Pod people: Pea pod juice

A recent encounter with a chilled sweet pea soup got me thinking. At its most fundamental, sweet pea soup – we’re talking about the kind made from fresh shelling peas here, not dried split peas – is nothing but pea puree that’s been thinned to soup consistency.

So it follows that the liquid used to thin the puree could have a pronounced effect on the soup’s flavour. A quick browse of my cookbook library turned up recipes calling for water, various dairy products, chicken stock, and vegetable stock (one of which even called for simmering the pea pods with the other vegetables).

Following Curnonsky’s dictum that “good food should taste of what it is,” I figured the easiest way to make pea soup “taste of what it is” would be to use pea juice to thin it out. But then, taking a page from Ideas in Food’s use of “the parts we normally throw away,” I started wondering what would happen if you juiced the pea pods.

So I shelled some peas, blanched them, chilled them and split them into two equal piles. Then I ran the empty pods through my juicer, and pureed half the peas with the pod juice, and the other half with water.

My intention was to do a triangle test, to see how much difference the pod juice made, but I ran into a couple of problems. First, in pureeing the peas with the pod juice, I let the blender run too long, which heated it up. I couldn’t be sure whether that would have an effect on the flavour or colour of the puree. Second, the juice itself is bright green, which affected the colour of the soup.

But I forged ahead anyway, thinning out the two purees to about the same consistency, and tasting them side by side. It wasn’t a blind test, because I could tell from colour which was which, but the flavour difference was striking anyway. The pea-and-water soup was tasty, and pretty much exactly how I think of chilled pea soup tasting. The pea-and-pod-juice soup, on the other hand, had an extra dimension to it, a vegetal, “green” note. It tasted (perhaps unsurprisingly) how fresh shelling peas smell, which is a pretty cool effect. I think it would probably be a little intense to eat a whole bowlful of this kind of soup (which is fine, because I’m not sure the ratio of peas to pod juice would work out to produce it in large quantities), but as an amuse-bouche, it’s pretty remarkable.

What are some other ways you can make a dish taste more of itself?

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