What has pea soup to do with London and the sea? Why is pea soup served with pancakes? And which pea is the distant cousin of the yellow pea?
When I was as kid I rode on my little red bike to the local store to buy caramels for a penny each. Back in the 1970s you could buy big packages with candy for 50 pence. Today you can hardly buy anything for 50 pence in Norway. So when I recently had a look at the price of the package of peas I was buying, I was shocked. I could not remember the last time I only paid 50 pence for something, except a tiny piece of chocolate.
Dried peas are still astonishingly cheap. They are budget food, yet highly nutritious containing both iron and proteins. For the price of 50 pence you are able to buy half a kilo dried peas and make a hearty dinner for at least six people. I want to make yellow pea soup to honour the humble pea that has provided so much and asked for so little. The only thing the pea asks for is a little bit of your time. You have to start the day in advance.
One of the things I find interesting about food is how many similar dishes there are around the world
A dish we eat in one country and probably consider as defining and typical to our local cuisine, often has a relative across the globe, building an edible bridge across cultures. It might be a simple thing as rice porridge, an archetypical Nordic dish served with a sprinkle of sugar, cinnamon and a knob of butter. A similar dish is called kheer or payasam in South Asia, in England and the USA rice pudding, arroz doce in Portugal, arroz con leche in Mexico and m’halbi in Algeria, to mention a few examples. Eating rice pudding or porridge is both local and global.
Another universal dish is pea soup. Eating peas and pea soup is literally eating history. Peas are one of the first types of food humans cultivated and consumed. They were cultivated as early as 6000 B.C. Later on pea soup was sold as street food in ancient Greece about 500 B.C., at the time democracy was invented. Because dried peas were so easily stored and nutritious, they were perfect food for sailors who spent months at sea. This shipversion of pea soup is called pease pudding and is more like a stew, almost like hummus. Pease pudding was accompanied by salt pork, another ingredient able to survive the hardships at sea. According to Wikipedia this was the origins of pea and ham soup.
I remember from my childhood a dish called sailor’s diet (skipskost or sjømannskost) that my father ate
He was also a sailor, and sailor’s diet has been a staple at sea in Norway for many years. It consists of peas cooked until they start to disintegrate into a kind of porridge and served with salty pork. The salty pork made the dish, I vaguely remember, salty as the sea itself. So it seems pease pudding sailed from Britain to Norway – or maybe it was the other way around. Today sailor’s diet has almost disappeared as a dish in Norway, while pea soup is still viable. In England pease pudding is still eaten, particularly in the north.
Pea soup or split pea soup is common in countries such as Canada, Germany, England and the Nordic countries. The name behind the English pea soup has quite a riveting story. It is called London particular, named after the smog engulfing the city of London for centuries. The smog, thick as pea soup, was caused in particular by coal pollution and reached its deadliest zenith during four cold days in December, 1952. It brought London to a standstill. All public transport stopped. People had to leave their vehicles because they could not see the road. And it caused the death of 4000 people.
If you omit the meat, pea soup is one of few vegetarian dishes in Norway
Peas are rich proteins. Protein consists of different types of amino acids, and your body needs a wide array of these acids. Protein from animals such as meat or eggs contain all amino acids, hence they are called complete proteins. Protein from vegetable sources (except soy), on the other hand, are called incomplete proteins because they lack some amino acids. In order to achieve a complete nutritious meal, you should combine the pea soup with bread or pancakes.
This yellow pea soup is a result of a coincidence. I wanted to make pea soup, but found an half-empty package with yellow peas. And when you make pea soup, you should really make a big batch. So I reached for the chickpeas. Chickpeas are far from the Nordic kitchen, but they revealed themselves to be quite akin to their northern counterpart.
Whether the soup is Canadian, English, German or Nordic, there seems to be one common denominator: The combination of dried peas (yellow or green) with salty pork. There is one thing, however, which makes the Nordic soup different. We eat the soup with pancakes. In Sweden pancakes are devoured after the soup, in Norway they are served alongside.
Yellow pea soup (makes 6 or more)
250 g / 8,8 oz yellow dried yellow peas
250 g / 8,8 oz dried chickpeas
a little piece of bacon (optional)
1 big onion, finely chopped
about 1,75 l water or vegetable stock
2 large carrots, cut in cubes
2 stick celery, cut in cubes
1 leek, in slices
salt and pepper
1. The day before soak the peas in plenty of water. The next day rinse the peas well.
2. Cut the bacon in chunks. Fry the bacon and the onion with the oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft.
3. Add the carrots, celery and leek and continue frying another 10 minutes.
4. Add water and peas, put the lid (almost) on and simmer for about 1,5 hours until the peas are tender and start to fall apart.
5. I like to use a potato masher and mash some of the peas to thicken the soup.
6. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley.