Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yellow split peas with spinach and saffron-coconut sauce

Yellow split peas

You're going to have to trust me on this one. It took me forever to get around to posting it because I had to get at least a couple of pictures of the rather more photogenic ingredients. I didn't want the only photographic representation of the dish to be a picture of the finished product, lest it drive you away entirely. You see, this dish isn't going to win any beauty pageants. Frankly, I was hesitant to include a picture of the finished dish at all; and although I did eventually include one, I sure didn't want to lead with it, lest you run away without ever giving it a chance.

The texture is gloppy and vaguely mushy*; and unlike certain other gloppy and vaguely mushy things, it doesn't have a lovely, vibrant color going for it. The color here is somewhere between bad 70s shag rug and... well... let's not continue down that road after all, shall we? There are also little bits of limp green stuff suspended in the gloppiness. Like I said, not going to get high marks for aesthetics.

But bear with me; better yet, take a leap of faith and cook this unlikely winner. Wait until you taste it, or even just smell it from across the room as it cooks, and it will surely win you over. Why? It's a party. A party in your mouth. The split peas (yellow ones) are incidental; what makes this dish a keeper is the chile pepper, the coconut milk, and the saffron.


If that looks like a big mess of ingredients all thrown together in a pot, that's because it is. This dish is surprisingly simple in that there's no sauteing the aromatics in oil, none of the procedure that I think of as routine for virtually any dish containing onion and/or garlic. You just dump most of the ingredients in the pot, add some water, and cook until they're... well, until they're mushy. (Trust me! It's good!) Then add the coconut milk and the spinach, let the spinach wilt, stir it all together, and you're done. And I swear on all that is delicious in this world that it tastes better than it looks. Recipe--and a picture of the final product--below.

Spinach and yellow split peas with saffron-coconut sauce

Adapted from The Real Dirt on Farmer John Cookbook
Serves 4


  • 2 cups chopped onion (from 1 large onion)
  • 2/3 cup yellow split peas, well rinsed and picked over for pebbles
  • 4-8 thin slices of fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded
  • 1 teaspoon minced or pressed garlic (from about 2 medium cloves)
  • large pinch saffron
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped spinach (4-8 ounces)


  1. Combine the onion, peas, pepper, garlic, and saffron in a medium pot, and add enough water just to cover the peas.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the water has been almost entirely absorbed and the peas are slightly mushy, about 45 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and coconut milk, and stir to combine.
  4. Dump the spinach on top of the peas and such and, without stirring, cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Uncover the pot and mix everything together. If necessary, simmer a bit longer until the peas reach the consistency you want.
  6. Serve warm, ideally over rice.


  • Using 4 slices of pepper will give you quite a mild dish, so if you prefer your food to have a bit more kick, I recommend using 8 or even more slices, or substituting a hotter pepper (like serrano or birds-eye).
  • If you do serve this over rice, the recipe recommends cooking the rice in a mixture of orange juice and water, but I didn't find plain rice inadequate.

Yellow split peas with spinach

I'm sitting here laughing at the thought of the looks on all your faces when you see this and wrinkle your noses. Saffron and coconut milk, people, just think about the saffron and the coconut milk.

* In truth, the gloppiness is actually a virtue in my book. I love soupy, messy foods that I can spoon over rice and then stir together to form an unsightly but superbly flavored mess of mush-with-rice. For me, that is a perfect recipe for comfort food. It's no accident that soupy, messy, flavorful rice--risotto--is one of my ultimate comfort foods.


Bee said...

When we lived in Trinidad, our Indian housekeeper always made this sort of thing. Yellow split peas were THE staple ingredient.

(Actually, I think your picture looks really lovely. Very aromatic baby food!)

Now that my daughter is a veggie, I need a lot more of this kind of recipe in my repertoire! so thank you!!

Carolyn said...

I think its positively lovely! Look at the vibrant yellow!! (I <3 Saffron) Thanks for posting!

** LOL my word verification for today is "Ilame". Is blogger trying to tell me something??**

Anne said...

Ha! Bee, you are so right, very aromatic baby food is exactly what it is. And your daughter is a veggie now? The older or younger? I went through a veggie phase in high school. It would have worked better if I hadn't been such a picky eater at the time. Here's hoping your daughter is a bit more open-minded about her food!

Carolyn, I think this might be right up your alley. I thought of you when I was writing it up. And heh, is blogger telling you that you need to call someone?

Glad that the picture wasn't too off-putting after all!

Brave Sir Robin said...

did I miss this post?

I gotta make that! Soon.

I can't buy yellow split peas here, (I know, I know . .. .)

Maybe a trip to Victoria is in order. I have everything else in the pantry.

Jasmine rice?