Transformations

20130513__BlogPeaSoup-103
I have an office in the upstairs of our house, but I’m often found camped-out at the kitchen table or nudged into our small breakfast nook — coffee cup, computer, and messy notes scattered about. We live in an old craftsman that boasts only one heating vent on the second floor, so in the winter it’s freezing and in the summer it can get pretty stuffy and uncomfortable. Spring, on the other hand, is the season I claim it all back. Working upstairs with the morning birds, the one curious roof-top squirrel, and the changing afternoon light — it feels like my world alone. It’s not shared with household bills, neighbor kids walking by, or the UPS man ringing the bell. It’s just me, and I have to say: I notice a change in my writing, in the cadence of my day and in my mood. Everything feels a bit calmer and less harried. There’s a tiny, noticeable transformation. Hello from up here. 

I just started Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. Truthfully, I’m not all that far along, but I’m fascinated by his stories of North Carolina barbecues and his sentiments on the culture and meaning behind home cooking. The phrase that has stayed with me the most: “And in almost every dish, you can find, besides the culinary ingredients, the ingredients of a story: a beginning, middle and an end.” Simple enough sentiments, really, but as a writer and a former teacher I love the emphasis on the unveiling of a story through food — on ingredients as the stepping stones towards a greater narrative.

I saw a recipe for a Fresh Pea Soup in a recent issue of Sunset magazine and that’s where the inspiration for this recipe came from. While similar in base components (peas, onions and mint) my version strays by folding in cooked quinoa for texture (and umph — it feels a bit more like a stew than a thin soup), toasty almonds, and a lemony yogurt sauce. We don’t often shop at Trader Joe’s, but there are a few things I do like to buy there. The essentials, really: cheese, white vermouth, trail mix, and nuts. And the other day while waiting for my car to be fixed, I was strolling the aisles and came across a little bag of fresh shelled English peas. And so: the transformation began. 

Last year around this time I told you a little bit about our garden. Sam built raised beds for the backyard, I rounded up soil to fill them and started spending mornings working in the yard before the day kicked into high gear. I bought starts that year — convinced that seeds were too advanced and, really, I didn’t know what I was doing in the first place. Those small starts turned into a big crop of basil, thyme, beets, some boisterous kale, and a few very odd cabbages. This year I planted seeds instead of starts, carefully reading the directions on each package. I spaced them just as instructed, labeled them with a little wooden stick so I would’t forget what was what, and check in on the garden boxes often (as if much really happens in 6 or 8 hours). And guess what? In the past few weeks, everything’s sprouting: I can see the possibility of beans and peas and eventual sunflowers and ears of corn. I can see signs of arugula, parsley and butter lettuce. I can look ahead and see the meals to come. I can envision the story.

20130513__BlogPeaSoup-117

This soup is evidence that a few very basic ingredients can blend together into a vibrant spring mess of green right before your eyes. The transformation is easy to see; not as easy to see: the story. It’s a tale of being on the verge. A house and a garden on the verge. A season on the verge. We’re just tiptoeing up to the edge of a canyon — summer — and looking out at all that’s to come. The hiking, fresh tomatoes, camping, beach runs and late-night dinners outside. Working the farmers markets for Marge, the picnic tables, cocktails and visit to my mom’s cabin. This soup is just the beginning and a glimpse towards the stories that lie ahead, waiting.

 

Herbed Fresh Pea and Quinoa Soup with Lemon Yogurt

Herbed Fresh Pea and Quinoa Soup with Lemon Yogurt

  • Yield: About 3 cups

For most soups, I use a low-sodium broth so I can ultimately control the amount of salt. And because all brands are different, you may want to add a little more salt to your finished soup at the end.  The lemony yogurt sauce is great to have around in general — I use it on grains, savory crepes or folded into cold pasta. This recipe makes just enough to have with your soup, so feel free to double (or quadruple) the recipe if you want to have more on hand. Sam insists on sprinkling his soup with a little flaky salt at the end, so I’ve included that in the recipe below.

Ingredients

For Lemony Yogurt:

3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

For Soup:

1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped onion (1/2 medium onion)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
2 - 2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups shelled fresh peas
1/4 cup packed mint leaves
freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
flaky salt (like Maldon), to finish

Instructions

Make the lemony yogurt: In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest and chives. Set aside.

Make the soup: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay the almonds out on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast for 5-6 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and cook until transluscent, 5-6 minutes. Stir as needed to avoid sticking. Add 2 cups of the vegetable broth and increase the heat to medium-high to bring to a boil. Add the fresh peas and cook until fork-tender, 3-4 minutes.

In a blender (or using an immersion blender) puree the pea mixture along with the mint and a few grinds of fresh black pepper until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan and stir in the quinoa over medium heat until hot enough to serve. If the soup seems too thick, add 1/2 cup additional broth (or more if you’d like). Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

To serve: Ladle the soup into small bowls. Top with a dollop of lemon yogurt and a few spoonfuls to toasted almonds. Sprinkle with a little flaky salt.  Cover and refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days.

Comments

  1. burt kozloff

    One noted chef (Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago) suggests pureeing the pea mixture -- if you want a miraculously smooth and silky soup -- for five to ten minutes. Yep. "The rule of thumb is, if you think it's blended enough, then blend it for another five minutes." But this may not be what you had in mind.

  2. Molly

    Boston is unusually cold right now, so it doesn't feel at all like May. There was even a frost two nights ago. Your bowl of peas and talk of gardening is making me crave spring. I think it hear it whispering in the winds outside.

    1. megang

      Spring's coming, Molly!

  3. Eileen

    Greenest soup ever! I love the idea of punching up the yogurt garnish with lemon and chives too. :)

  4. Bowen

    Having a good work atmosphere is definitely important. I notice a huge difference in how long I can sit and work when I'm in a good spot. That soup is beautiful, and I can't wait to hear more of your feedback on Cooked. I'm out of the US for another 6 weeks, but when I get back I'm buying it as soon as I can!

    1. megang

      Oh, enjoy your time out of the US! Hopefully it's not all for work ... I notice I get much less antsy, too, if I'm working in a "happy place." Seems like a "duh" moment, but hard to forces ourselves out of firm habits sometimes. Hope you're enjoying your weekend, ~m

  5. James

    wow - that looks delicious and is so beautiful. the color palate is absolutely SPRING while I'm sure our own palate would enjoy it ! Can't wait to make it. Thanks

  6. Kristin

    Looks lovely! And I love the thought of seeing the stories of summer in your sprouting garden. Oh -- and yes to the lemony yogurt.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Kristin!

  7. Laura

    I've had the pleasure of writing + working outside with my laptop lately on a crummy old lounge chair, but I couldn't be happier about it. My desk inside is always a clutter and the house is generally rife with distractions. My new spot is giving me a better feel and focus for work, I must say.. while the temperatures are ideal anyway. As you say, we are on the verge of summer's greatness.

    I love your additions to this soup too, Megan. Dishes like this are the epitome of storytelling in food. All of the layers building the flavour and heft... Cannot wait to start reading 'Cooked'

    1. megang

      Laura: Hooray for crummy, old lounge chairs (we have one of those as well). Yes: somehow bills and obligations seem to spread themselves about the house and it almost seems there's nowhere to escape sometimes! Thank you for your kind words about the soup. I think you'd like it -- as well as 'Cooked'. Enjoy your weekend! ~m

  8. Kathryne

    Michael Pollan came to Kansas City to speak about his book two weeks ago. He got me so fired up about reading Cooked that I'm already halfway deep. Obsessed! Every page has some little interesting tidbit that I want to highlight and remember. He's my favorite. This soup sounds lovely. I've been loving peas this spring and your addition of quinoa seems just right.

    1. megang

      Oh I'm so jealous you got to see him, Kathryn. That's awesome. I've heard he's a really inspiring, engaged speaker. I keep sitting down to plow through it and something's been coming up, but tomorrow is the day! Hope you're having a nice weekend. ~m

  9. Alison

    When someone writes an paragraph he/she keeps
    the image of a user in his/her mind that how a user can know it.
    Thus that's why this piece of writing is perfect. Thanks!

  10. Simply how much is a few days within thailand

    I do not know if it's just me or if everybody else experiencing issues with your website. It appears as though some of the text on your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a issue with my internet browser because I've had this
    happen previously. Thank you

    1. megang

      Thank you; I'll check on this for you. ~Megan

  11. Amanda

    Quinoa is truly the best thing to put in to soup. It gives it a great texture and is super healthy for you!

    Check out our latest food post! : http://hiddenbaby.com/blogs/baby-blog/7913689-biglittle-get-together-food-with-sass

Join the Discussion

Winter Comfort Food

Winter Morning Porridge

Winter Morning Porridge

I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead. 

Read More
Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine).  Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).

Read More
Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard

If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype. 

Read More
Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup

People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.

Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.

Read More
Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraîche Tart with a Cornmeal Millet Crust

It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little. 

Read More