Gruel is a food preparation consisting of some type of cereal – oat, wheat or rye flour, or also rice – boiled in water or milk. It is a thinner version of porridge that may be more often drunk than eaten and need not even be cooked. Historically, gruel, often made from millet or barley, or in hard times of chestnut flour and even the less tannic acorns of some oaks, has been the staple of the human diet, especially that of the peasantry.
Gruel consumption has traditionally been associated with poverty. Gruel is a colloquial expression of any watery or liquidy food that is of unknown character, e.g. pea soup. - Wikipedia
Pea soup.Split pea soup. Most people either love or hate it. I love it. Michael, not so much. He'll tolerate it.
We were shopping at Good Foods Market and Cafe a couple of weeks ago when I found myself standing mezmerized in the bulk grain aisle. What a glorious sight. A quilted mozaic of grains stacked one on another and side by side. I was drawn to the yellow and green split peas. In dried form, I love how they look, feel, and sound as they tumble from the bin like little pebbles. I filled an entire bag with green split peas, marked my PLU twist tie with the correct number, and made my way to the counter to pay.
I had forgotten about them. The bag had wrangled its way way around all the other things stashed in the pantry. A couple of nights ago, we really needed a tiny break from the lavish holiday foods we had been devouring. Split pea gruel seemed like the perfect reprieve.
Split pea soup is traditionally made with ham hock, carrots, onions, celery, split peas, and stock. Not wanting a heavy smoky-laden meaty soup, I took a different approach with ingredients I had on hand.
It was a no-brainer with the only exception being the legume to stock ratio: I cup of split peas to 4 cups stock.
Hoping to raise Michael's level of tolerance for split pea soup, I replaced the carrots with diced sweet potatoes because he loves sweet potatoes. It was an onion-skin-thick veil of decption.
While my dutch oven heated over a medium flame, I diced a large sweet potato, purple onion, green onion, garlic clove, and celery stalk. After adding olive oil and butter to the hot dutch oven long enough for the butter to melt through the oil, I tossed the vegetables into the pot to sweat. I wasn't looking for color or caramelzation. Once the vegetables turned translucent, I tumbled the split peas into the pot with 4 cups of vegetable stock, fresh thyme, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper. I clamped the lid over the simmering soup and let it cook for an hour.
Unknowingly, it was vegetarian. Until the end.
After an hour, the split peas had cooked, softened, and expanded. Using my immersion blender, I pureed it slightly, leaving a bit of texture. While the pureed soup quietly bubbled and popped, I julienned ham into thin ribbons and sauteed it until crisp before adding fresh parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. Gremolata on steroids.
Ok, so we had a few more glasses of wine before dinner.
When it was time to eat, I ladled the soup into large bowls, topped it with the ham gremolata garnish, and cranked copious amounts of ground Tellicherry peppercorns over all of it.
It had texture and bite that punched through the thick creamy puree. The soup was comforting and warm with the meltingly soft diced sweet potatoes adding a deeper sweetness to the savory soup. The ham made it hearty while the garlic and lemon zest brightened it. We had no bread for sopping. No need. My bowl was clean. I'll leave it at that.