Among the new experiences 2020 has ushered into our lives is the tumble-jumble start of a Zoom gathering. One face after another pops onto the screen — hello, hello! — as someone begins talking with the mute on, forcing others to shout: “You’re muted! Hit the mute button!” while side conversations ignite about somebody’s brother or book club.
It was during such a spell the other day that I overheard one member thanking another for her delicious pea soup recipe.
What’s the Zoom protocol for barging in on others’ conversations? You can’t physically pull them aside, nor can you bang a trash can lid to hush the entire group in order to extract the tidbit you want. So, I had to shelve my curiosity. Meanwhile, just outside my window, my peas were fattening on their vines.
The purpose of our gathering was to write and decorate postcards encouraging people to sign up to vote by mail, since going door-to-door is no longer an option. Given our goal, the conversation naturally turned to the election and politics, then COVID-19. Our Zoom-lit faces grew dour. All the while my peas were whispering, Hey, hello? What about us?
Finally, a lull. “Annette,” I ventured, “about that recipe you mentioned…” And relief! Not just for me, who was happy to learn that the soup featured fresh peas and not dried (as I’d feared), but for the group, which seemed delighted to drop politics and talk about peas for the next 10 minutes.
I’ve never grown peas before. I’ve never grown much of anything until this year, when we carved several garden beds into a sunny slope (the rest of our yard is quite shady). Ever since I popped my first homegrown pod into my mouth a few weeks ago, I knew I had to write about sugar snap peas this week. That first one I ate was not quite fully plump, yet already conveyed such an abundance of both sugar and snap that I vowed to take my snacks straight from the garden for the rest of the summer.
In France, sugar snap peas are called mange tout, which means “eat everything,” and is almost but not quite accurate, as the strings along the seams of the pod are often tough and worth tearing away. The pod, however, has a delicate shattering crispness that is sublime. And the little orbs of tender grassy greenness within are pure garden candy.
Yet after my 30th such experience, I started craving something a little less wholesome in which to dip my pea pods. Peas get along wonderfully with feta, mint and dill, so I pureed these last three in my blender and the pale-green result complemented the pea pods perfectly. Fiddle-dee-bingo, I thought: Something worth writing about!
Then it occurred to me that dips are party food, and where’s the party these days? On Zoom. Zoom-party dips are sad and lonely. Moreover, even after our region resumes in-person social gatherings, it will probably take us a long while to revive the practice of blithely dunking our veggies and chips into communal bowls of goop. So, Annette’s soup arrived as all kinds of blessing: A private party in a bowl, with my own dollop of politely festive feta dip to swirl in the middle.
Annette’s Fresh Pea and Mint Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups shelled fresh peas or about 5 cups sugar snap peas, stems removed
3 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lemon juice and mint leaves, optional, for garnish
Feta dip, optional, for topping (see below)
In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil, then add shallots and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add peas. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add broth, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and cook just until tender, about 8 minutes.
Working in batches, puree soup with the fresh mint leaves, until very smooth. (If using a blender, make sure it’s never more than 1/3 full at a time).
Taste, and adjust seasoning, adding more mint, as well as salt, pepper, and lemon, to taste. Serve warm or chilled, topped with a swirl of feta, fresh herbs, and…
Feta cheese varies enormously in saltiness and intensity depending on its origin and the milk it’s made from. The best for this recipe (and my all-around favorite) is a French sheep’s-milk feta, such as Valbreso, which is milder and creamier than its tart, chalky cousins from elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
4 ounces sheep’s feta, crumbled (see headnote)
2 tablespoons roughly chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons roughly chopped dill
1 to 2 tablespoons water, as needed to thin
½ teaspoon lemon zest, optional
1 tablespoon olive oil
Place the first 5 ingredients in the smallest bowl of a food processor and whirr until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and puree just until combined and thick.
Anniversary Note: This is Celia Barbour’s 111th Mouths to Feed column. The first appeared in the July 1, 2012, issue. In 2013, Celia was a finalist for a national James Beard Foundation Award for best food-related column.