A Split Pea Stew becomes a Split Pea Soup With Ethiopian Spices…

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Gil Marks, a prolific historian and ethnographer of global Jewish food traditions. His 1996 book The World of Jewish Cooking is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks, one which gives me new ideas and energy each time I open it.  Thanks to Twitter I was able to write and tell him what a fan I was, a few months ago actually, and he seemed grateful in his response for my note.  I guess he was suffering from cancer at that time.

Soon to blog on the rugelach I always base on his recipe, I had the book in hand when I noticed a recipe for Ethiopian Split Pea Stew.

Maybe twice every year for so many years I’ve made Split Pea Soup, usually based on Deborah Madison’s version in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  This is soup with the flavours of onions and carrots, marjoram, rosemary and bay leaf, salty and peppery and you can puree and serve with a little cream and croutons, or not.  It’s such a solid, earthy soup, with many regional variations through Europe, yummy savour of ham or bacon, though I prefer mine just vegan.  The best garnish is fresh dill, and I always add mustard powder as a gesture of affection towards my dear friend Neil, who taught me to do that– as is annotated on the page.

But Split Pea Soup has become a private rut for Split Peas, so I was really intrigued to see Gil Marks’ use of this pulse in the stew recipe he chooses as one of the Ethiopian Jewish dishes in his compendium of world Jewish cuisines. (This recipe of course feels typical of any Ethiopian warm-spiced and hot-spicy, simple, nourishing stew.)

I happened to have a bag of Hodmedod’s Organic Split Peas, part of the sample parcel from that company with strong values of ecology and social justice .  Of course next time I will use those split peas in my mother’s vegetable soup.  I love the idea, as readers know, of exploring world cuisine through relatively local and regional ingredients,  and I’m ever-happy that Hodmedod’s is working for food security via the growing and provisioning of British beans and pulses, such important sources of protein, calories and cheap and cheerful eats!

It happened I had as well an unopened sachet of “Ethiopian Berebere Spice Blend” that was said to expire in two years ago.  Well, throw the packet out, never would I!


(Of course one could happily mix one’s own spices, from the numerous recipes easily found.  Here’s one that looks good to me.)

Gil Marks’ recipe, halved, is enough to feed eight in a meal with some other elements– or, to eat once then make into a soup.

Here’s my version of events based on his:

4 cups split peas (yellow or green)

2 chopped onions

2 cloves garlic and a hunk ginger, both minced

teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon each cardamom, allspice and turmeric, all ground

1 1/2 tablespoons (yes!) of the fiery spice mix

Boil the peas, saute the onions in generous oil, add the spices, add the mixture and the Spice Mix to the peas, add more water if needed, stew until it’s a “pottage…”

Et voila, I served it, not with Injera which would have been good,  but roasted carrots and beetroot, some greens, and sourdough flatbreads that were half-wheat, half-chestnut flour .  The flatbreads were ok.  One sometimes appreciates the elasticity of gluten when baking without it, or with less, shall we say.


And this was a nice meal, though my son found the split peas too spicy.  Was novel to have a new range of spice flavours.

The next morning, I reflected on Split Pea Soup and thought how very ripe it is for experimentation, so added to the leftover stew some water, some carrots leftover from dinner, a little spinach and some chopped fresh coriander, and actually, the soup was even nicer than the stew.  That’s the photo at the top.  Split Pea Soup with Ethiopian Spices.

(If you wanted to use you Hodmedod Split Favas, here on their website is another “Ethiopian Beans.” When I’m in the mood to use the Kabuki Peas, I would like to try the recipe here.  There spices are so warming, and beans so cheap and nourishing– really into looking around the globe for inspiration, always.

A small political note:

I don’t believe in nationalism, I have no affinity with it, so I’ve never been called to Zionism.  But once upon a time I might have been moved by a vision of a people with a religious and cultural identity who hailed from many places on a diasporic planet, and that regardless of “race” were welcomed into an Israeli community. This is how I remembered hearing in the 1980s and 90s about Ethiopian Jews. Maybe this itself was part of a pro-Israel project, but at least the discourse wasn’t as ugly against “others.” Whatever is happening in Israeli society nowadays, there’s so much small mindedness even turned on its own people, racism, bigotry, fascist leaning brown-shirtism in various guises — really disturbing. Doesn’t seem very easy to be Ethiopian in Israel.