ENGLISH PEA SOUP W/DATES, COCONUT & MINT by Patty Gentry
I once ran a South Indian restaurant. My former business partners, Gary and Isabel MacGurn, still own and run the Hampton Chutney Company. They have lived and worked in India. My experience of India was only through the kitchen, but I felt privileged to be able to learn about the deep traditions and love that goes into Indian cooking. It’s a craft taken very seriously. People’s ability to cook speaks for them and when traditions and recipes are passed on, each is treated with total awareness and respect. The spice mix that is the base of most dishes is called magic. When I close my eyes and think of Indian cooking, I see turmeric. Its color reminds me of the robes monks wear. It looks like eye shadow, smells like ancient tombs and flowers, and, when used judiciously, adds a layer of mysterious flavor and warmth that is quite beautiful.
Currently I own and operate Early Girl Farm on Long Island. As I write this spring is now upon us, and the first vegetable I fantasize about tasting after the long winter are English peas. I love to watch them slowly climb the trellis and burst into thousands of small white flowers that are the bearer of the sweet green jewels that we eat like candy. Of course, mint is waking from its winter sleep, and tender young leeks are plentiful, as well. In this soup, the combination is wonderful, and when we eat it, we are reminded of the fleeting gifts of spring.
¼ cup olive oil + more for frying
1 T black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
2 t cumin seeds
1 large onion or several spring leeks, roughly chopped
1 small jalapeño, chopped with seeds
1-inch knob of ginger, roughly grated
4 cups good water
1 scant cup pitted dates
4 lbs. English peas, shelled, blanched, shocked, drained, and blotted dry
1 can coconut milk
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1 leek julienned fine, soaked in cold water
1 t turmeric
In a big pot, heat olive oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the black mustard seeds. They will quickly begin to pop. This should take about 30 seconds. When the seeds start popping, add the curry leaves until they pop (a few seconds longer). When the curry leaves calm down, add the cumin seeds and quickly toast, again, for a few seconds. Add the onion, jalapeño, and ginger. Stir vigorously. Turn down the heat and sauté until the onion is wilted. Add the water and dates and simmer gently for about a half hour, to get the flavors to mingle. Add sea salt, to taste. Remove the broth from the heat and let cool.
Add the broth to a blender in batches of about 2 cups each with blanched peas and puree until uniform and smooth. With the final pea and broth puree in the blender, add the coconut milk and mint and puree until thoroughly mixed. Add salt, to taste.
Heat oil slowly in a small pot or small sauté pan. Toss sliced leeks in flour and shake well to remove excess. Test oil by putting in a leek strand to see if it fizzles at a medium heat. When oil is ready add leeks and fry until crispy and golden brown. Carefully remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Toss with a few pinches of turmeric salt to taste. Sprinkle over soup and serve.