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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.

20130513__BlogPeaSoup-113I 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 Lemony Yogurt
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.

Makes: About 3 cups 
Serves: 2, heartily; 3-4 as a small bowl

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

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.

  1. burt kozloff
    Posted May 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

    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. Posted May 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

    This soup is gorgeous!! Love this idea :)

  3. Posted May 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

    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.

  4. Posted May 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

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

  5. Posted May 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Yummy comfort spring food at it’s best! Love the color of this soup!

  6. Posted May 16, 2013 at 1:14 am

    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!

  7. Posted May 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    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

  8. Posted May 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

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

  9. Posted May 17, 2013 at 8:48 am

    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’

  10. Posted May 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    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.

  11. megang
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    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

  12. megang
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    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

  13. megang
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks, Kristin!

  14. megang
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    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

  15. megang
    Posted May 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Spring’s coming, Molly!

  16. Posted May 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    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!

  17. Posted May 20, 2013 at 8:18 am

    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

  18. megang
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 2:15 pm

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

  19. Posted May 22, 2013 at 8:05 am

    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

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