One Thousand Split Pea Soups, Starting At Fifty-Eight-Cents A Serving
By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl
Part ONE, let me tell you two of the secrets of a happy life:
Keep your expenses low, and your fiber intake high. Here’s another one: Eat something delicious every day. Now, here’s the how for all of this: Go to the Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op bulk bins! Start with a pound of something—yellow split peas, red lentils, green split peas, your pick. Now, take a few steps to the area with bulk onions, potatoes, garlic, and other roots. Grab one big onion and a couple cloves of garlic. That’s the essence of human sustenance. The secret of life, it’s right there! The basic ratio underlying all lentil soups, split-pea soups, and b
arley soups is simply this: one pound of a thing in the bulk bin, plus one sauteed onion with a little garlic + 3 quarts of water, salt to taste = soup.
Here’s the math: A pound of green split peas at the co-op in early February was: $1.79 a pound. The biggest onion I could find was .6 pounds, and cost $1.99 a pound, so, $1.20. Let’s use fifty cents as how much I spend on garlic, because I really like garlic. A pound of lentils or split peas makes six generous servings. $1.79+$1.20+.50 divided by 6 = fifty-eight cents per serving. Fifty eight cents! Obviously, you can go hog wild from that fifty-eight cent base—add a six dollar ham steak minced, or a seven dollar package of Field Roast smoked plant based sausages cut into rounds, now you’re getting towards two dollars a serving. Celery, carrots, some Mediterranean Blend herb mix from the bulk area, you could hit three bucks a serving.
Now, let me tell you about me. I am a very fancy lady who has gone to a lot of the fanciest restaurants in the world, and people give me awards for my insightful insights into this fancy food. I am also a single mom and artist-writer type on a budget who lives within walking distance of the Wedge, and I have raised my two children on thrifty soups sourced from the bulk aisle of the co-op. Additionally, I am an idiot who gets into fights on Twitter (find me trying to not be like this at @DearDara, sigh.) One fight I’ve gotten into a few times is with people who insist that co-ops are expensive, and that big box stores are cheap.
Absolutely not. I have been a Wedge member since 1997, and I am here to tell you: You can save a million dollars over the course of your lifetime by making delicious soup from the bulk aisle. You can also teach your children to make delicious soups from the bulk aisle. You can follow your dreams and nurture your art by making soups from the bulk aisle. An important celebrity I interviewed once told me that she kept a “[bleep] you” savings account so various bosses couldn’t make her do things she didn’t want to do. I have thought about that from that day to this. How do you accomplish this? By keeping your expenses low, and your health high. Through fifty-eight cents (and up!) high-fiber meals from the bulk aisle at Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op. I am wordy, so I needed three parts to tell you this story. This was part one: The money, the reason. In Part two I’ll cover: the basics.
PART TWO, the basics:
I have been a Wedge member since 1997, and one of the things I would tell to a new co-op shopper is: There are so many little hidey-holes of goodness all over the store, particularly in the different bulk areas—grains and legumes, but also all the root vegetables, all the greens, all the spices—that it takes a while to really understand how to use it all. One way is to make very affordable soup.
Here’s the absolute basic beginning: Get a pound of green split peas, a big onion, and some garlic. People make a big deal about how they start their split peas and lentils, some like to soak them overnight, or for a few days, on any counter or in any pantry, so they cook faster. You can do this. You can lovingly tuck in a few bay leaves. Or not! You can dump them hard and skittering into a crock pot the morning you want to eat them, your choice, split peas are forgiving. In the Twin Cities, our water is hard with limestone from the very cliffs that channel the Mississippi, this makes our water clean and delicious, and that’s why we have so many breweries. Alas, it also means you have to be a little more careful with your lentils and split-peas: Don’t add salt or acid (like tomatoes, citrus, or wine) until after your lentils or split-peas have cooked, here in the Twin Cities, or they may take ages and or never get soft. (If you have ancient split peas that got lost in the back of a cupboard, and not the good fresh split peas such as you get in the bulk bins from Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op, simply soak them with baking soda overnight, then dump off the baking soda water and rinse. The baking soda changes the structure of the bean exterior, allowing them to soften.)
Now, chop and sauté your onion, in whatever fat you have handy, like olive oil, or leftover bacon grease. You can make your onion very dark and caramelized, or very light and vegetal. I like to thinly slice garlic and sauté with the onions, then add a hit of grated or garlic-pressed fresh garlic closer to serving. For the most basic possible soup you: Dump your split peas—or lentils!—into your onion pot. Dump in three quarts of water! Cook for two hours or all day. Salt after the lentils get soft. Voila! Now, let’s leave the basics and make literally a million variations.
Instead of just that single plain onion you could hit the rest of the produce department and add: leeks, carrots, celery, celeriac, fennel, anything that seems right to that beginning onion sauté. You can use a lot of carrots, or a little. A lot of celery—you get the idea.
Now, the flavorings! Walk over to the bulk spice area. Every single spice and spice blend you see, any of it can be added to that onion sauté. Curry powder will give you a curried lentil soup, smoked paprika gives a nice earthy base, a big handful of Herbs de Provence lends meadow-y, French vibes, the Cacao Chili Powder adds smolder and depth, the Berbere seasoning is that historically Ethiopian blend that was all but invented to make lentils taste fantastic.
Finally, what else can you put on top of your soup to serve? Fresh leaves of basil, from the bulk basil-bins? Radish sprouts? Leaves of spinach, mushrooms you sauteed with a bit of garlic, bulk grated parmesan, pepitas, or seasoned cashews? Personally, my go-to weeknight dinner for a decade of having little kids was: eight links of whatever fresh sausage the Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op has on sale, shoved down the sides of the crock pot, with yellow split peas and onions in the middle, set it to cook all day, now we have food for the week and more for the freezer. I could talk about ideas for soup sourced from the co-op for the rest of my life: a slab of ham steak, diced into cubes for a traditional Dutch/German/British split pea soup, perhaps? A bit of fresh ginger added to a red lentil Berbere spiced soup thickened with a plop of bulk peanut butter?
Three Basic Ideas to Launch you Your Road to One Million Soups:
All farmers everywhere know this basic split pea soup: Green split peas, lots of onion, garlic, any smoked pork or turkey, or smoky tempeh or smoked Field Roast faux sausages, the meat/faux-meat cut into rounds or diced, added after the green split peas get soft.
Restaurant-ish fancy spiced yellow split pea soup: Yellow split peas are the mildest of the split peas, and particularly valued because they allow any spice you use to shine. For yellow split peas, sauté your onion, garlic, celery, then add a tablespoon or more of some spice from the bulk area, like one of the curries, or simply white pepper and herbs. From this mild spiced base, you can make it creamy by stirring in sour cream or yogurt, you could add a diced sweet potato, or finish with a scattering of curried cashews from the bulk snack area.
The elemental European peasant lentil sausage soup: One of the browner lentils, with onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. After the lentils cook and are soft, add a can of Muir Glen fire-roast diced tomatoes, and any smoked sausage or faux sausage like kielbasa sliced into rings.
I truly believe that the three basics above are the secret to a healthy, happy, financially and culinarily wonderful life. Thus concludes Part Two, the basics. Come on back for Part Three, I’ll tell you how to go absolutely hog wild and live a five-star restaurant-quality life, out of the bulk bins at Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op.
Part THREE, Going Hog Wild And Making Restaurant-Quality Soups:
Here’s a secret that’s not a secret: You know who you find among the shoppers in the produce aisle at Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op? An extremely large proportion of the Twin Cities best chefs, recipe-developers, and food critics. Why? Because the produce is just that good, and also professional recipe-developing, for books or restaurants, requires a big artists’ palette of different little bits and bobs to throw around and see what works. Here’s a second secret that’s not a secret: You know what’s the difference between restaurant-soup and home-soup? Restaurant soup is “finished with” all kinds of things—a few radish sprouts, two arugula leaves, a scattering of seasoned pepitas, two curls of shaved carrot, three dots of sour cream thinned with lemon juice. This makes a restaurant soup feel very fancy!
I will now name-drop. I was talking to Jacques Pepin once, yes, the real Jacques Pepin, that famous chef, and he told me: Now that I’m not cooking in restaurant kitchens, I use the salad bar at my local grocery store as my prep-cooks, I get sliced of onions, sliced peppers, bacon bits… you get the idea. You can do this at the co-op, but with things that are much more difficult to come by than sliced onions. I’m talking about: Soup garnishes. Soup enhancements. Soup magic. Come along. Let’s look at what happens when you start adding bulk ingredients to your basic bulk bin soups.
For all of the below, we’ll assume the basics means: A pound of lentils, cooked with a large onion, and a couple cloves of garlic, diced and cooked in whatever oil seems right.
Italian country lentil soup: The basics, your onion sauteed using a big handful of bulk-spice Mediterranean spice mix. Add an extra quart of water when cooking: When lentils get soft, add two cups or so of bulk bin orzo, a can of diced tomatoes, and a whole bunch of any chard, chopped. Finish with: Handfuls of basil from the bulk bins, and serve with a pile of bulk-pack fresh grated parmesan.
Portugese-ish lentil soup: The basics, as above, onion seasoned with: One tablespoon to a quarter cup smoked paprika, a big handful of Mediterranean seasoning, both in spice aisle. Cook till lentils get soft, add a big can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Take a whole bunch of dinosaur kale, cut across the whole bunch, making the thinnest possible ribbons. If this seems intimidating, just use a frozen bag of kale. Serve with a dice of fresh tomatoes, and feta crumbles from the bulk cheese area.
Fancy French lentil soup: The basics using French lentils de Puy, onion, garlic, carrot, celery. Sautee your onions with handfuls of fresh thyme and 20 or more sage leaves from the herb bins. Leave the sage leaves in the final soup or remove, your call. Finish with a dollop of sour cream, faux sour cream, or Donnay chevre. If you really want to be fancy, high-heat fry some more sage leaves in butter or olive oil, put them on top of your soup and drizzle around the sage-oil too!
Swedish-ish split-pea soup: The basics, using yellow split peas. Season with bulk-spice-bin white pepper. Serve with sour cream or thick yogurt and a pile of fresh scissor-snipped dill from the bulk herb area.
Vindaloo lentil soup: The basics, with red lentils. When sautéing your onions, use two tablespoons (or more if you like heat) of the bulk spice area Vindaloo curry powder. Once your lentils are soft, add: Sweet potato chunks, carrot slices, fresh grated ginger from the bulk area. Serve with a dollop of yogurt on top, into which you have scattered Curry Roasted Cashews, from the bulk nut and snack bins!
Thai-sort-of split pea soup: The basics, using French Lentils de Puy, the onions sauteed with a quarter cup of bulk curry powder, and two tablespoons of bulk coriander seed. Add a can of coconut milk when everything gets soft, and serve with herbs from the bulk bins, particularly mint and basil, and a whole lot of fresh cilantro and scallions, scissored up, alongside some lime wedges.
Greek-ish lentil soup: The basics, using brown lentils, and sauté your onions using Mediterranean spice blend and from the bulk spice area. To serve: Pile fresh spinach leaves from the bulk area and a handful of mint leaves also from the bulk area. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. If you want to pile on more food and make a giant extravaganza of your soup, you can add so much: Chopped fresh tomatoes, either cherry tomatoes or the big ones, bulk feta crumbles, sliced scallions, arugula leaves, leftover rotisserie chicken, a spoonful of ricotta, handfuls of radish sprouts. A vaguely Greek lentil soup can be the vehicle for an entire refrigerator clean-out, or can be the focus of a build-your-own dinner party.
Ethiopian-inspired lentil soup: Yellow split-peas or red lentils, onion, garlic, carrots, two tablespoons or more of Berbere spice, from the bulk area. Finish with a pile mint, scallions, and if you like yogurt, sour cream, or a scoop of chevre.
Hungarian-ish lentil soup paprikash: The basics, made with brown or red lentils, add a quarter cup to a cup of sweet paprika from the bulk spice aisle as you are sautéing your onions. I like this with some cubes of smoked cheese on top, but sour sorrel leaves, spinach, arugula, or even spring-mix baby lettuces can make this very fancy and good.
Lentil chili: Red or brown lentils, onion, garlic, bell peppers! Your choice, yellow, red, green, mini, mega, I get what’s on sale. Add a quarter cup of Wedge bulk chili powder when you’re sautéing the onions and peppers, cook, add a can or two of fire tomatoes, now you have a lentil chili base. Add: anything. Meat, sausage crumbles, faux sausage, tempeh, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, follow your bliss. Serve with: Cilantro, lime wedges, pepitas, bulk grated cheddar from the cheese area, chips, fresh diced avocados? Whatever feels good.
In conclusion: This is literally everything I know about how to live a good life, from the Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op bulk bins. Take it from a lady with extremely Champagne-tastes who has lived life on an extremely beer-budget: Billionaires, literal billionaires, can’t and don’t live any larger than you can out of the bulk bins at the co-op. Go forth. Be free! I’m right there with you, also filling up a paper bag with lentils!