelled me (perhaps compelled is a bit strong, but it did drop a rather strong hint) to grate in just a little gnarly knob of ginger to tie the pea and coconut flavors together.
The whole soup drill is really quite easy, not different from virtually any other blended soup, except a might quicker because peas cook in the blink of an eye.
You cook some onion and a lovely spring leek together (if you don’t have a leek, just use twice as much onion, it’ll be fine) with the ginger in a nice quantity of olive oil. Because this is a delicate soup, you want to melt the onion and leek rather than brown them, so do this cooking under cover – I mean that literally, like, keep the cover on the pot – and over moderate heat. Then add some stock and the peas and bring it to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, you’ll just barely have time to say “peas porridge hot,” before you discover that the peas are tender and cooked enough, which means it’s time for the blender.
Watching the peas meld into the stock and become a shocking spring green, the color of gorgeous new leaves (or a horrible bridesmaid dress), was one of the most oddly amusing things I’ve done in a while. It’s amazingly fun and satisfying. It made me feel powerful, hehe.
When you return the now pretty smooth mixture (quite smooth if you are not lazy like me and do what you ought to do with a blended soup which is pass it through a strainer) to the pot, you stir in the coconut milk and what you find yourself with is an elegant soup as clean and fragrant as the spring air after it has rained hard. It has an alluring suggestion of Thai curry while still remaining true to its pea soup core.
I had thought to flavor some olive oil with curry and swirl that into the soup, but then I got distracted by the massive pile of rhubarb that was at the time hogging much of the space in my fridge (and which has since been handily transformed into several dozen jars of jam) and I vaguely wondered to myself what peas and rhubarb would taste like together. I decided to find out.
I whipped up a quick rhubarb compote, ate about half of it from the pot because I can’t resist rhubarb, and used the rest to dollop onto my soup. The pretty flash of pink looked just like an azalea blossom against the leaves of the shrub. Really lovely. And the taste was nice too, all bright and tangy against the perfume of ginger and the soft sweetness of the peas. But, if this combination seems just a little too weird to you, then go ahead and make the curry oil and use that instead for a different but equally lovely garnish. Or simply eat the soup plain, hot or cold.
Pea soup with ginger and coconut milk (serves about 4)
Pea soup with coconut:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 spring leek, washed and sliced, just the white and light green portion
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 cups good chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups fresh, shelled English peas (you could also use frozen defrosted peas)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- salt and pepper
- rhubarb sauce or curry oil (see below) and chopped fresh mint for serving
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium soup pot. Add the onion, leek, and ginger stir to coat with oil, then cover and cook over medium for about 5 minutes until soft. You want them to “sweat” but you don’t want them to get brown.
- Add in the stock and bring to a simmer (if you like a thicker soup, you could also throw in a chopped potato at this point and simmer it until tender. Once the potato is ready you would add the peas). Then, stir in the peas and cook until the peas are just tender. This goes quickly, just a couple minutes. Then take off the heat.
- Puree the soup in a couple of batches in a blender until quite smooth (and quite green!). Return the soup to the pot – if you’d like a very smooth soup, pass it through a strainer first – and stir in the coconut milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the soup into bowls, swirl in a dollop of rhubarb compote or a spoonful of curry oil – whichever you choose – and sprinkle generously with chopped fresh mint. I served this soup warm, but I should think it could also be quite good chilled.
- 2 cups chopped rhubarb
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- salt and pepper
- Combine the rhubarb, water and sugar in a small saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until the rhubarb is falling apart and cooked down into a sauce, this takes around 15 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. You could also try stirring in a pinch of coriander. Serve dolloped atop the pea soup.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp. ground curry powder
- pinch of salt
- In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium until it shimmers slightly. Then stir in the curry powder and a pinch of salt and cook for one minute, until the curry is quite fragrant. Swirl spoonfuls into the soup.