I love shelling peas – somehow it makes me feel like a proper, grown-up cook. I imagine Elizabeth David used to shell tender peas in her garden on warm sunny days, pick a few herbs and sauté her green treasures together in unsalted butter. Simple but, I’m sure, utterly delicious.
I unfortunately made the mistake of declaring to my friends and family members how much I love shelling peas and how therapeutic I find it – because now, almost every time they see me in the summer, they give me a big bowl of peas to shell.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour Laura went one step further. We were sitting down watching tennis during the Wimbledon Championships, when she put an enormous BUCKET of pea pods in front of me and asked – in a terribly polite, gentle, unassuming British manner – whether I would very much mind shelling them. It took me two hours to get through the lot – thankfully, it was a five-set match – and once I was done, she asked me to cook with them!
This is the soup I made with some of the peas (the rest were subsequently used in pasta, risotto and curry). The soup is known as sopa de chicharos, and versions of the recipe, often made with dried green split peas, are found all over Mexico as well as Cuba.
Laura and I wolfed down the vibrant emerald-hued soup with sweetcorn and red chilli muffins straight from the oven – but it goes equally well with cornmeal bread, wholemeal pumpkin seed bread, or tortilla chips. Serves 4 – 6.
2 oz/ 50g finely minced flat-leaf parsley
3 oz/ 75g butter
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper
1 medium egg
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock
1 lb/ 450g fresh green peas (shelled weight)
1 large avocado, peeled, halved, stoned and thinly sliced
1. Mix the parsley with 1 oz/ 25g butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
2. Lightly beat the egg and combine well with the parsley butter. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
3. Heat the remaining butter in a large saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Fry the onions until soft but not browned.
4. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas, lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes with the lid on.
5. Remove the lid, and carefully drop in the parsley mixture one teaspoon at a time.
6. Cover again with the lid, and cook for 10 or 15 minutes or until the peas are tender.
7. OPTIONAL STEP: If you want smooth-textured soup with a glossy sheen, blend the soup using a hand blender. Otherwise leave it as it is. (This is my own preference – a clear soup with whole green peas and fluffy, eggy bits floating on top – but many people prefer it blended).
8. Season the soup to taste. Serve in bowls garnished with the sliced avocado.