Sometimes a food becomes so iconic for one dish that it’s rarely seen in preparations otherwise. This is certainly the case for split peas, which I’ve seldom eaten, seen, heard about, nor read about being used for anything else than soup. And that soup carries the stigma of being cooked with a ham bone, most commonly. This is still a soup-y dish, but it doesn’t adhere to the status quo for split peas. Because there’s really no need to.
Yellow or green, split peas are sweet and hearty, great for a soothing winter stew. They’re so full of protein and fiber that you’d be wise to dig into them every day — and find more ways to do so. I happened to have quantities of both green and yellow split peas, which taste pretty much the same to me. Split peas don’t exactly have a reputation for having the greatest color anyway, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to mix them up.
My bunch of carrots had especially fresh and feathery greens. They were the reason I’d opted for the extra baggage instead of getting loose carrots trimmed at the stem. You won’t believe it, but a whole, chopped bunch of carrot greens was cooked down in this stew. They’re barely visible once the dish is done, but will have lent it more vitamins and density, not to mention its pleasing, sweet flavor, too. I also added some finely shredded green cabbage to the stew, which likewise dissolved.
Those, along with chunky carrots, onion and celery made for a variety of fresh veggies to sink your teeth into. I went with a tomato-based stew, using a quart of frozen tomato sauce from last summer. It’s a totally vegetarian dish that way with plenty of flavor. Some winter herbs like rosemary or thyme might be good to bundle in a bouquet garni while it simmers, but I kept it simple with some bay leaves, salt and pepper (and lots of fresh garlic). You can really taste the split peas in the end, which should be cooked just soft enough to melt in your mouth but retain their half-orb shape.
If split peas are the meat, or beef, in this hearty winter stew, then they’re also the potatoes here, too. With enough carbs to fill you up alone, I didn’t see the need to add any more to this dish. Forget adding potatoes, or serving it with noodles, rice or what have you. I think a little splash of hot sauce on top is nice, though.
Mixed Split Pea & Vegetable Stew
(makes about 8 servings)
3/4 cup yellow split peas
3/4 cup green split peas (or just use 1 1/2 cups of either color)
2 large carrots, chopped
2-3 ribs celery (with any leaves), chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart homemade tomato sauce (or substitute 1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed up with your hands)
greens from 1 bunch carrots, stems trimmed and any wilted or discolored leaves discarded and coarsely chopped (alternately, you can substitute a bunch of any leafy greens here instead)
1/4 small head green cabbage, finely shredded
3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, carrot and celery and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Season with generous pinches of salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or until fragrant. Add the split peas, tomatoes, and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and add the cabbage and carrot greens. Add the bay leaf, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered 2 hours, adding water as necessary and stirring every 20 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve once peas are soft and stew has reached desired consistency.
(for 8 servings)
3/4 cup yellow split peas (at $3.99/lb): $2.00
3/4 cup green split peas: $2.00
2 carrots (at $3.75/bunch), plus carrot greens:$1.00
1 onion: $0.25
2 ribs celery: $0.40
4 cloves garlic: $0.20
1 quart homemade tomato sauce: $4.00
1/4 head green cabbage: $0.50
olive oil, bay leaves, salt, pepper: $0.50
Two brownie points: This is one of the healthiest recipes I can satisfyingly eat. It has protein, fiber, and vitamins galore from all those vegetables cooked into a thick sauce. I actually feel energetic and healthy after polishing off a great plate full of it. The only downsides to this dish, if I had to muster up some, are the extra sugars and sodium from the tomato sauce, especially if using canned tomatoes. Try to get the purest kind you can find if so, and be sure to cook a bunch of squashed, ripe tomatoes to freeze next summer, too.
Eight maple leaves: While I haven’t come across split peas at the Greenmarkets yet (if anyone else has, please do share where), I have been able to find organic and totally natural split peas wherever they are sold. This ingredient seems a rare pantry item, but once you do get your hands on them, they last years and years. I just polished off the last of my yellow ones, which I’ve had for at least three. It’s that time of the year to get reaquainted with all your dry goods.