This soup is as familiar to me as fish chowder is to a Mainer. Like a true Québecoise, my mom would make Soupe aux pois on a regular basis, long after we moved away from Québec.
In fact, she took Soupe aux pois so seriously that she spent a long time searching for the ideal soup pea to grow out in her garden.
Her search led her to find a rare heirloom yellow pea from Salt Spring Seeds. She declared it the best soup pea she’d had, as close to the soups of her childhood as she had tasted. She grew it out each summer, waiting patiently until the plant’s delicate pods began to lose their color and turn dry and crackly enough to release the smooth round jewels hidden inside.
She would always tuck away enough peas to replant the following year, which would leave her with a good amount to fill up several jars and keep us fed with hearty pea soups throughout the winter months.
In the year after she died, I found myself rummaging through my mom’s seed collections to find the familiar favorites I grew up with. My stepdad has continued growing out and saving many of her beloved heirloom seeds. And for the past few years, I’ve done the same in my own garden.
There is a quiet thrill that comes from putting a seed in the ground. You water it carefully and check on it everyday with anticipation. When it finally pushes up out of the soil, you beam at it like a proud parent, coaxing it along day by day. There may be periods of time where you forget about your darling plants temporarily, only to find that while you weren’t looking, they got huge. Then the day comes to harvest, and your mouth waters at the thought of dinner. When you sit down at the table, you feel so proud of what you grew, and so many memories flood in with the first bite. This cycle of planting my mom’s seeds, watching them grow, harvesting them, cooking with them, and savoring them, has helped me to cope with my mom’s loss since she’s been gone.
Aside from its personal significance, I also wanted to share this recipe with you since this year has been declared by the United Nations to be the International Year of Pulses. In all honesty, you know you’re a bit of a food nerd when you get overcome with excitement to hear that this will be the year to celebrate dry peas, dry beans, and lentils. Certainly not the most sexy of the food groups.
But here’s why I’m excited about the great year of the pulses. For starters, pulses are just really, really good for you. They’re good for your heart, they lower your risk of diabetes, they’re high in protein, and they’re a great source of folate and other important nutrients. And not only are they nutritious for us, they’re also nutritious for the soils they grow in! Pulses are nitrogen fixers and they produce compounds that feed soil microbes and hugely enhance the health of the soil. Actually, they’re so beneficial to the soil that when farmers plant them in a field as part of a crop rotation, the next crop planted in that field will often experience a yield increase. They are used extensively in organic agriculture to build rich soils that are alive and teeming with beneficial soil microbes, which in turn helps to control pests, weeds, and diseases. So eating pulses is a win-win and we should all be finding more ways to incorporate them into our diets and celebrate their incredible diversity. Here are some of my favorite pulse recipes which I’ve shared on this blog before: Black Bean Rainbow Salad, Lentils Stewed in Tomatoes and Red Wine, Lentils with Roasted Carrots and Beets, Pumpkin Apple Baked Beans, Lima Bean Stew with Olives, Tomatoes, and Kale.
So, have I convinced you to eat more beans yet? I’d love to hear all about your own beloved pea, bean, and lentil recipes and garden favorites in the comments below. And I also always love to hear stories about how food and gardening has helped people cope with the loss of a loved one. Feel free to share below. Until next time, eat your beans!
Quebec-Style Yellow Pea Soup
- 2 cups whole yellow dry peas (or 2 1/2 cups split peas if you can’t find whole peas)
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
- 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
- 1 medium leek , finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cup chopped)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cup chopped)
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or water)
- 1 small smoked pork hock or ham bone with meat on it (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional)
- If using split peas, there’s no need to soak, so skip this step. If using whole peas, place them in a large bowl, and cover them by 3 inches of water. Cover and soak the peas for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse; set aside.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the onions in the butter until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery and leek and cook, stirring occasionally until all the vegetables have softened and are fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, pork hock, drained peas, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot and simmer, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes, until the peas are completely soft and tender, about 2 to 3 hours. Add water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. (The soup should be quite thick). If a ham hock was used, it can be removed and the meat around it chopped and returned to the soup. Season to taste, with salt and pepper and stir well. Serve hot, with fresh chopped parsley.
Yield: 8 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.