Flavor, protein, and easy cooking. What more can you ask for?

By Chris Malloy
October 09, 2019
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The most underrated cold weather vegetable is the split pea. Yes, the humble green or yellow pea that comes in the clear plastic sleeve, the ones stacked in the bean aisle that sell for between $.75 and $2 a pound. Though simple and old-school, and not as flashy as heirloom beans, the split pea can produce a mighty bang for your buck. And in many different ways.

Nutritionally, split peas have a lot to offer. One serving packs about 12 grams of protein and about half a gram of fat. Dishes that feature split peas—dishes like common soup, dal, and Ethiopian stews—often consist of more than one serving, meaning they’re a truly great source of lean protein. Split peas also contain almost half the fiber you need in a day. They also carry some iron and potassium. If you’re looking to improve or sustain a health-conscious diet, split peas can be a good friend.

Another valuable virtue of the split pea is how little active kitchen work they require. Preparations calling on the legume tend to require long simmers. They are typically hands-off, the main ingredients beyond the peas being water, heat, and time. This ease plus their indefinite shelf life makes them ideal pantry items—to be called on when you need a low-effort, high-flavor meal on a weeknight or cool weekend afternoon.

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For the low price, too, split peas are long on flavor.

That comforting flavor calls to mind freshly shelled spring peas, but roasty and closer to the earth. Though unique, the flavor of split peas goes admirably with a wide range of spices, from the turmeric, cardamom, and ginger of Ethiopian stews to the simple garlic, bay leaf, and olive oil of simple cafe soups. Their texture, too, has lots to offer for the cool months: a velvety thickness without fat, creamy comfort for days when cold rain falls and summer is a memory.

Another positive is that you don’t need to soak split peas. When pre-washed, they can slide straight from the soft plastic into the pot.

How to Make Split Pea Soup

A good split pea soup is a great dish to have in your mental rolodex. A simple version requires about 5 minutes of active work and costs less than $5 for enough soup to feed four people as a main, and six to eight people when eaten beside sandwiches, flatbread, or something else.

Before you begin, make sure you have at least an hour and fifteen minutes for simmering. It takes some time for the peas to lose their shape and slough apart. If you can spare an hour and then some, good. You can begin. Measure your peas! For a soup that can feed the various crowds mentioned above, start with two cups of peas and eight cups of water. (A ratio of one cup peas to four cups water is an easy standard that can be increased as needed.)

Soup assembly is swift and painless. Add your two cups of peas and eight cups of water to a pot. Add four garlic gloves, smashed underneath a bean or tomato can. (There’s no need to chop garlic; smashing it frees the papery skin and loosens the juices.) Add four bay leaves if you like their rich, herbaceous flavor, and one teaspoon of salt to sharpen this flavor and all others. From here, set heat to high. When the water flirts with a full boil, turn the heat to medium. You want a hearty simmer, not a boil. Now: do something else, or just wait.

The soup will take between an hour and 75 minutes. If it over-thickens, simply add a bit more water. It’s ready once the peas have fully or just about fully lost their original shapes, a wide window depending on your preference for thickness. Be sure to discard the bay leaves.

Once you’ve portioned the soup into bowls, a dousing of good olive oil into each is magic. So is a scoop of cool yogurt with black pepper and olive oil, or yogurt and a complex spice blend like garam masala. Split peas, like the cold weather months, lend to all kinds of flavor possibilities.

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