Chilled Spring Pea Soup
This is the first year in a while that spring really feels like spring to me! Per the famous quote by Miss Rhode Island in Miss Congeniality, 'it's not too hot, it's not too cold, all you need is a light jacket." In fact, it is even a bit cooler than I might typically expect for these days. Despite that, I am still getting amped up for all the sunny and warm days of summer, eager to indulge in one of my favorite chilled soups that really encapsulates all the verdurous vibes that are ever-present as soon as spring is in the air - chilled pea soup!
Though pea soup is in theory just as simple as any soup, the bright green color is a key feature that is sometimes hard to maintain. Unlike other chilled soups that do not involve any cooking, pea soup does need to be cooked briefly. This action leaves room for it to turn a dull, yellow, olive green and lose its vibrant viridescence for heat breaks down chlorophyll. Additionally, in contrast to a typical hot soup, because the time frame on the stove is so short, you do have to make certain that you have a little bit of uninterrupted time so as not to miss your chance. Even if the flavors are there, eating a soup that does not look very appetizing will not be as fulfilling. Other than that, you still have to be patient until it is ready - only instead of waiting for ingredients to cook and blend together over the flame, you are waiting for them to cool down and meld together over ice. You might be confused - how does almost no cooking time yield deliciousness? Well, this one capitalizes on the fantastic fresher notes of its ingredients as many chilled soups do (unless you prepare my roasted gazpacho, which is made special by its deep intensity of the roasted vegetables!).
Most pea soups I have had in the past taste pretty much just like peas, which is great since that is the intention. But a one-note spoonful over and over again does not make for a truly gratifying dining experience. While the aromatics like onions and garlic should not dominate the base, a flourish that lingers at the end of the pea-essence would elevate this soup to a completely new level. With that in mind, I had a few ideas for how to create some differentiated layers in both flavor and texture, all within in the verdant theme so that spring would really come through in every bite.
To begin, I selected scallions instead of onions - they are slightly sweet and mild, and they would also be a wonderful garnish. Not only would they add a crisp crunch, but their delicious raw flavor would add a burst of freshness. This is also why I chose spring garlic as my next aromatic instead of garlic cloves. Spring garlic, the young garlic harvested before the head is developed, is much more naturally delicate and appealing than the pungency with which we are so familiar, and it too is slightly sweet, meaning that it does not have to be cooked to be enjoyed - it is a fun little snack as you are working, almost hard not to keep eating because it is so enticing! Its shape is quite similar to that of a scallion as well; you could almost mistake one for the other! The spring garlic I have came from Closter Farm, a new organic farm my mom and I discovered just a few weeks ago! They have beautiful lettuces, ramps, and mushrooms as well - I also started playing around with them, and I look forward to highlighting more of Closter Farm's produce in upcoming posts!
The next two ingredients were not included in the cooking process but at the end to ensure their flavors did not get lost. Instead of the expected mint and pea pairing, I went for the more floral basil and pea pairing. The subtlety of basil meant that the pea would still come through first, only it would be lightened up by this gentle herb. Then, to extend the taste a touch more, I juiced some limes. The scallions, spring garlic, peas, and basil all can be categorized have having some sweet notes, so a little acidity helps to keep the final result more lively.
To make my soup creamier, I wanted to use yogurt - its tanginess would also serve the same purpose as the lime juice above, and with more juice and flecks of zest incorporated here too, it would really drive the whole soup home. I also garnished with toasted pistachios because the earthy nuttiness would create some missing depth. The finishing touch was pea shoots - these leaves are sturdy enough to hold up in the soup, and they help to reinforce and round out the pea flavor after the contributions of all the other components. Plus, they add some dimension to the plate, making it even more attractive to the eye!
One other aspect of this soup that I'd like to point out is that I strained it. Unless you have a super powerful blender, because peas are starchy, it will be very hard to end up with a perfectly smooth texture without passing it through a strainer. But what you are straining out does not need to be thrown away! Though this is not the most direct route, you have actually made yourself some lovely mashed peas, and they can be served in numerous ways (and don't worry, you will not feel like you are eating baby food from a jar).
With this batch, I added garlic powder and ate it as a spread on top of some crackers. You could also blend it with tahini for a pea hummus, combine it with some flour and cook in water or stock to make dumplings, or mix it with mashed potatoes for a greener version of this comfort food. And you can warm it up and just eat it on its own or as an accompaniment to the rest of your meal. I am always so ecstatic when I end up with a two-in-one recipe like this one - not only does it save you prep time, but utilizing the 'waste' of one dish as the star of another means that we are helping to save the planet by cooking in a more sustainable and thoughtful manner!
While this is not your classic pea soup, it has enough of that reminiscent taste along with less frequent additional elements that it will totally satisfy those who are already fans and has enormous potential to convert those who are not. It is recognizable yet intriguing, straightforward yet complex, a fabulous dichotomy when you want to make something again and again without getting bored. And don't be afraid of the color challenge - the process itself consists of very few steps, all of which are not technical, and will leave you feeling so proud when you nail it. I am confident that you will be able to master it even on your first try!
Chilled Spring Pea Soup
Yield: 6 servings
3 stalks Spring Garlic (or Garlic Cloves)
4 ounces White Wine
4 cups Water
6 cups Fresh or Frozen Peas
2 cups loosely packed Basil
2 Limes, juiced and zested
1/2 cup Yogurt
1/4 cup Pistachios
1/2 cup Pea Shoots
Thinly slice the scallions and spring garlic, cutting the dark green tops on both as well. Save 1/4 cup of the nicer green ringlets for garnish.
In a soup pot over medium heat, sweat the scallions and spring garlic until they soften, but do not let them get any color.
Deglaze with white wine, then add the water and bring to a simmer.
Add the shelled English peas and cook very briefly, just until they are cooked through (three minutes).
Remove from the heat immediately, add the basil, and blend with an immersion or regular blender until it is as smooth as it can be.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer (save the pulp as described above), add 3/4 of the lime juice, and season with salt.
Cool over a bowl filled with ice water.
In a small bowl, combine the yogurt with the lime zest and remaining juice and season with salt.
Toast the pistachios in a 325°F oven for 12 minutes. Let cool.
Wash the pea shoots.
To serve, place the chilled soup in a bowl, then spoon a few dollops of the lime yogurt. Sprinkle with the scallion and spring onion ringlets and the pistachios. Finish by placing the pea shoots on top.