Q I've been using a lot of dried legumes in my cooking lately, but I am stumped by one kind -- yellow peas. What can I do with them?
A Whole yellow peas (botanic name, Pioum sativum) and split yellow peas taste very slightly sweet, and have an appealing earthiness. Several different types of peas fall into this category. Use them wherever split peas are called for.
Since yellow peas come both whole and split you should know that if split, they need no soaking, but whole ones cook better if first covered with boiling water and soaked a couple of hours.
When I think split yellow peas, I first think dal from India. Dal is both a generic term for legumes and the name of dishes made from them. Yellow split peas are called channa dal. You make a soup-like dal with the peas, water, fresh ginger and turmeric. Then finish it off with a sauté of lots of onion, with cumin or mustard seeds and fresh coriander. Spoon this over rice and you've got dinner.
Sweden, Holland, French Canada and probably a lot of other northern countries all have yellow pea soup specialties.
Their formulas are more or less the same -- soak the peas if whole, sauté aromatic vegetables with some spice and cook with or without some kind of salted or smoked pork. This is prime winter food.
Years ago in Maine I had what was probably a hybrid Canadian/New England pea soup. The peas melted into a cream the way they always do. There were chunks of vegetables, a ham hock and little bits of fresh apple. This is a soup that needs a dark, dense, grainy bread and maybe some Cheddar cheese on the side.
The sweet crunch of fresh apple sets off the vegetables of deep winter in this soup I first tasted in Maine. I don't think it has any deep ancestry there, yet it does remind me of the days of root cellars and apples stored away for the winter along with the parsnips, onions and carrots.
This is one of those dishes that taste even better reheated, so if possible make it a day ahead (adding the apple and butter just before serving). Soup holds three to four days in the refrigerator and freezes well.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table" radio show from American Public Media, and is the co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper." To reach her, see www.splendidtable.org.