Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Easy Peasy Split Pea Soup

Soups are a good way to use leftovers and prevent waste.

 Coincidentally, Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times writes about wasting food just as I'm on a kick to use up leftovers instead of forgetting them.

Now that we have a preschool tuition to pay that we didn't last year, I've had to be much more conscious of our expenses, including groceries. It's easy to underestimate the cost of food, especially if you buy a little here and there throughout the week without keeping track. When you're paying attention, you realize how much the costs add up.

It isn't as though I suddenly realized wasting food was ... well, wasteful. I always peel and eat broccoli stalks, use celery leaves in a soup or stew, and cook beet greens and other veggie parts that some people throw away. I'm the only one in the house who'll eat toast made from the heel of a loaf, so I turn the ends into homemade breadcrumbs, which go into meatloaf that also incorporates leftover chopped spinach. Leftover sausage gets cut into small pieces and tossed with pasta, olive oil and broccoli rabe or beet greens. Even so, all too often I rediscover — too late — a forgotten container or a bunch of leeks in the vegetable drawer that have mushified. (Yes, I know it's not a real word, but it's a real problem.) It's easy to grab bunches of things that look amazing at the farmers market and then have no time that week to get to it all.

And that was usually my problem. I had no plan for many of my food purchases, and once they got stored at home — in the produce drawer, the pantry, etc. — it was "out of sight, out of mind." For the past couple weeks, I've been working harder on changing my habits, making sure to plan ahead what I'd prepare during the week and write my shopping list accordingly. If something I hadn't planned to buy was irresistible, I made sure to think what I'd make with it and when to do so. If something tempted me, but I couldn't think of what to make or when during the week I'd have time to get to it, then I resisted the urge to take it home.

Along those lines, I made a pea soup this past week, partly because the weather turned cold and partly because I had impulsively (old habits die hard) bought big bags of organic carrots and potatoes. Hey, they were on sale. I started out pretty well by prepping and roasting the potatoes and carrots the day I got them home. For me half the battle is not putting them in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and losing track of them. That evening we had the veggies with roast chicken for dinner.

The next day we ate some of the leftover veggies. A couple days after that, I noticed the container of potatoes and carrots starting to migrate farther back into the fridge, getting ready to disappear behind a wall of yogurt containers.

Extra veggies can go into almost anything. I like to use them in pasta, omelets and quiches, and soups. A couple soups that take little effort and time are pumpkin-red lentil soup (to use up extra pureed pumpkin or other cooked squash) and split pea soup (to finish off potatoes, carrots and ham, if you eat meat).

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup
Serves 8

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped (about half to three-quarters of a cup)
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic, chopped (about a Tablespoon)
pinch of salt
1 bag dried split peas (1 pound, or about 2 cups)
2 quarts (8 cups) vegetable stock*
leftover cooked carrots (I had about a cup, but more or less doesn't matter)
leftover roasted potatoes (again, as much as you have or want)

1. In a medium (about 4 quart) pot over medium heat, stir together oil, onion, garlic and pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns translucent. Lower heat if it starts to brown or burn.

2. Inspect peas, discarding any stones or bad-looking peas. Put peas and broth into the pot of onion, bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce heat and continue to simmer until peas break down and become soft, about 45 minutes.** Add carrots and potatoes, and heat about 5 minutes more. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.***
* Normally I'd use water and simmer the soup with a ham hock or pieces of leftover ham, but when I don't have ham or just want a vegetarian version, I like to use vegetable stock or broth for the flavor. Use vegetable scraps to make broth and freeze ahead of time. I also keep on hand vegetable bouillon cubes. Chicken broth makes a good substitute if you aren't vegetarian or vegan.
** I think most recipes call for half or all the soup to be blended with an immersion (stick) blender or in a traditional blender. I like my soups to have some texture, so usually I don't blend.
*** Other seasonings you could use include a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves added with the carrots and potatoes, or a bay leaf added with the broth, or a teaspoon of curry powder added to the onions about a minute before the broth and peas are added. Experiment with what you like. My roasted carrots often are tossed with lemon zest and a lemon vinaigrette after coming out of the oven. If I were using plain carrots, I'd probably also add a little lemon to the soup.
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