Monday, December 13, 2010

Chasing winter's chill: Split Pea Soup

I thought I hated split pea soup, that sludgy, tasteless olive green goo studded with leftover nuggets of ham, so thick a spoon would stand right up in it. I was absolute in my detestation until one day 20 years ago when a coworker at the Kennedy Center convinced me to buy it from the Watergate deli, saying that it was the best version she'd ever tried. So, the next time it was featured, I bought a cup.
She was so right. It tasted like fresh vegetables, with no soggy lumps of ham and a smooth, velvety texture. I set out to recreate it at home, and have been making it this way ever since:

1 pound split peas. (Don't grab a dusty old bag from 1995. Look for a store with some turnover. The peas should be bright green and relatively unbroken.)

6 -8 cups of water, or half water and half chicken stock if you want a deeper flavor.

1-2 t. salt

2 medium yellow onions, diced

3 carrots, diced

2 T. olive oil

1 bay leaf

freshly ground pepper

About 5 allspice berries (optional, but they add an intriguing flavor)

1/2 t. dried thyme

1 heaping cup of high quality frozen petite peas

Turn the split peas out into a mesh strainer and pick out anything that looks weird. Transfer to a large soup pot and add 6 cups of water or stock.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan and add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt. Cook slowly over medium heat until softened, then add to the soup pot.

Add the bay leaf, allspice berries, thyme, and a few grinds of pepper to the soup pot. Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat and cook for about 45 minutes, adding more water if it starts to get thick and sludgey looking. Add the frozen peas during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Fish out the allspice berries and the bay leaf. Serve very hot, with a couple of croutons floated on top. It will serve at least 6 generously, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Add a little water before reheating.

For a heartier soup, add 2 cloves of chopped fresh garlic to the sauteed vegetables. Once the vegetables are in the pot and everything is simmering, dice 1/2 a pound of kielbasa and cook it slowly until the fat is rendered and the kielbasa cubes are browned. Add to the pot when adding the peas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ethical dining

So, a while back, my friend Tim Carman wrote an article defending the reopening of a local chicken joint despite the owners convictions for money laundering. His "if it tastes good, eat it" attitude towards patronizing an establishment whose owners are convicted criminals sparked heated discussion both on his blog and on Washington DC's "foodie" website, One inspired rant even went so far as to compare Carman's supposedly amoral attitude to Leni Riefenstahl apologists.

Apparently the moral outrage dies down once the entrees reach double digits in price. Posters at the aforementioned "foodie" website have rushed to patronize Galileo III, a venture by convicted embezzler and multi-starred chef Roberto Donna. Now Donna has lost another legal battle, in which Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth awarded former employees more than a half million dollars in unpaid wages and tips. So, apparently, Donna stole from the state and from his employees. Donna can't legally own a business, or get a liquor license in the District of Columbia because of monies owed the DC government, and so his new venture gets around that in a way that enriches his family indirectly while structured in such a way as to limit his personal liability:

"Licensing records show that the new restaurant is owned by RCR LLC. At Wednesday's hearing, Donna's longtime business partner and occasional bookkeeper, Corrado Bonino, who lives in Italy, testified that the chef is his "best friend" and godfather to Bonino's daughter. Bonino said one of his companies owns Mabel LLC, which owns RCR LLC. According to papers filed with the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, Mabel's other managing member is Nancy Sabbagh, Donna's wife."

Emphasis mine.

Why is is acceptable to continue to line Donna's pockets? I am heartened to see some dissent after the latest ruling, but the rush to take advantage of the  special offer that Donna made was disheartening from a group that has been regularly gathering to volunteer at DC Central Kitchen for 2+ years, held canned food drives at board events, and has supported many other fundraisers & charities. Not every meal has to be a noble venture; to (badly) paraphrase an apocryphal Sigmund Freud, sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich. But lining up to enrich a criminal, a serial and seemingly unapologetic criminal? I can't do it, not even for a James Beard award-winner.