As a young expatriate bride living in Kenya, East Africa, I once made a heroic attempt at cooking my favorite Dutch comfort food, erwtensoep, split pea soup. The experiment ended in disaster, as I chronicled in last week’s post, WAR AND PEAS IN KENYA, which I trust you have all read carefully, tissues at the ready.
Dutch split pea soup is hearty winter fare and as it turns out, it is seriously winter on the East Coast of the USA, where I’ve been domiciling for a while. The gods of winter are drunk and partying: They’ve been dumping massive amounts of snow on us for days, bringing Washington DC and environs practically to a standstill for a week. This photo does not begin to show the extent of it, but I rather like the picture.
So, after days of shoveling and shoveling and more shoveling, after hours of watching the snowy landscape outside my window, my Dutch genes are kicking in and I have the urge to cook us some erwtensoep. And while I am at it I might as well share with you how it is REALLY done. I happen to have all the ingredients on hand, except, unfortunately, celeriac, and since I’m buried in snow, I can’t go out and find it.
Traditionally, the meat cooked with the peas in this soup is a low-cost cut of very fatty pork. The alternatives given in my recipe below work at least as well and aren’t quite as cholesterol-laden. In Holland, the soup is often eaten from deep soup plates and each person receives a section of the sausage and cuts it him or herself while eating. For convenience sake, I usually just slice the sausage before adding it to the soup.
.And here a word about celeriac, also known as celery root and celery knob, an important ingredient in the soup.
Photo by cowbite / cc
It’s a root vegetable, a big ugly lumpy thing, possibly the ugliest vegetable known to mankind. However, its creepy appearance is made up for by its wonderfully nutty celery flavor. You can eat it raw, cut in sticks, or use it cooked in soups. Although in Holland it is cheap like carrots and other ordinary root vegetables, it is not universally available in American supermarkets, and when it is, it is expensive. If you live in America and cannot find it, substitute ordinary celery. The soup won’t be truly authentic without the celeriac, but hey, what can you do? You cannot have everything, not even in the USA, no matter what they tell you. Don’t despair, the soup will still be delicious.
And if you live elsewhere, as I know many of you do, you may not be able to find even celery, or peas, for that matter, and all I can say is that I feel sorry for you.
Another ingredient, leeks, should not be omitted. Fortunately it’s much prettier than celeriac, especially once it’s sliced up, as it is here on this picture I took while making the soup.
Okay, enough already. Here’s the recipe, and remember if you live at a high elevation, you need a pressure cooker to cook the peas.
(Echte Hollandse erwtensoep)
1 pound (450-500 g) dried green split peas
1/2 pound (250 g) or more of fresh or smoked pork, spareribs, chopped ham or 1 ham bone
2 medium onions
2 medium, carrots
2 medium leeks
1 small or 1/2 large celery root, about 1/2 pound (225 – 250 g) or substitute 1 1/2 cup sliced celery if you have no choice
2 medium potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 fully cooked smoked sausage (such as Polish kielbasa), cut in bite-size slices
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaved (Italian) parsley
1) Sort through and wash the split peas. Put them in a big soup pot with the pork or ham, add 6 1/2 cups (1 1/2 l. ) of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2) In the mean time prepare the vegetables as follows and set aside: Coarsely chop onions and slice carrots (cut big slices in half or quarters). Carefully wash leeks and slice both white and green parts (cut off and discard damaged or discolored leaves). Rinse again to make sure all sand is gone. Cut the celery root in thick slices, peel the slices and cut in small dice. Peel and dice the potatoes, submerging them in cold water until ready for use.
3) When the peas have cooked for 1 1/2 hours they should be very soft and beginning to fall apart when you stir them. If you’re using a ham bone or spareribs, take them out, trim off the meat and return this to the soup.
4) Add the vegetables, the salt and the pepper to the soup. Raise heat until the soup comes to a boil again, then lower heat, allowing soup to simmer an additional 30 minutes.
5) Add the sliced sausage and cook for another 10 minutes or until the sausage is hot, the vegetables are tender and the peas have completely disintegrated. Stir occasionally and add more water if you find the soup too thick, but remember, it’s supposed to be quite thick. Add more salt and/or pepper to taste. Stir in the chopped Italian parsley.
6) Ladle the erwtensoep into deep soup plates or bowls. Serve with coarse black rye bread if you want to be true to Dutch tradition, and if you are not so inclined, any bread your heart desires will do.
Now, if you’ve done all that, you should have something resembling this photo. (Note the artfully arranged parsley leaf.) It’s what the love of my life had for dinner after I took the photo. My dish looked less artful. but no worries.
We spooned, we savored and for a few moments of culinary bliss, we forgot all about the blizzard outside, the fact that the TV was rendered dead by snow and that there was still more shoveling in our future.
Erwtensoep is even better when reheated the next day and also freezes well. Add additional water because the soup thickens on standing.
One note of warning: Do not serve this on a table set with a turquoise table cloth or napkins. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
Feel free to pass on the recipe, but add a link to my blog, please.
* * *
What is your favorite cold winter food? Or your favorite comfort food? Or what is your favorite funny vegetable? If you have recipes or links to recipes, please send them. And if you actually made the pea soup, let me know if you liked it.