Learning Challenge #2: Comfort soup

For me, cooking is a comfort that is so basic and so unique that it does not stop to amaze me. The activity offers me time to think about things without getting too much attached to the emotions that come with it. Cooking offers me this comfort more than the actual eating but some foods are naturally comforting. Pea soup is one of the favourite winter meals of the Dutch and for most people definitely counts as comfort food. After a week that turned my heart heavy, there couldn’t have been a better moment to learn how to make pea soup, from a dear friend, than today.

1601205_3794773683919_584836644_nAs I arrived at Vera her house, the first thing that I noticed was her warm smile welcoming me from the gallery of the building she lives in. I was not the only one learning today. Suzanne, a friend and former colleague of Vera, joined in today and Vera was more than prepared to teach both of us to make a good pot of comforting pea soup, but not before: coffee!

I have known Vera ever since the first day of secondary school and we cannot meet without talking about how she broke her front teeth due to me and cats. Happily Suzanne is also a cat lover so the tree of us naturally talked about cats as we petted Helmut and Lore. “Time to get to work, there is plenty of time to chat later”, were the first directions Vera gave us, and of course we listened. Now there are many stories about pea soup. There might even be more recipes out there than stories. Many of these stories say how difficult the making of a good pot of pea soup is, but Vera ensured us that making pea soup is everything but difficult, it just takes time.

120120143226For starters, using the correct ingredients is the basis of every soup. Vera had already soaked the dried peas and divided the ingredients so both Suzanne and I could make our own pot of soup. I myself, being brought up with garlic in almost every dish, was rather surprised to hear there was no garlic in this soup, but there were plenty of other tasty vegetables! For 4 – 5 liters of soup, we used 500 grams of dried peas (soaked overnight), 2 leeks, 3 onions, 1 potato, half of a celeriac, a hand full of chopped celery, pork meat and pork sausage and about 8 bouillon cubes.

Now the steps were very easy. First put the peas, with loads of water (filling the pan) in the pot. Add the meat when the water is boiling. Clean the vegetables peel if necessary and cut all the vegetables in pieces.  Then: Make a pot of tea, or hot choco, or any other preferred beverage and go back to what you were doing: In our case chatting about cats. At a certain point, the pork meat will be done and needs to be taken out of the pot. Now, add the vegetables and go back to what you were doing again, preferably with yet another nice drink.

120120143227After about half an hour or a bit more if the conversation is interesting, it is time for a little bit of work! Time to puree the soup. Before we did so, we separated (most of) the vegetables from the stock. “Leave some of the vegetables in the stock”, said Vera, “so you can recognize what you eat, and it looks nice too. When it comes to the effort you put into pureeing, some like their soup smooth and soft, others like it with bits and pieces in it, so pick something that suits your taste.” Suzanne took a vastly different approach than I did. I left quite some vegetables in the stock when I divided the two and I like my bits and pieces. Suzanne put some more effort in the dividing part and she loved to puree. After turning the vegetables in a mash and cutting the meat in pieces, we stirred the mash back through the stock, adding the meat (all of it!) and bouillon cubes. Now, all there was left to do was KEEP STIRRING! And so we did.

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Vera was observing our hard work, tasting our soups and suggesting to add some pepper and salt to the soup. She was a true supervisor during the entire day, but not without leaving us choices. It were exactly those choices, and a bit more water in one of the pots, that resulted in two slightly different soups. Now, the proof of the soup is in the eating and there was never any doubt about us tasting the soup right after the making, however, a night of rest will do help the development of taste and structure of the soup. After the first bowl of soup, both Suzanne and Vera  had enough, but I just needed to know the difference. If I had to pick one of them, I would not have been able to pick the best one, since both of them were decent, good and delicious pea soups.

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All and all the entire experience of making the soup, taking time to share stories about cats, work and relationships, cuddling with the cats, and eventually eating the soup, resulted in a happy tummy, a comforted heart and a smile on all of our faces. I think the most important thing I learned about pea soup today is: Take your time (and put in as much meat as you want).

Thank you Vera Sanders for this wonderful and well prepared soup workshop and thank you Suzanne for sharing the experience with me!

Curious about my next experience? It will be driving electrical go-karts with Gordon de Munck and of course I will write a blog about it! Think you can teach me something? Let me know!

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