Split Pea Curry

I have been experimenting lately with combining traditional American (geographical) ingredients (like tomatillos) with archetypal dishes from other cultures (like an Indian curry). I used the red lentil curry recipe as a starting point, and I replaced the tomatoes with tomatillos. Because of the acidic, sour flavor that dominates in tomatillos, I needed a sweetness to balance the flavor profile. Peas are naturally sweeter than lentils, and the coconut milk also helps with mellowing out the flavor. I suggest making this dish ahead of time so it has time to meld the flavors overnight in the fridge. I was worried with this one, but it turned out really well! I love curries, and I personally feel like they are healing foods. The spices make such a complex, nutritious soup, and it is hearty enough to make a meal. It is good with or without the added aji sauce (a staple condiment in Peru, Colombia, and other Latin American countries).

This recipe borrows from many cultural food traditions that span the globe. Split peas originate from the Middle East and the Americas, and they are used worldwide today. Tomatillos, as stated above, originate from Central America in modern-day Mexico, and they are a culinary staple in many Mexican dishes. The coconut curry dish I am adding these ingredients to has origins in India, which is the original home of the curry. As a white woman in the United States, I have never visited these places, and my exposure to these foods is based on food cultures around me. I am not attempting an authentic recipe that replicates the flavors of the cultures represented, and I do not seek to appropriate these flavors, either. I recognize the complexity and nuance of the foundational foods that helped me to form this recipe, but I sadly know very little about them except for their presence at my local grocery store. I hope to continue learning about the foods I choose to eat and the impact they have on others. Likewise, I hope to understand more the impact I have on buying these foods and supporting certain food markets in the economic system of the US, which is built on structures of power and privilege. For example, avocados are notoriously expensive as a produce item where I live in the Western United States, but they are a staple ingredient for many communities around me that do not have the financial privileges I do. As a result, my patronage of this grocery item helps to systematically price people out of their own cultural foods. This is an issue that needs discussion, and I do not know the answer. This is what I’m working on and wrestling with in my own cooking journey.

Ingredients

Curry

  • 2 cups dry green split peas
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 4 cups water
  • 8-10 tomatillos, husked and chopped
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 thumb ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Aji Sauce

  • 1 cup cilantro, packed
  • ¼ onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ jalapeno, diced
  • Juice of ½ of a lemon or 1 lime
  • ¼ tsp. coriander
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

If you have an Instant Pot:

  1. Combine all ingredients for the curry in the Instant Pot
  2. Seal the Instant Pot and set to “Manual” for 15 minutes
  3. Once the timer goes off, allow the pot to depressurize for 15-30 minutes
  4. Vent the Instant Pot until the pot is completely depressurized

If you do not have an Instant Pot:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp. coconut oil in a pot on the stove at medium heat
  2. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic to sauté
  3. Once the vegetables are soft, add the coriander, cumin, fennel, salt, and pepper
  4. After 2-3 minutes, add the tomatillos and curry powder and turmeric
  5. Stir to incorporate
  6. Once the vegetables are soft, add the coconut milk, split peas, water, and sugar
  7. Cover pot to bring soup to a boil
  8. Boil soup for 20 minutes or until split peas are cooked through
  9. Add salt to taste

To make the aji:

  1. Add all ingredients to a mortar and pestle to grind
  2. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, add ingredients to a food processor
  3. Pulse mixture and add water until desired consistency is reached
  4. Serve alongside raita sauce, found here
  5. Enjoy

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