Recipe: Smoky Split Pea & Carrot Soup

There’s been a lot of Bare Bonesin’ here at Casa de Poor Girl lately.  Trying to manage all the complications that come along with my medical condition while to trying to look for a new job has made things a little…. challenging, so to speak.  In a perfect world, I’d take this time to truly heal and transition into writing full-time; alas, bills and rent still need to be paid, so that dream can’t become a reality just yet.  And so, it’s become necessary for me to tighten up my already binding food budget belt even tighter.

It’s not a bad thing, really.  In creating the new recipes for the book, I’ve been playing with a lot of different foods, and while that’s fun, it’s also made me neglect my Bare Bones staples.  Whether it’s out of necessity or just because, making good use of things like whole grains, dried legumes, pastas, rice, etc., is not only cost-effective, it really unleashes the kitchen artist in you.  It’s a challenge to turn things like beans & rice into something interesting and new, week after week.

While this recipe isn’t anything new or groundbreaking, it was still a good reminder that a soup such as this can be just as delicious sans swine.  There are certain foods that I feel ought to be enjoyed a certain way and no other, and split pea soup is one of them.  Most of the time I prefer mine with ham, and I always welcome a good split pea soup with real bacon bits.  But I have to admit there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a meatless version of this classic soup.  Sure, the smoky swine lends a special depth and flavor; but the easy combo of velvety smooth peas along with tender, sweet carrots is just delightful.  With some warm, crusty bread on the side, this is the perfect lunch for a mid-winter day.

That savory, smoky quality was still something I craved in my soup, meat or no meat.  So I amped up the flavor with some garlic, plenty of onion, and the magic touch – a nice pinch of cumin.  That little spice is what takes this soup from pleasant little pea soup to mysterious and, dare I say… sexy?  Yeah, I think so.  There’s nothing a pinch of cumin can’t kick up a notch, and just a little bit goes a long way.  Too much would overwhelm the subtle sweetness of the peas & carrots.

Oh yeah, why carrots?  Because carrots make me happy.  I love pretty food, and while the monochromatic look can be interesting, plain ol’ green soup just seems so… blah to me.  Some bright chunks of carrots give the soup some much needed color and extra texture.

Flavor profile discussion aside, what really makes this soup stand out is that for less than $2, you can make about 6-8 servings of soup.  That’s a ridiculous $0.33 per serving for something hearty, filling, and completely delicious!  How can this be, when a can of split pea soup that makes about 2 servings costs close to $2 all by itself?  Because dried split peas are CHEAP!  Whether you buy them bagged (I got mine at Grocery Outlet for just $0.99 – score!), or in bulk (even the organic ones at the co-op are quite inexpensive), these little guys cost very little and go a long way.

And that’s exactly what you need when those really lean times set in.  Ingredients that are affordable, that yield a lot when cooked, and that are, for the most part, non-perishable (not that processed boxed stuff, though), are what will get you through those harder times, as you can stretch them to make several different meals.  If you’re single or have a small family, you may not want to eat all 8 soup servings immediately.  Freezing small portions allows you to make that $2 batch of soup last a little longer, and it saves you from the boredom of repeated leftover nights.

All this excitement over a simple bag of dried peas, carrots and some water…  see why bare bones staples are so cool?  They go from ordinary to extraordinary with just a little help from some handy spices.  Let’s check out this great, easy recipe…

Smoky Split Pea & Carrot Soup (makes 6-8 servings; total cost per serving $0.33)

Ingredients
1 lb dried split peas, picked over & rinsed
6 c water
2 T olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground paprika (or smoked paprika if you have it)
2-3 large carrots, diced

Directions
1.  In a large soup kettle, heat the olive oil and add the garlic & onion.  Add the salt, pepper & cumin, and cook over medium heat until fragrant and the onion becomes translucent.  Next, add the carrots and cook for about 2 minutes, until they begin to soften.  Add the peas and 4 cups of water and bring to a low boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the peas have softened and much of the water has been absorbed.

2.  Remove about half the cooked peas and set aside.  Add the remaining cup of water.  Using a hand blender or regular blender, carefully puree the remaining peas in the kettle until smooth (don’t worry if some carrots sneak in; when they combine with the onions they give the soup a similar kind of depth to a good mire poix).

3.  Return the reserved pea & carrot mixture and stir until well combined.  If the soup has cooled too much for your liking, simply bring back to a low simmer for a few minutes before serving.  Spoon generous amounts of soup into large mugs or bowls, garnish with extra ground black pepper, serve with warm, crusty bread, and enjoy!

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