Return of the Root Vegetables


Although summer brings a great bounty of fruits and vegetables, I have to admit that I always look forward to the root vegetables of the fall — and the wonderful soups that you can make from potatoes, celeriac, carrots, and leeks.

One of the nice things about getting fruits and vegetables delivered from a local produce service like New Roots Organics (see this entry from last November for further information) or Pioneer Organics or from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) like Willie Green’s Organic Farm is that you become more attuned to what’s in season than you might be shopping in the QFC — where pretty much everything is always in season, even if it’s got to be shipped from Peru and embalmed in wax to get there.

This week’s bin definitely demonstrated that summer is just about gone. Sure, there are a few plums to remind us of the glories of the fading August sun — but they are being crowded out by lovely crisp Gala apples and tender Bartlett pears. And here come the root vegetables — leeks and red potatoes and Nante carrots and beets with their greens — and an adorable litte sweet dumpling squash (which I don’t think I’ve ever had before).

In celebration of the cooler weather and the hardier, earthier vegetables of the season, I made a big pot of soup. I’m going to call it split pea, cuz that’s easy, but it’s really split pea-potato-leek-carrot soup. Here’s the recipe.

Fall Harvest Split Pea Soup

1.5 to 2 cups dried green split peas
1 large leek (or several sweet onions, or several bunches of scallions — although leeks are definitely the best)
1 small bunch carrots
6-7 small red potatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt
1-2 tsp. marjoram

Rinse the split peas in several changes of water and put them in a large soup pot with about six cups of water and the tsp of sea salt. Bring them to a boil and allow to simmer as you chop the vegetables, giving the peas a stir every now and then. (Peas aren’t really beans and you can add salt right away, without any worries about making them tough.)

Remove the roots and the tough part of the stalk from the leek and split the bulb lengthwise. (Leeks are sometimes quite sandy inside. If this is the case, now’s a good time to give give yours a good rinse.) Cut into 1/4″ half rounds and allow to soak in a bowl of cold water.

If the carrots and potatoes you are using are organic and if their skins are nice and tender, there’s no need to peel them — just scrub well in cold water. Otherwise, peel the carrots and potatoes. Chop into a 1/2″ dice.

Put two tbsp of good quality olive oil into a large frying pan and heat it to medium. Lift the leeks out of the water, leaving behind any remaining grit, and let them saute gently for a few minutes. When the leeks have softened, add the carrots, potatoes, and marjoram and saute for an additional five minutes.

Add the vegetables to the soup pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. (Now’s a good time to make a batch of baking powder biscuits.)

When the split peas are fully cooked and the vegetables are tender, remove 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and broth from the pot and puree in a blender or food processor. Return to the pot, give a good stir, add additional water to thin as needed, let warm through, and you’re ready to serve.

This is a delicate soup and the marjoram gives it a lovely fragrance. It shouldn’t need any additional seasoning, although I found that a drop or two of hot sauce brought out the flavors nicely.

2 Comments so far

  1. wendolen (unregistered) on September 27th, 2005 @ 8:56 pm

    This is a nice soup, and being the main soup cook at my restaurant has had me in a really soupy mood lately. I had one question, though: Why do you soak the leeks? I’ve seen onions soaked, if you were planning to serve them raw, to cut down on the bite, but leeks are so mild to begin with.

  2. Cat Nilan (unregistered) on September 28th, 2005 @ 5:33 pm

    “Soak” is really the wrong word here. Because of the way they’re grown, leeks can get a lot of grit inside of them. Most cookbooks I’ve read call for washing and/or soaking to remove the grit between the layers. Frankly, the leeks I’ve gotten recently have all been nice and clean, but I wouldn’t skip washing them really carefully. Nothing worse than gritty soup!

    Not that I want to scare anyone away from leeks. Although they look a lot like overgrown scallions, they are a wondrous vegetable in their own right and add tremendous flavor to soups. I only started using them because they kept showing up in my vegetable delivery bin, but I’m completely sold on their virtues now.

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