As someone who spends an awful lot of time cooking and writing about cooking, I’ve been timid about sharing my kitchen of late. Not to say that I haven’t been cooking – oh, I have – but I’ve become a boring sort. My stove produces a steady stream of baked sweet potatoes and parsnips, bowls of brown rice, salads and avocados on toast, lentils doused in olive oil, and lots of soup.
Perhaps it’s the time of year, or the thick layer of snow blanketing my street, or the pervasive scent of resolution in the air, mid-January. But my cooking has been basic.
It’s become unfashionable to make new year’s resolutions. For every promise to resolve I’ve read this month, I’ve read three more confessions to the contrary – people are allergic to resolving, refuse to jump on that bandwagon, or decry resolution-making as a task for the weak, the January Joiners. (Each of those anti-resolutions have appeared in my feed reader.) Sometimes I’ve nodded along in agreement. I’ve been hesitant to compile my own list for self improvement.
But nothing is shameful about setting goals and starting anew, however arbitrary January 1 is as a beginning. In a way, I think my humble, pared-down kitchen fare has been an unintentional resolution of sorts: to eat simply, to make uncomplicated and delicious food, and to honour my body. All darn good resolutions, I’d say.
With that in mind, I bring you more soup. A double-fennel split pea soup.
As someone who despised licorice-flavoured anything for years after an unfortunate youthful bout with ouzo, I’m still making up lost time with fennel, and this soup sure helps the task along.
It’s full of softened fennel and apple and studded with crunchy bits of the plant’s seed, a monochromatic soup fit for mid-January. It turns a traditional pea soup – smoky and slick with oil from the ham hock at its base – on its head, offering a surprisingly bright and round flavour. I often find that split pea anything has a murky and dull quality. This soup is anything but.
Perhaps my late-to-the-game resolution this year should be to eat more soup. Three weeks in, I’m off to a pretty good start.
Double fennel split pea soup
Developing this recipe, I initially used only one-half tablespoon of fennel seed. As I refined, I found the split peas really stood up to the strong anise flavour, and so increased the measure to a whole tablespoon. It seems like too much fennel going in, but I promise it’s the perfect amount, both texturally and flavour-wise. Diced carrot was also used in the initial recipe, but the soup is plenty sweet without it.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp whole fennel seeds
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 cup onion, diced (about 1 medium)
1 cup fennel, diced (about 1/4 bulb)
1 cup green apple (Granny Smith, Crispin), diced
450 grams dried green split peas, rinsed well
4 cups neutral stock (chicken, vegetable)
3 cups water
1 large heavy-bottom soup pot with lid
In soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-low with fennel seeds for about five minutes, until fragrance is released from the seeds. Add the onions and fennel with salt, and sweat until tender and translucent, about five minutes. Do not let the onions or fennel brown. Add the ginger and apples, and continue to cook until softened slightly, about 10 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high. Add the split peas, stock and water. Let this mixture come to a rapid boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer, covered, for approximately one hour. When the soup is ready, the split peas will be nearly disintegrated into a pulpy green mush. At this point, you can continue to cook to your desired consistency – for a very smooth soup, continue to cook for approximately 30 minutes.
To serve, ladle into bowls. Makes 8 generous portions and freezes very well. I pour two-cup servings into freezer bags for quick defrosting (as in the top photo).
There’s a story I fondly recount, about the time my grandpa got me drunk on ouzo (sorry, Papou!). For those unfamiliar, ouzo is a clear, licorice-scented spirit that Greeks love to sip – straight or topped up with a little water to turn the liquid milky white, as if by magic.
One winter night we were engaged in a particularly animated gave of tavli, or Greek-style backgammon. I was maybe all of eight years at the time, and loved anything anise-flavoured: black jellybeans, licorice, Indian mukhwas (candy-coated fennel seeds)… suffice to say, I was keen to get my little hands on a thimbleful of ouzo. All the old men around the coffee table had a tumbler – some filled white and opaque, others with no-nonsense clear liquid – and the scent wafting from those glasses was cruel, cruel company to a licorice lover.
The details are blurred, but I eventually sweet talked a shot out of my Papou an drank it down like an especially potent juice… and then another from some unsuspecting old man too focused on tavli to realize I was tipsy. Before anyone could clink their glasses stin yia sas, a second-grader was vomiting her anise-scented dinner down the toilet.
For about 10 years Post-Ouzo, I couldn’t handle anything licorice. Those beloved jelly beans and my other grandpa’s coveted stash of bridge mix lost all previous appeal. My stomach turned and I was queasy at the very thought of anything with that horrid sickly-sweet medicinal scent.
My distaste wasn’t meant to last. Along the way, a delicious Krinos ouzo candy (the pungent little ones we serve at my folks’ restaurant) was popped in my mouth, and I was back. It’s been said that you’re born to either love or hate licorice, and I couldn’t deny my true self forever.
Teenage me would be aghast to learn my very favourite snack these days: cold, crisp fennel slices piled high on a plate, filling the whole room with a bright aroma. Fennel’s one of those neglected and overgrown supermarket specimens – braised beyond recognition or shaved into salads by Italian nonas. But it really shines on its own, where nothing masks its celery texture and snap of candy-like flavour. Fennel is incredibly cleansing, too, thanks to anethole, the aromatic in its essential oil that also makes it taste like licorice. Sidelined by a nasty bout of food poisoning these past two days, fennel was my antidote, the first thing I reached for. Cleansing and calming, it eased my whirling stomach.
I still steer clear of the ouzo for my own good, but any bag of jelly beans sent my way will be mysteriously missing the black ones before long.
Just making up for lost time.