i’m one of those people who don’t have a great deal of attachment to my childhood food memories. i mean, being from nyc i grew up around seriously great food but my mom was not a gourmet cook. she saw feeding us each night as her familial duty and she did a solidly good job – but nothing extraordinary was happening in our kitchen on yellowstone blvd. i have a dim recollection, which just the mere thought of now causes me to cringe, of flounder rolled with a can of campbell’s condensed alphabet soup mixed with sour cream. and perhaps on a much higher note, my brother’s favorite was veal parmigiana and we always had that for dinner whenever he came home from college – and i’ve got to say that my mom did a pretty damn fine rendition of that. but nothing else really stands out. just that we had a varied and well rounded menu and no one ever went hungry.
but my grandma julia, now she was a real ballabusta. and her kitchen was huge – at least 600 square feet and well, i spent a lot of time in that kitchen on long island. tons of weekends and sleep overs and then there were all the jewish holidays. my brother once told me that the philosophy of our relatives pretty much boiled down to "we’re jews, you didn’t kill us, let’s eat".
and eat we all did, the likes of which i’ve never quite seen anywhere else. the greenbaum’s at a buffet are a sight to behold.
my grandma made a lot of wonderful dishes, and many were the classics one might expect. there was her chicken soup with knadlaich, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, brisket and a tongue dish in a raisin sweet and sour sauce that i loved dearly until one sorry afternoon when i was about 13 and had a run in with the tongue, sitting there in all it’s glory on the kitchen counter – before it had been peeled and sliced, leaving an indelible scar on my young psyche.
and then there was her pea soup, sweet from carrots and onions with generous chunks of rich beef studded throughout a soup so thick that the spoon could easily stand up in the bowl all on its own.
and i had all but forgotten about this soup until recently when it suddenly crossed my mind. grandma julia’s pea soup. with flanken. but what exactly was flanken? so i googled it and discovered that flanken is the strip of meat from the chuck end of the short ribs. short ribs... of course… what a perfect soup meat. and short ribs are beyond popular these days, the beefy version of perhaps pork belly, making an appearance on every trendy menu and even in your supermarket meat case (whereas in nashville, tracking down ‘flanken’ i am sure would be a bit of a wild goose chase). so i’d say that short ribs could be classified as an "in" cut of beef – especially this time of year, that lends itself really well to braises and stews – and soups.
i’m pretty sure my grandmother wouldn’t have browned the meat first, but i did. so into the pot went the short ribs, still on the bone and after they were browned on all sides i added two chopped onions and 4 big sliced carrots followed by a bag of green split peas and some of my superlative chicken stock and water. about 2 hours after it had slowly simmered, i added two bay leaves and fresh thyme, salt and cracked pepper and let it go about another 90 minutes. my mom told me that my grandmother used to run it all through a food mill, but everything had broken down on its own and there was no need to purée it any further.
this split pea soup boasts an earthy and uncomplicated flavor. and it really is startlingly good. cary loved it. and to me it felt familiar and soothing. and i think my grandma would have been very pleased.
so listen. i know, i know… put all the cured pork you want into your pea soup. but i’m telling you… you are so wrong.
because i will see you one ham hock and raise you some flanken…