Chicago has two seasons: an arctic Winter survivable only via heinous marshmallow-shaped coats and convenience store robbery face masks and a skin-melting, eyeball-liquifying Summer. But for a few short weeks in May, we enter what people in most cities would call “Spring” but what my friend Claire aptly describes as “Seasonal Limbo.” It’s freezing, then it’s hot, the flowers start to bloom, then they all freeze and die, then it rains so much that you regret not buying that ark when you saw it on sale at Target.
The unpredictability of Seasonal Limbo calls for a flexible meal plan. Not only is this soup made in about 15 minutes from ingredients like onions and frozen peas that are easily kept on hand, but it can also be served either hot or cold. I like to have it hot when its fresh and then cold as leftovers. The only difference is that you’ll want to salt the cold version more than you would the hot version: an extra pinch or two will do. Like in the Mushroom Walnut Pate, your palate can’t perceive saltiness as much in cold food as in hot, so cold dishes require extra salt.
While the basis of this soup is almost painfully simple (cook onions, broth and peas and puree), I’ve deepened the flavors by adding a dash of cinnamon for a warming spicy hint and lemon juice and mint for brightness. Pureed soups like this are often topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and I’ve taken that as an inspiration to swirl in raita, a traditional yogurt condiment in North Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Raita can be made with a number of spices, seasonings and raw vegetables, but here I’ve kept it simple with minced cucumber and dried mint for a cool contrast to the sweet soup. You can also make this raita on its own to use as a condiment to a fiery Indian dinner or as a dip for veggies or shrimp. Thinned out with water, it also makes a great dressing.
The soup and raita call for two different kinds of mint, but feel free to substitute fresh for the dried if you don’t have it. Dried herbs like mint and parsley are one of the hallmarks of Middle Eastern cuisine, so if you like cooking that type of food, they may be worth the investment to help you attain more authentic-tasting results. Regardless, this hot-cold soup and its Seasonal Limbo Green color will help you get through the “season.”
Green Pea Soup with Cucumber Raita
Serves 2 as a main; 4 as a starter
For the Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 16-oz bag of frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped mint, loosely packed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, about 1 lemon
For the Raita:
1/4 cup minced or grated English cucumber, with the seeds and peel (extra for garnish, optional)
1/2 cup plain yogurt, non-fat OK
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
pinch of salt
1. First make the cucumber raita by mixing the minced cucumber, the yogurt, the dried mint, and the salt in a small bowl. This can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.
2. In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the diced onions and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. You do not want any browning on the onions. Stir in the cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the vegetable broth and the water and bring up to a boil. Stir in the frozen peas and cook until just defrosted and warm. If you cook them longer, the soup will lose its bright green color.
3. Pour half of the soup into the blender with the lemon juice and the fresh mint and blend until smooth. Then repeat with the other half of the soup. You should never fill a blender more than half-way full with a hot liquid, so work it more or fewer batches according to the size of your blender. Combine the pureed soup into one container and taste to see if it needs more salt.
4. If serving hot, ladle or pour the soup into bowls. Then take a spoonful of the chilled raita and swirl it in a spiral pattern into the bowl and garnish with some extra minced cucumber if you’d like. If serving cold, add an extra pinch of salt and then chill for several hours. Swirl in the raita and serve.