Friday, 3 January 2014

babcia's pea soup with some additions

pea soup
when i was growing up we had a maali to tend to the garden. in springtime he would assemble a trellis made from thick cotton thread to support our sweet pea plant. its fragile flowers smelt so intensely of sweetness and had filigree-like tendrils. sometimes i would pick the flowers and place them in the porcelain bowl on our lounge coffee table. they wilted fast but left traces of their fragrance in the air even after their petals closed and shrivelled.

during the winter, peas were bought by the kilo from the sabzi wallah and my dadi would sit in the shade of the veranda with a plastic basket shelling them. baba and i had to be kept at bay because we would eat them faster than they were shelled.

one of my favourite meals was a fragrant pea pulao made with basmati rice and accompanied by a cooling cucumber raita. a variation of this was aloo matar ka salaan (pea and potato curry) on a mound of steamed basmati. and on the weekend a brunch of keema matar (beef mince with peas) scooped with flaky parathas and minted yoghurt was the definition of satisfaction.

in lahore, at my maternal grandparent’s house peas were usually boiled and anointed in butter or included in a russian salad as a side to mashed potatoes and roast. sometimes there would be a spring green soup that would arrive at the table in a china tureen. babcia would ladle it into shallow bowls and add a squiggle of cream. daddy would retrieve the dinner rolls shaped like knots from the oven. these were bought from shezan bakery and were slightly sweet like milk bread. we would split these open, butter them and eat them with the steaming soup.

i loved both types of cooking in equal measure. 

unlike pakistan, the british pea season coincides with summer and as much as i love eating the seasons, i sometimes cannot resist making large bowls of this soup in the heart of winter. peas are the only frozen vegetable that occupy my freezer and work surprisingly well, especially if they are organic. my version of babcia’s pea soup has some additions. but this soup is deeply comforting even without the extras. given its simplicity, it is important to source good ingredients. i like to use organic peas, crème fraiche and a fruity olive oil. 

{babcia’s pea soup with a little extra} 

a generous pour of olive oil 
three banana shallots 
three plump garlic cloves 
two hundred and fifty grams frozen peas 
six hundred ml vegetable stock (or water) + more if required 
a pinch of white pepper 

to garnish 
crème fraiche (optional) 
a teaspoon of lemon zest (optional) 
the juice of half a lemon (optional) 
toasted flaked almonds (optional) 
olive oil to drizzle (optional) 
coarse black pepper 
finely chopped chives 
toasted sourdough 

peel, halve and finally slice the shallots. roughly crush the garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle. warm a generous pour of olive oil over a low/medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan and add the shallots to it. sweat the shallots in the warm oil until they soften and become translucent. they should not pick colour. add the garlic and allow it cook for a minute or so until mellow. 

turn up the heat and add the peas. fry them briefly (no more than two and a half minutes). they should retain their bright colour. 

place the contents of the pan in a blender and top with half of the stock/liquid. avoid using a meat or poultry based stock as it overpowers the flavour. process the soup until it is smooth. then return it to the pan and add the remaining stock. bring the soup to a gentle simmer and cook for five minutes. o and i prefer a thick soup. if you like a thinner consistency add more stock/water as desired. 

season the soup with a pinch of white pepper and salt to taste. i prefer using less salt to allow the sweetness of the peas to take centre stage but recognise that some may prefer a more savoury flavour. 

take a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche and thin it with the lemon juice. stir in the lemon zest. 

ladle the soup into deep bowls. add a dollop of the crème fraiche and a squiggle of olive oil. scatter some of the almonds and chives and a twist of coarsely ground black pepper over the surface of the soup. tuck a slice or two of toasted sourdough alongside the bowl and tuck in.

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