Imagine that stories were like a stew or a soup. People could weave their stories with ladles of wonderful rich, thick and flavorsome ingredients, adding their own culturally unique seasoning to their tales. Just like stews, all cultures and each tradition intertwines its own specific aromas and tastes – and so their stories could be spicy, sweet, bitter or pungent.
Imagine however if we were served the same bland broth every day. There was nothing saucy or spicy about it, lacking in zest and taste, we were confronted with a flat insipid brew day-in-day-out. Our stews requires a skilful cook to combine diverse ingredients, cleverly pairing an assortment of flavors and aromas to create a soul satisfying dish, in the same way our stories depend on the variety of cultures, religions and traditions represented by the people who stand behind them. The storyteller’s experiences pepper his story making it distinct, compelling, exotic and engaging to the rest of us. Just like we have no appetite for a watery and tasteless broth, our inner core has no desire for banal and characterless fables.
Building a wall around our wisdom and intelligence and banning cultures and societies has all the makings of that very bland broth we do not want to be served. Not today, not tomorrow – never – not when we know that there are vibrant ingredients and piquant expertise to enrich and spice up our way of life. If we can open up our kitchens to foreign and exotic ingredients and flavors allowing Indian spices, Mexican jalapeños, Arabic zaatar, African yams, Chinese noodles or Japanese rice to enrich our stews, opening our hearts to the stories from foreign cultures will cultivate and season our minds.
Yesterday my shopping route took me, besides my regular market visit, to the Asian store, the Syrian store, the Turkish store then the organic store. As I got into the car to head back home I thought how absolutely lucky I am to have the luxury of this diverse range. I felt enriched and happier as at each of these stores I chatted to the store owners. We talked politics (number one topic currently), told stories of our family issues and shared food recipes and tips. If Germany’s immigrant policy would have been any different, I / we would not have this huge advantage of diverse lifestyles and wonderful insight and exchange of cultures. At the university where I work, we have a saying “Wir sind bunt!” It translates to “We are colorful!” reinstating it, it is not just the color of skin but also the colorful characters, vibrant cultures, insightful religions and knowledgeable experience that makes for a very flavorful stew!
My smoked gammon and split pea soup is very much inspired by the German kitchen. The “Erbsensuppe” is a well known stew served commonly during winter at many ski resorts in Germany and Austria. While Weimar certainly is not a ski resort but the last few weeks it has been freakishly cold. While thick socks, fleecy blankets and flannels did a lot to keep the cold away we relied on such hearty stews to warm us from the inside.
There are so many wonderful layers of flavors in this stew making it not only a grand weeknight family dinner but can very well be served as an informal dinner with friends. Smoked gammon adds that amazing husky rustic aroma to the soup. While the root vegetables bring out the slight sweetness, the split peas emphasize the bold rustic taste.
Note: Many people get confused by the difference between gammon and ham. There is not much of a difference to be honest! Both gammon and ham are cuts from the hind legs of a pig, and are either salted, brined, or smoked. Salting preserves food by drawing the moisture out, therefore allowing the meat to mature safely and to develop flavor. If you cannot find gammon in your stores by all means use a good cured ham instead.
- 400g green split peas, picked through, small stones discarded
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 3-5 springs each marjoram and thyme
- 2 litres vegetable stock
- 900g smoked gammon, sliced and cut into cubes
- 100g bacon cubes
- pinch of brown sugar
- Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- 50g pumpkin seeds
- Salt and pepper
- Put the split peas in a bowl, cover with water and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add carrot, onion and parsnip and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften – this should take about 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Drain the split peas and add them to the pot. Add the bay leaf, herbs, broth and approx. 800g of the gammon cubes. Give it a good stir, bringing the liquid to a boil over high heat. Make sure you stir regular to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom and scorching. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for a good hour / hour and half or until the split peas are are soft and have broken down and the soup is thickened considerably. If you find it too thick just add some water or stock if available.
- While the soup is simmering heat a non-stick frying pan on high heat. Add the bacon cubes and fry until the fat is released, then add the remaining 100g gammon cubes. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar to allow the bacon and gammon to caramelize in their own fat. Stir to keep form sticking to pan.
- Taste the stew and adjust seasoning accordingly.
- To serve, ladle the stew into bowls, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with bacon and gammon, a few pumpkin seeds and scatter with chopped parsley
What I truly love about this stew, besides the wonderful savory and hearty taste, is the amazing textures that come together. It is the kind of soulfood that one needs to comfort when the world looses its balance and you need a moment to find your bearings. When much around you stops making sense and within a matter of two weeks a lot of what was valued and cherished seems to have come undone. This stew is not the answer but it is a booster to help us resist!
Rome 2017 | Food Photography and Styling Retreat
Power-packed 2-day photography retreat in the stunning rolling hills of Sabina!
Meet like-minded people and focus on your passion for food / lifestyle photography in a positive and encouraging environment. I believe in providing a memorable experience – be it the stunning landscapes, the delectable dishes we cook, the knowledgeable tours we take and the incredible insight of the people connected with the workshops.
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