Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Slow cooker split pea soup for Shrove Tuesday

Split pea soup is traditional Shrove Tuesday food in Finland. It is also served in pretty much every school and workplace cafeteria on Thursdays all through the year. And as delicious as this hearty soup is (and I have come to appreciate it more and more over the years), the best thing is that it is usually always served with pancake for dessert. And that is the Finnish, oven baked pancake, not the thing that is called pancakes over here, which to me are crepes, not pancakes. On Shrove Tuesday the tradition is to serve buns with whipped cream and jam for dessert. Some people prefer the buns with whipped cream and almond paste, why they do that is beyond me, but each to their own.

Usually Shrove Tuesday tradition in Finland is to enjoy the great outdoors, the snow and the sunshine and do some sledging. However, it has been a bit unfortunate that some years there is no snow left on Shrove Tuesday, which obviously makes the sledging a bit difficult. It feels so backward that here I am, sowing seeds in my greenhouse on Shrove Tuesday, which should still be the heart of winter back home. I have been enjoying quite a bit of gardening the last few days, cleaning up the herb beds and discovering quite a bit of oregano underneath the parsley that I removed. The Culinary Consultant did some major digging and removed a big patch of fennel which I didn't particularly like. I want to focus all of the space on herbs I use more, such as thyme, dill and basil. And I want to reserve a patch for rocket and spinach as well. Obviously we will try to fill the greenhouse with tomatoes again this year, with an addition of sweet peppers. One or two courgettes and cucumbers have also been planned. Now it's all up to whether my seeds will grow or not. I just want to go in there and have a peak all the time, although I know there is nothing to see for at least a few weeks yet. 

Anyhow, on to this super easy split pea soup. You just load everything in the slow cooker and forget about it for 6-8 hours while you go on about your business, be it gardening or sledging. It also costs next to nothing, I think it comes out at approximately 63 p per serving (calculated for 4 servings, which means pretty big servings) if excluding the price for the peppercorns and bay leaves (and I have to say at this point, I love love love the bay tree in my garden, I can just walk over and get some bay leaves any time I want! I had no idea bay trees grew in this climate, but we have a big one in our garden, and it makes me very happy!)

Split pea soup (serves 4-6):
500 g split peas
6 cups (1.5 l) chicken or veggie stock
200 g smoked lardons (you can make a vegetable version by leaving out the lardons)
1 carrot
1 1/2 onion (because I happened to have 1/2 that needed using up)
2 bay leaves 
10 peppercorns
2 tsp mustard

The howto:
Add all ingredients apart from the mustard in the slow cooker. To be honest, I can't even be bothered to make the veggie stock separately, I just chuck in the stock cubes and water. Some recipes suggest you should pre-soak the peas over night, I'm sure you can do that if you want, but I haven't seen a need for this as the slow cooking will result in soft peas even without soaking. Also, some recipes suggest to quickly fry the lardons before adding, agin feel free to do that if you want to, but I can't be bothered and also, I'm pretty sure eight hours of cooking will make sure the lardons are cooked through enough as they are. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring a few times. In the end, add the mustard, and some salt if you want to, although I find no salt is needed as the lardons add quite a bit of salt. You can puree the soup if you want to, but to me it should remain a bit chunky with the lardons chunks being great little surprises when eating the soup. This soup gets even better if you let it stand over night and slowly re-heat the next day. You can freeze the leftovers.

The verdict:
This is such a simple but tasty soup. The soup tastes better the longer you cook it, and I love the smoky flavour added by the lardons. Of course you can make a fully vegetarian version by leaving out the lardons if you wish to, but to me they make the soup all that much flavoursome and also more filling (nothing like that animal fat clogging those arteries, eh?). This soup is just so easy, chuck everything in a slow cooker and forget about it for the whole day and then you have a wonderful, tasty meal ready at the end of the day. If you don't have a slow cooker, you can easily achieve the same result in a large saucepan on the stove, just bring to a boil, and then reduce the temperature to very low and let cook for the same amount of time. You will need significantly more liquid though, probably at least twice the amount and keep an eye on the soup stirring from time to time and making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

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