Remember that pea soup from when you were a kid? You know the kind; the one with the ham bone simmered in water for several hours, then stripped of any remaining ham. Add a few carrots and a bag of dried split peas and simmer for several hours, until a spoon nearly stands up in the middle of the pan. Wow, wouldn’t that soup just stick to your ribs? We loved it, especially in the middle of winter! Well, sorry, but this is not that soup.
Instead, let’s think lighter, a pea soup made with fresh (or frozen peas), blended until super-smooth, with a good amount of delicious basil. That’s what we’ll be making.
Peas are about the only vegetable that we will buy frozen (well, occasionally we’ll buy those skinny green beans known as haricot vert, but not often). Years ago, we were less selective, buying mixed vegetables and corn, too. But, they really aren’t that good-tasting, so they dropped off our list. Now, with only frozen peas as a quick vegetable, we thought we could use them for something other than steamed peas, using the following reasoning. We knew about mint pea soup, but didn’t have mint, but we did have basil, which is related to mint (you can tell the mint family by the square stems), so, why not? Then it was as simple as adding some alliums (onions and garlic) a bit of broth, something to hold the nice green color, and our soup is done. Oh, for the record, we pretty much made this up without using another source, so it’s another of our 100% Scratchin It recipes.
Fresh peas would be ideal, but sometimes we have to live in the real world, so frozen it is. The shiitake mushroom is just there to release umami flavor — that savory flavor that makes everything taste better — you’ll take it out right before blending the soup. The lime seems like an odd addition, but it serves two purposes: one, the acid will help keep the peas a bright green, and two, acids bring out other flavors. If you don’t have a lime, switch to lemon. And, we really don’t think this will work well with dried basil, but, hey, we could be wrong. Finally, we use home-scratched stock that we make nearly every week. It’s a simple simmering of vegetable scraps, strained for just the broth.
Procedure in detail:
Cook alliums. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, add the onions and cook until they are starting to get tender, but not browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Once slightly tender, add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Again, you don’t want any browning.
Simmer with broth and mushroom. Pour in the broth and add the dried mushroom. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the mushroom to release some of its glutamates (flavor enhancers) and make the broth nice and savory.
Add peas. Add the frozen peas and bring back to a simmer. Continue simmering until the peas are cooked all the way through and tender, about 10 minutes. Fresh peas might take a few minutes longer, so taste one to check. Once tender, remove from heat, and remove the shiitake saving it for another use.
Add lime juice. Squeeze in about 1/2 the lime juice. This will help keep that nice bright green, but the soup will not taste limey. Really.
Blend. Pour the peas into a blender, pulse a few times until you know the lid won’t shoot off from the heated soup, and blend, blend, blend. Let the blender run on high for as long as it takes until you have a nice smooth purée. Meanwhile, rinse out the saucepan to make sure your soup won’t have a lump of onion, garlic, or pea.
Add basil. Stop the blender and add the basil leaves. We wanted to add the basil right before serving to maximize the flavor (basil loses flavor while cooking, so it’s the last to go in). With our blender we could add the leaves whole, but you might have to chop them up to get them started.
Blend. Now, blend like crazy until your soup is once again super smooth.
Taste and season. Dip a spoon into your soup and taste it. Add salt, pepper, and more lime juice as needed. We can’t tell you how much of each, as it’ll depend on your broth, but you’ll know. After adding seasoning, blend to incorporate, and taste again. Continue tasting and seasoning until it’s perfect.
Rewarm. If needed, pour the soup back into the saucepan and warm gently. If you really want to ensure you have a very smooth soup, run it through a strainer as you pour it back into the pan (we didn’t, but we really should get into that habit).
Serve. Once the soup is warm, ladle it into bowls, place a 1/4-inch thick round of goat cheese in the center, and top with a reserved basil leaf.
For an easy soup, basically simmer and blend, this was a nice treat to have as a first course to our Sunday dinner. It was light, slightly thick, with a good basil flavor, perhaps even a bit too much basil (our basil is growing in the hot sun, so it’s packed with a lot of flavor). The lime, as expected, was unnoticeable in the soup, other than a general brightening of the flavor. We really thought the smooth green soup looked elegant and attractive, which is very important in food, but surprising for a soup that takes under 40 minutes, start to finish. We’ll be making this again. Five green stars.