peas

Yellow, dried, split variety of Pisum sativum — the pea. (Photo by Sanjay Acharya)

It’s a Southern New Year’s Day tradition, eating black-eyed peas for good luck.

But since this is not technically the south, but southwestern Colorado, and we’re just past New Year’s Day, I am altering the practice ever so slightly.

Yes to peas, but not black-eyed, please.

The source of my recipe is from the north. Her food is reliably delicious, easy and non-fussy. Indeed, even though she’s a best-selling author and celebrity, she’s so unpretentious that she insists on inexpensive silver tequila in her Margaritas. I followed her recipe one year and served a batch to a group of guests. The drinks were so tasty that one friend over-imbibed — easy to do when your beverage of choice tastes like limeade but slams like ripple — and we found our friend heaving in the bushes.

It was a little embarrassing to have served her that drink. But in general, Ina Garten’s recipes make you feel really good, not bad. You feel really good because you think, “I too can make amazing food! It’s easy!”

Her food also makes you feel good because it’s delicious. One recipe of hers is a staple for us each winter. I say ‘hers,’ but it’s named for Parker Hodges, the chef at the Barefoot Contessa, a food shop in Easthampton, New York, that Garten owned until she made her name in cookbooks and with a show on the Food Network. Garten has also named beef stew and fish-and-chips recipes for Hodges, who (like Garten) is not classically trained but, as she has written, has an innate understanding of good flavors.

Parker’s Pea Soup starts with split peas, a type of field pea grown specifically to be later dried. The most difficult part of this recipe is tracking down suitable split peas. You’d think it would be easy, but although Walmart’s shelves in Montrose recently groaned with dried beans of all types, there was just one variety of split pea on offer, with “artificial ham flavor.” No thanks.

I found a two-pound bag of “non-GMO” green split peas at Natural Grocers. Split peas also come in yellow, which I would avoid in this recipe. They’re reportedly starchier and less sweet than the green variety.

Parker’s Split Pea Soup receives 330 perfect, four-star reader reviews on the Food Network’s website, but I don’t entirely trust those ratings. Can you imagine the network allowing more than, say, one or two negative reviews to stand and interfere with their brand?

On the other hand, I do trust my senses. This recipe is simple, and most importantly, delicious. It’s extremely forgiving: carnivores might want to toss in a ham bone while the soup simmers or sprinkle some crumbled bacon in for garnish. Vegetarians who desire a smoky flavor might want to top it with sprinkle of Spanish paprika and a swirl of (as Ina likes to say) “good olive oil.” 

Here’s to peas in the New Year.

1 cup chopped yellow onions

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 cup good olive oil

½ teaspooon dried oregano

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups medium-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)

1 cup medium-diced red boiling potatoes, unpeeled (3 small)

1 pound dried split green peas

8 cups chicken stock or water (I use Better Than Bouillion, available in beef, chicken and vegetable varieties on the soup aisle)

In a four-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper until the onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, dried peas and chicken stock.

(Note: Garten’s/Hodge’s recipe calls for adding half of the peas now, and the remaining half after the first batch has simmered for 40 minutes. I made the recipe this way, and have also added them all at once. There’s no difference in flavor, but it does takes more time to cook the extra peas later, so I skip this step.)

Simmer for 40 minutes (it actually takes more like an hour at high altitude) or until the peas are softened, stirring frequently to prevent the solids from burning on the bottom. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve hot, ideally with a slice of toasted Blue Grouse Bread, baked in Norwood and available in Telluride, Ridgway and at Natural Grocers.