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Meatless Monday: Chilled pea soup

Crisp, fresh spring peas with their beautiful, light flavor create a delicate soup.

By The Runaway Spoon / May 23, 2011

A soup that delivers the freshness of spring peas.

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I was a latecomer to the joy of peas. And I think that may be because, like many people, my first introduction to peas was the canned variety. Mushy, salty, gray-green and generally unappetizing. And so time consuming to pick out of a casserole or pot pie, segregating them on one side of the plate, trying to keep them from rolling back into the good stuff. Frozen peas came later, but it took me awhile to get over the earlier canned pea trauma and give them a try. They were an improvement, but remember when frozen peas came in a box that you unwrapped to reveal a giant pea-studded ice cube? And I know people who will only eat peas that come from a certain silver can, and I have a relative who is pathologically afraid of peas, so my start with peas was a bumpy one.

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But once I discovered the taste of a crisp pea though, I was hooked. And it was in England that I discovered the greatest joy of all, fresh from the pod peas. I first had them a restaurant, simply braised in butter and I assumed it must be some fancy variety we didn’t have in the States. Then I saw them on sale at a street market and stopped to gaze upon them. The vendor popped open a pod and gave me the peas to taste right there. An absolute revelation, as far from canned peas as Memphis to Mongolia. I bought a huge batch, and more the next day, and the next week.

At home, I discovered that frozen peas are now a darn good substitute and perhaps the most versatile food to have on hand. A handful of good frozen peas tossed into a risotto, soup, pasta, casserole – whatever – adds color and crunch and flavor instantly. I now occasionally find peas pods at the market, but peas begin to turn to starch very quickly after being picked, so they suffer from sitting on shelves. That is one reason frozen peas, now generally flash frozen quickly after they are harvested, are a good choice.

For the past two springs, I have grown my own vines of English garden peas. I have yet to master the art, but I’m getting thee. I haven’t grown a vine that produced a big enough haul to make a whole batch of soup, or to proudly serve a big bowl of buttered, steamed peas to my family and friends, but I eat some raw and some quickly cooked all for me, which is a pretty good thing.

On a trip to Portugal, my friends and I celebrated or last night at a very swanky restaurant. I ordered the cold pea soup and it was absolutely brilliant. The best part of the meal, actually. It had such an intense flavor, like biting into a fresh pea, I just knew that every part of the pea was used to create that depth. So with pea season upon us, I have worked hard to recreate that soup. I use the pods and some tendrils from my own peas, but have supplemented with tendrils from the farmers market and good frozen peas. I lightly steam or blanch the peas from my pods and use them to garnish the soup. At that restaurant, a soup dish with a dollop of crème fraiche and a tangle of pea tendrils was presented at the table, then the waiter poured the chilled soup around the garnish. Feel free to use that flourish.

Chilled Pea Soup with Tendrils and Pods
Serves 6 small bowls, 4 larger ones

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