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Love Conquers Hate: Wasabi Pea Soup

(post, Deirdra Harris Glover)

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I’m no Tony Bourdain, but I consider myself an adventurous eater. I’ll try most anything once, and if my first impression doesn’t include the words “epi-pen” or “health code violation,” I’m likely to take another bite. That said, I do have a few food aversions, mostly due to texture or smell. I do try to continually challenge my palate because, as a great lover of food, I believe preparation and context can make or break a perfectly tasty ingredient. Old prejudices run deep, but I try to keep an open mind.

I’ve been friends with wasabi since high school, when my mom started buying Japanese rice crackers from an international market. I loved the combination of the ocean-air tang of nori, the hot punch of chili and the nose-searing shock of wasabi. When I began to sample sushi, I rediscovered wasabi as a familiar friend on an otherwise foreign plate. I tried my hand at rolling sushi, but it rapidly degenerated into me and my neighbors happily sitting on the counter with a bottle of sake and an enormous slab of sushi-grade tuna, dipping thin slices into an eye-wateringly potent paste of wasabi powder mixed with soy sauce. Wasabi worked its way into my spice cupboard, adding bite to mashed potatoes, cole slaw and even sesame-crusted beef.

My mom encouraged me to eat lots of vegetables in my early childhood and was largely successful. However, I harbored a deep hatred of peas for decades. English peas were the worst: mealy and wrinkly with bland flavor and a revolting color. I left them untouched on lunch trays, and my first dog betrayed me by not discreetly eating them after I spooned them under the table. Spring peas tempted me with their bright, plump beauty, but I never enjoyed them the way I enjoyed in-pod peas or cruciferous vegetables.

As an adult, I eat peas for politeness’ sake or if their presence is masked by a good Indian curry. My tolerance for peas in vegetable medleys with strong flavors forced me to reconsider my opinion of them.

My old friend and childhood nemesis collided when my local grocery stopped carrying my favorite blend of rice crackers. The only alternative was wasabi peas, and while I’d previously considered it an unholy union, desperation won out over aversion.

Surprise! Thirty years later, my mother’s persistence paid off. Wasabi peas are crunchy little flavor bombs and nothing like the uninspired peas of my youth.

This Japanese-influenced recipe was born from my long-overdue discovery, and is a testament that hearts, minds and mouths can change if placed in the right circumstances. Ginger’s spicy burn, scallion’s subtle undercurrent and wasabi’s pungency mesh with the receptive sweetness of flash-frozen peas and the creamy earthiness of soy milk. This soup can be served hot or cold, and much like chili and other stews, its flavors are even more lovely after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

Wasabi Pea Soup
Serves four as a first course, or two as a generous meal

 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
 4 scallions, finely sliced
 1-3 teaspoons Wasabi paste, to taste (see note)
 2 cups prepared miso soup or vegetable broth
 3 cups frozen green peas
 1 cup unsweetened soymilk
 Optional: Japanese rice crackers for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the broth or miso with ginger, scallions and 1 teaspoon of prepared wasabi paste. Add frozen peas and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add soymilk, then transfer the soup into a food processor or jar blender, or use a stick blender. Puree the soup until smooth. (I once learned the hard way that hot liquids and expanding gases can be volatile in jar blenders or food processors, so only fill the container halfway, and be sure to apply pressure to the lid with a thick kitchen towel.)

Check the taste of your soup, and adjust the flavor if necessary. If you’d like to add more wasabi, I recommend mixing a few tablespoons of the soup into wasabi paste, and adding it back to the bulk of the soup slowly. Serve with rice crackers on the side, or floating atop the soup like croutons.

Note: Wasabi can be a tricky, mercurial condiment. It takes nearly five minutes for dry wasabi powder’s flavor to “bloom” in water. Once developed, it should be kept tightly wrapped to preserve its full flavor.

This article originally ran in the Jackson Free Press*