Something out of Nothing

A few weeks ago, Lindy of the lovely blog Toast declared a one-time food-blogging event: Something out of Nothing. Here’s what Lindy requested:

I’ll be looking for … a post about your favorite, splendid and delicious bargain recipe. This should be something made with inexpensive, obtainable ingredients, and should not require much in the way of special equipment to prepare. I do not mean, however, that it should not be unusual. [snip] Nor should you feel that you cannot include a small amount of a more luxurious ingredient-as long as it can be obtained in small enough quantities to be affordable.

What to cook for Lindy’s challenge? I pulled out the four vegetarian cookbooks that saw me through my young adulthood. I bought all of these cookbooks between 1981 and 1984, a period that encompassed my last year of college, my first year of grad school, and the two years in between. While I was never a true vegetarian (I just couldn’t give up fish, or the occasional hamburger), I had many friends who were, and I leaned hard that way. Three of these collections are readily-available classics: Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure, Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. I glanced through each of them, looking at old favorites and considering new possibilities.

The fourth cookbook in this group is perhaps the most unusual cookbook I own. Self-published in 1980 by a restaurant-owning group of Connecticut feminists called the Bloodroot Collective, it goes by the weighty title of The Political Palate: A Feminist Vegetarian Cookbook. I bought this cookbook because I was intrigued by the radical feminist thinking of its authors, and the ways in which their politics informed their cooking. The introduction to the book contained one of the first discussions I’d seen of eating seasonally:

Feminist food is seasonal. We use what is close at hand, what is most fresh and local and therefore least expensive and least “preserved”. This seems obvious but we know of no other serious attempt at a seasonal cookbook. Our lives are so disconnected from organic or natural timekeeping and the best efforts of the earth, that once we enter the sterile world of the pre-packaged supermarkets it is hard to remember that strawberries and tomatoes are not worth eating in January and that onion soup and oranges don’t make sense in August.

(Imagine my delighted surprise when I googled “political palate” and discovered that Bloodroot is still going strong! The restaurant has been around for 30 years, and they still sell the original cookbook and three others.)

When I set The Political Palate on my coffee table, it opened of its own accord to a particular recipe, the first that I ever prepared from the book, and my favorite to date. It is, in fact, my favorite version of a favorite dish: split pea (and carrot) soup. This soup is thick with melting split peas and the traditional mire-poix mix of onion, celery and carrot. But this is mire-poix with a twist; carrots play the top notes, while onion and celery back them up. The soup is flavored with red wine, and finished with a splash of ruby port. While I am a huge fan of the smoky pork-flavored potage of peas, I love this vegetable-rich, carroty-sweet soup even better.


Split Pea and Carrot Soup
serves 6-8

1 pound green split peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 head celery, including leaves, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
salt, to taste
pepper, freshly ground, to taste
1 bunch carrots (~ one pound), peeled, quartered, and diced
ruby port (optional – this is the splurge)

IF you can remember to do this, soak the split peas overnight in water. If, like me, you always forget that step until you’re ready to start the soup, place the peas in your soup pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, then turn the heat off and let the peas rest for an hour. Whichever… then simmer the peas for about an hour, adding water as necessary, until the peas are just done.

WHILE the peas are cooking, heat the olive oil in a 12″ skillet. Saute the onions and celery; when they’re medium brown, add the garlic, marjoram and bay leaves. Continue to saute until well browned.

TURN the vegetables into the pot of cooked split peas. Deglaze the skillet with the red wine, simmering for a minute or two and scraping up browned bits. Add the wine to the soup pot.

SIMMER the soup for 30-45 minutes. Season with salt to taste and lots of black pepper. Add carrots to soup, and simmer until they are just tender, about 15 minutes.

SERVE soup with a splash of ruby port in each bowl, if desired.

Lindy has a beautiful roundup of delicious-looking Somethings out of Nothings. There are recipes for the vegetarian and the carnivore, and sweet treats for the end of a meal. Go have a look.

8 thoughts on “Something out of Nothing”

  1. This was my morning to catch up on a months worth of back mail but instead I popped over here to see Sergei and say hello- and here I stay. I’ve been all over these recipes (split pea soup sounds like just what we need today- it’s RAINING here in Ann Arbor- the prelude to Spring is always cold and damp). And then I went and read everything there was to read on the Katrina Cottages- your post is so well written and right on the mark, Kimberly, but this administration falls over itself to miss the obvious. And I’m fascinated with the theme- use less, waste less, spend less, live healthy- that show up in all of your recent posts, including the one on April Poetry month. A little sparse poetry is good for us, now and then. 🙂 Thank you so very much for your insights, photos and fine writing. And also your kind and supportive friendship over these past weeks.

  2. This looks great. I love split pea soup. Ahem-goliard-vegetarian was not part of the rules, though about half the entries were vegetarian.
    But nobody had a sweet potato pie. I love sweet potato pie. If you send me a link for one, I will bend the rules and add you late. I’d do alot more than that for some sweet potato pie.

  3. That looks soooooooooo good. I wish my mom could eat this, I’m running out of healthy low carb, low fat, high protein, good tasting things for her to eat.

  4. That photograph is absolutely mouth-watering. Split pea soup is one of my faves, and I may just try making this one. Perhaps I will throw in some of my Duck Stock, too.

    Ruby Port? I dunno…port is a tad sweet…but I can tell you that a splash of fino sherry is perfect in this kind of soup. Tio Pepe or La Ina work just fine.

    Thank you, Kimberly!

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