10 May 2008
Yellow Pea and Mint Soup
I have been reading through my travel journals on this gray rainy Saturday:
April 1, 2008
After climbing through every section of Blackwell’s bookshop, and browsing the promised three miles of book shelves in its subterranean Norrington Room, we are ready to move on to something else. We cross the street walking past marvelous stone heads outside the Sheldonian Theatre and find our way to the foyer of the Bodleian Library. In front of us is the huge doorway to the Divinity School and a few semi-bored tour guides telling tourists that tickets can be purchased across the courtyard and that tours last an hour except for the last tour of the day which lasts only a half-hour. My son and I remain in a state of indecision.
We go with the indecision. Maybe if we just climb something, I say, we can see all of these famous old buildings from the outside and determine what we must see on the inside. We walk past the Radcliffe Camera and into the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Here we pay a fee at the gift shop counter and are allowed to pass through the arched doorway and climb the tower.
Up the atmospheric spiral stone staircase we climb, step after narrow step. As the stairs ascend there are occasional glimpses outside of gargoyles and rooftops as we make our way to the viewing ledge around the church tower. Here Oxford is spread out before us like the playing board of a Harry Potter game. Spiked towers, rotund buildings with wonderful British names, red rooftops and lots of honey and toast colored stone buildings gathered in such wonderful order. Fine architecture can be seen in every direction. A few in particular stand out like star students in the classroom shining from beneath their formal university gowns.
Up close, we are in the position on this tower ledge to get very personal with stone carvings on the church tower and surrounding buildings, not to mention the other tourists who have also climbed up to share this ledge with us, especially when passing carefully in opposite directions. We take in every view and then squeeze past other visitors and start back down the spiraling stone steps.
At the base of the tower and just outside the door of the church I am delighted by the pleasant convenience of a garden kitchen serving tea and scones, hot drinks and bowls of soup. We are thirsty from our climb and oddly hungry as our circadian rhythm is just now reminding us that we’ve skipped lunch and it is almost four in the afternoon. Happily we duck into the pleasant Vaults and Garden teashop where I order a bowl of Yellow Pea and Mint Soup while my son asks for Hot Chocolate.
With our warm mug and bowl we dare to sit in the garden in the cool gray afternoon light. The soup is warm and filling. It comes with a generous slice of fresh bread and a dish of butter. It is immensely satisfying and tastes wonderful.
We leave on a very good note to wander back toward the library to take the tour. Just outside the garden terrace we pass a small car with the boot left open and inside see two crates of fennel bulbs and one of chard. I wonder what will be on the menu for tomorrow?
Thinking that soup might be the perfect antidote to the dreary weather at home, I tried to recreate the soup I had so enjoyed on that cool gray afternoon in Oxford. In the end I'm not sure that it is all that similar but it starts with the same ingredients, was a pleasure to make and ended up tasting good. I call that success.
Yellow Pea and Mint Soup
(While looking for inspiration I found a great recipe at 101 Cookbooks for Yellow Split Pea Soupand I started from there...)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 clove garlic
2 cups yellow split peas
1 box vegetable broth (4 cups)
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ cup finely chopped mint leaves
Plain yogurt, if desired
Finely chopped mint leaves
Heat oil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onion and garlic. Saute over medium heat until the onion is tender and translucent.
Add the split peas, vegetable broth and water, stirring well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peas are tender, approximately 45 minutes.
Remove half of the mixture to another bowl. Puree remaining split peas with a stick blender until smooth. Add back the split pea mixture that was set aside, along with the salt, white pepper, curry powder and mint leaves. Stir and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and serve garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt (if you aren't vegan), chopped olives and/or finely chopped mint leaves.