Culinary Mystery Solved!

Once in a while, I get a message from a newsletter subscriber who is looking for a particular product or recipe they tried in Paris. A few years ago, I opened a message on my web site and found this one from a reader looking for a green pea soup he’d tasted while in Paris:

“Last summer, my wife and I dined at Café le Zimmer on Place Chatelet. We had a chilled green pea and whipped cream soup with cumin and pistachios. It changed our lives forever. Do you have such a recipe? I can’t find one anywhere.”

Favorite restaurant recipe from Paris

For many years, I rose to the challenge of searching out a person’s or couple’s favorite restaurant recipe from Paris. I would translate and usually adapt it, since chefs have their own language and techniques that aren’t so easily deciphered by mere mortals like us.

But then I grew wiser, realizing I was setting up myself and these readers for disappointment. Why?

The wine and the place, all together

This may have happened to you before: You tasted a particular wine at a vineyard and chatted with the person who grew the grapes and made the wine. You discussed the wine-making techniques and breathed in the wonderful musty odor of the cellar or of the tasting room. You loved it, the wine and the place, all together, just like in this picture. The wine that I taste every time I visit Geoffroy vineyard in Champagne just tastes better there!

Hi! I’m Allison, and I’m an Edutainer working in French food, culture, history, and art. If you’re a gastro-curious traveler or learner, I’m here to show you the A to Z of French food and culture!

So you carted home some bottles for your next dinner party (remember those?). But when you proudly uncorked the bottle, poured for your guests, and tasted it again, the wine wasn’t half as good as it was at the vineyard. What happened?

The tasting experience

As you probably already know, the environment in which you taste wine or food is everything! Or at least a really big part of the tasting experience. Can you honestly say that the best croissant in your city or area is as good as the one you had sitting at a café table in Paris? (You may have heard that you’ll be able to do this again soon!)

So when my readers make recipes at home for dishes they tasted in Paris, especially life-changing ones, they can’t possibly be the same. Can they?

Chilled Green Pea Soup with Cumin and Pistachios

Anyway, I decided to try again: after much back and forth with the Café Zimmer’s head chef, I obtained the recipe for Chilled Green Pea Soup with Cumin and Pistachios for my reader, Ed Cobleigh.

Fortunately, Ed himself mentioned during our many emails back and forth that he and his wife had tried making the soup without the recipe, but that he “firmly believes that the ambiance in which one experiences a dish affects the perceived taste, so maybe that’s the problem.”

Photo of Café Le Zimmer, © David Grimbert

Look out, Tom Cruise!

 

A great palate, this Ed Cobleigh! And an accomplished author, who is no stranger to Paris. In fact, one of his books is called The Pilot: Fighter Planes and Paris. Naturally, I was curious to read a book that takes place in Paris, but one about fighter planes? Not so much. As I told Ed, my experience and knowledge of fighter planes is pretty much limited to the movie Top Gun.

But the book’s story was surprisingly interesting (you can find it here). Ed’s long experience as a fighter pilot shines, which is a given considering that he “instructed and flew with the USAF Fighter Weapons School, the US Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun), the Royal Air Force Qualified Weapons Instructor Course (Jaguar), the French Air Force, and the Imperial Iranian Air Force.” Look out, Tom Cruise! But Ed’s deft blend of history, romance, and Paris alongside those aircrafts make for a great read.

Young Ed Cobleigh. Photo © Ed Cobleigh.

And his patience and perseverance are phenomenal! He “relaunched” me several times for the recipe as I did battle with baby bottles, not fighter planes, since I’d recently become a mother of twins. So I’m proud to write that Ed and Heidi now have this recipe (below) in their hands, and they’re enjoying it en famille.

Chilled Green Pea Soup with Cumin and Pistachios

ingredients:

  • 1 pound (450 g) fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 gallon (16 cups, 4 liters) cold water
  • 2½ tablespoons (35 g) coarse sea salt
  • ½ cup (120 g) heavy cream
  • a few twists of the pepper mill: white or black pepper both work well

for the cumin-pistachio garnish:

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin (or, if you’re a purist like Ed, cumin seeds!)
  • ⅓ cup (80 g) heavy cream, very cold
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons roasted, shelled pistachios, finely chopped

how to make it:

  1. If you’re using frozen peas, defrost them entirely. Bring the water to a boil in a large soup pot, and add the coarse salt. Bring back to the boil and add the peas. Cook for anywhere from 5 minutes (for defrosted peas) or 13-17 minutes (for fresh peas). The cooking time for fresh peas will depend on a few factors, so taste a pea after 13 minutes and adjust the cooking time according to your tongue: the peas shouldn’t be pasty, but a distinct pea flavor should burst in your mouth when you bite.
  2. Taking care to SAVE the cooking water, place a colander over a large bowl in the sink and drain the peas.
  3. Place the peas back into the soup pot if you’re using a wand mixer, or in a blender (if you use a blender, the peas must be cool first). Add in 1⅓ cups (300 ml) of the cooking liquid. Using the wand mixer or blender, purée the soup until completely smooth. If the soup is too thick, you may add some more of the cooking liquid until you find the right consistency.
  4. If you want a restaurant-caliber soup, strain it through a fine-meshed strainer, a china cap, or a chinois strainer. Then add the ½ cup of heavy cream and stir well. Once the soup is completely cooled, chill it in the refrigerator for at least one hour, and as long as overnight.
  5. To make the cumin-pistachio garnish, dry-roast the cumin or cumin seeds in a very small cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed pan, stirring a few times. Remove the cumin from the pan as soon as you begin to smell the toasted cumin and let it cool completely. If using cumin seeds, grind them into a powder using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  6. Whip the heavy cream to medium peaks. Add the cooled cumin and the salt, and fold them in.
  7. Divide the chilled soup into 4 soup plates, soup bowls, or any decorative cups (which you may also chill beforehand). Using two spoons to form small “dumplings” (quenelles) of whipped cream, or using a pastry bag fitted with a pastry tip, distribute the cumin whipped cream between the 4 soup cups.
  8. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Régalez-vous!

serves 4 as a starter