Tuesday, April 2, 2013

On My Own Terms: Yellow Split Pea Pesto

I've posted multiple times before about my beef with my family's holiday dinners.  In a word, I hate them.  Too many unnecessary appetizers.  Too much starch.  Too much animal protein.  Too many desserts.  Too much food in general.  And definitely too much indigestion-promoting conversation and family conflict.

I have hosted said holiday dinners for the past few years, mostly for kid-related reasons: easier to put babies and toddlers down for a nap in their own rooms; easier to let little people roam here than letting them loose in my mother's extremely non-child-proofed house; easier not to truck a carload of diapers, food, toys and other child accoutrements for a mere two hour visit when we could have two adults drive here instead.  But hosting holiday dinners also means that I do so on everyone else's terms. No one, for example, wants quinoa-stuffed acorn squash for Thanksgiving.  And while it's true that I could simply make people bring the foods they want to eat, I also feel strangely violated by those foods invading my table.  I neither want to have my mashed potatoes, nor eat them.  (Cake is another story.  But that's for another day.)  On a deeper level, I suspect that my discomfort is also about the politics that people bring to my house, and the words they bring that are not always kind, and the way that being with them makes me feel about myself.  It's like my own terms don't matter.

What's particularly odd about this is that I've done lots of big, scary things in my life on my terms.  I left my first graduate school program.  I left my position at my last job.  What was the difference, I wondered, as I agonized over another year's menu.  Was it because I felt like these things involved other people, and that the other people's desires superseded my own?  Was I really doing anyone any favors by doing something I didn't want to be doing, and then being grumpy about it?

I decided to try a small experiment.  Easter dinner is pretty low-stakes, after all.  No one really expects potatoes, for example.  So I didn't make any starch.  While ham is the Easter protein staple in my family, I refused to glaze it or do anything to it besides heat it. I made a simple steamed asparagus, and drizzled it with fig-infused balsalmic vinegar.  I put my husband in charge of making bread for people who needed to eat it.  I bought a single wedge of cheese to serve to people who absolutely could not survive without eating something in the half hour we had to be together before the meal.  And I made a split pea salad side dish adapted from my food guru Heidi Swanson, which served as the vegetarian entree ... for me.

It made a remarkable difference.

My husband tells me that I often act as if there is one way to do things in the world, and that's my way.  Which is completely true ... sometimes.  Even if it's a small thing, sometimes the small things matter.  Is that selfish?

When is doing things on our own terms selfish, and when does it count as self-preservation?

Are there small--or even big--things that you need to do on your own terms?  Do they involve other people, or just you?

Yellow Split Pea Salad with Pepitas and Pesto
adapted from 101 cookbooks
Have I mentioned how much I love Heidi Swanson?  I've been cooking my way through Super Natural Every Day and have not disappointed yet.  This salad was my"vegetarian option," and even the meat-lovers enjoyed it.  I made a few adjustments which I've reflected below: arugula instead of mixed lettuces (which was a nice spicy complement), more of the greens, less oil, less cheese, more lemon, more salt.  Vegan option below.

1 1/2 c. yellow split peas, rinsed and picked over
5 c. water
1 cup pepitas
1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, well washed and lightly packed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (you can also use some large flake nutritional yeast and a bit more pepitas)
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 c. baby arugula

Toast the pepitas in a toaster oven or a regular oven at 350 (or even a dry skillet) for about 3-4 minutes, or until you hear the pepitas start to pop.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Bring water to boil in  large saucepan.  Add the peas and cook until tender, about 25 minutes.  Rinse, drain, and set aside.  (Heidi says you can also use canned white beans, but I appreciated the slight crunch of the peas.)

Blend 1/3 cup of the toasted pepitas, cilantro, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, until the mixture has reached a smooth, paste-like consistency.  You can add a bit of the olive oil to make this happen if the mixture appears to be too stubbornly chunky.  Continue to blend the mixture as you add the olive oil

Toss everything but the agurula together in a large bowl until it is thoroughly mixed. Taste and season here with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Add the arugula and gently toss again.
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  1. I'm a meat and bread eater, but that salad looks GOOD, and I will definitely check out Heidi Swanson because I'd like to head our cooking back towards a more healthful direction.

    Family dinners. Sigh. It's like all past stuff gets dredged and re-dredged: past roles, past arguments, past unfairness. Self-preservation is necessary...the kicker is that it DOES sometimes look like selfishness to others (or not being a good sport, or not just going along with things). But principles are important, too. And allowing yourself a seat at the table is important. Sounds like you did the best to make everyone happy - you had the ham and bread, and you also got to eat something that YOU like.

    Will totally check out Heidi Swanson..

  2. This is a huge topic for me because we keep kosher, and the majority of people in our life do not. It affects which restaurants we can eat at, what we can eat in other people's homes. Most people are more confused than offended. But it means constantly telling people that they can't contribute food to my parties or dinners. I don't feel badly doing so because I keep kosher for ethical reasons. It would be like feeling apologetic for not being racist. But still.

  3. We started having Christmas dinners at my house exactly for the reasons you mentioned. It is just so much easier to have dinner here than to lug twins and all the stuff they had to have.

    That being said, the year my twins had just turned two, my aunt and uncle decided that they wanted to do a toast. None of us knew the reason, but I didn't exactly care either. (hello, preparing dinner for 16 odd guests while running after two toddlers). They ran around asking everyone when they could do this toast of theirs, but they didn't like the answer, so they decided to have the toast right then, in the kitchen, and demanded that everyone drop everything for it. It turns out my cousin and her boyfriend had gotten engaged. Because of the pushy annoyance, my husband decided that would be a good time to trump their engagement with our pregnancy announcement :)

  4. I so get this because I have begun to host holiday dinners in recent years for the same reasons as you. I refuse to cook meat. Period. If you come here, you have Vegetarian chili on Thanksgiving and while I let my mom bring a cooked brisket here on Passover, it leaves when she does. These are little things but they're not. There are a lot of traditions tied up in food in my family so "my way" can offend some, but I think it's OK for us to start new traditions too, and create new memories, which leads to new traditions.

  5. The important thing, I think, is to host with a spirit of abundance. Not "I hate potatoes. Eat bread if you must have starch." But "Here is some wonderful homemade bread I want to share with you." The food on the table is the same, but the spirit of serving changes.

  6. Justine, I hear you on this one. However, the last few years I've taken the cowards road out and we tend to go out of town (and now we live out of town) for holidays and thus miss all the dinner hoopla. Cowardly, maybe, but so much more enjoyable!


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