Green Split Pea Soup… Or Not.

This was going to be a pea soup recipe. To the best of my knowledge not a traditional pea soup, as it contains root vegetables besides onions. It is, though, how it was made when I was a kid in darkest Manchester, and is one of the earliest things I learned to make.

As well as the veg, it was also usual to make it with 50% yellow split peas, and 50% split red lentils, not a good mix in my view, and I eventually switched to 100% green split peas, which I continued to use until a couple of years ago (and the lentils, of course, went into lentil soup), when the green split pea supply went to hell. They just wouldn’t cook. Instead of absorbing water and becoming soft and mushy, before disintegrating into a thick, silky-smooth soup, they just – taking hours to do so – became hard, green, grit and the “soup” would remain as watery as it was at the start.

Then, a few months ago, I found a source of Canadian, organic, green split peas (GSPs from here on in), which cooked up perfectly, only to find I’d apparently bought the last bag, or close to it. The distributors had none, either!

A couple of weeks ago I spotted that they were back in stock so, recklessly, I grabbed 1.5kg, keeping my fingers crossed that whatever had blighted the GSP supply in other countries hadn’t reached Canada.

Sadly, it has. They were cooked for hours, with no sign that they were ever going to soften, just falling to green grit without thickening the soup – so just as crap as every other GSP I’ve bought over the past couple of years – save your money folks!

I strongly suspect that there is some new, industrial, method of drying the peas – traditionally they’d dry on the vine – which hardens them and also involves coating them with a substance that inhibits the subsequent absorption of water, and feedback suggests the problem is world-wide. If I’m right I have no idea how this fits in with the organic philosophy at all.

Before pressing on it’s worth mentioning that the important thing to remember is never to cook dried pulses, once soaked, in water that’s been salted, and that includes stock cubes and concentrate, as not only does it slow the whole process, they might never soften at all.** The GSPs were cooked in plain water with the carrots, onions and swede, plus the basil. And still the buggerdly things wouldn’t cook properly. I give up, I really do.

**That sparked a thought – is it possible the GSPs are brined, or even salted, to remove their moisture? If so it would be disastrous and probably explain what I’m seeing.

I was going to blitz the mess in the blender, to see if it could be rescued, but sod that (tried in the past, it doesn’t work), I’m cutting my losses and dumping the soup down the toilet, and the 1.3kg of dried GSPs I’ve got left are going in the bin. GSP soup is hereby consigned to the history books as far as I’m concerned (I’ll miss pease pudding too), meanwhile, I’ll continue my quest for the perfect pea soup made with frozen peas.

So, here’s some split red lentil soup to be going on with. It’s the same recipe, just replacing GSPs with the lentils and, as I said, also goes back to my childhood.

Makes 3 litres, and is vegetarian, as usual.


400g organic split red lentils

2 medium carrots, cut into small dice

Diced swede, the same amount and also small dice

3 or 4 small cooking onions, chopped finely

3 Kallo organic veg cubes

2 tablespoon Knorr Touch of Taste veg (or more, to taste)

1 scant teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon garlic granules

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 level tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz fine black pepper

Good knob of butter, preferably clarified

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons plain flour (optional). Mix to a smooth paste with cold water and stir into soup if it needs thickening. Cook out, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes.



Sweat the onions gently in the melted butter and oil until soft, then stir in the cumin, adding a little more oil or butter if needed. Cook off for a few minutes, then add the lentils. Stir to coat well in the oil and butter, then cook over a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Doing this ensures a much smoother finished soup than simply boiling the lentils, though I did notice that the lentils, although they appeared to cook normally, failed to thicken the soup, and also tasted of very little – what the hell is going on with dried pulses?

I used lentils from two batches of the same brand, in roughly equal quantities. One batch I’d used previously (and still 5 months away from their BBE date), and they’d behaved normally, so I’m assuming the fault, whatever it is, lay with the new batch. I wound up thickening the soup with flour which, with split peas or lentils, you really shouldn’t need to do.

Anyway, after sweating the lentils in the oil/butter,** add the veg, basil and garlic granules (if you have garlic salt instead, hold that back), cover well with boiling water – you might have to add more quite soon – and simmer until the veg are soft, stirring frequently.

**This doesn’t work with GSPs. I tried it in the past but it gave me exactly the same problem as I have now.

In the first few minutes the lentils will absorb liquid and expand considerably – be ready to add more boiling water and stir well.

Once the lentils have softened you can add the Touch of Taste, stock cubes, and celery salt.

When the veg are cooked, stir in the parsley (I prefer curly), allow to cool a little then check and, if needed, adjust the seasoning, before letting it go cold and refrigerating overnight to allow the flavours to snuggle up in the dark.

Three spoons or, if you can get someone to stir it for you – to ensure the lentils don’t stick – two.

Insert spoons

This, by the way, was the first time I’ve used my new hot water dispenser for cooking.

A Breville VKJ367 Hot Cup with Variable Dispense and a Brita Filter.

Works very well, too. Removing the drip tray – it just clips on – means I can dispense almost boiling water directly into the casserole pot, much easier than using a kettle and, given my problems, safer, too.

Hot Cup 1   Hot Cup with drip tray in place.

Hot Cup with casserole   And with drip tray removed to dispense directly into casserole. And if you’re wondering how moving the casserole is safer than using the kettle, it’s simple – I can use both hands. This is my as yet unused 4.5 litre pot, so that I can make a full 3 litres without fear of it slopping out when stirred or moved. I paid £17.06 for it from Amazon. A few days later it had rocketed to £54.94!

I took a dim view of that in my last post but, comparing it to my current stainless steel pots which cost about the same (mid teens), the quality of this one is very much higher, and £54.94 might well reflect the true price seeing that other pots I looked at, at this size and also on Amazon, were around the £60.00+ mark. Looks like I got a bargain.