EXPAT FOODIE: OF COMFORT AND PEAS

by missfootloose on February 13, 2010 · 10 comments

in Expat foodie, Food, Netherlands, The Dutch, USA

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.

AUTHENTIC DUTCH SPLIT PEA SOUP
(Echte Hollandse erwtensoep)

6-8 servings

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.

Bon appétit! Eet smakelijk!

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.

If you are intrigued by celeriac (and really, how can you not be?) you might want to experiment with recipes from the Seasonal Chef and Jamie Oliver, the Naked Chef.

* * *
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.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous February 13, 2010 at 6:30 am

Wonend in Bali had ik helemaal geen heimwee naar De Hollandse Pot. Dacht ik. Tot ik op een dag langs Warung Ons scooterde en een display voor kroketten, frikandellen en bitterballen zag staan. Vanaf dat moment werd dat wekelijkse kost. Mijn Engelse vriend heeft gewoonlijk niet zo’n hoge pet op van onze keuken, maar categoriseerde dit als “excellent beerfood”.
Terug in NL staat rijst weer op het tweede plan. Eerste plaats is ingenomen door een oude liefde: zelfgemaakte aardappelpuree. Helpt me door de koude, donkere dagen heen.

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Teri February 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Look fabulous! I’ll have to gather up the ingredients and try it. Asante Sana!

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Mara February 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I love snert and my mum usually makes it for me, although I can make it myself as well.

I’ve been trying to find the perfect winter dessert, which proves quite a challenge really, but also quite good fun and unfortunately a very calorific journey!

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Mary Witzl February 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm

You can make me laugh just by giving me a recipe — what a talent!

Split pea is high up on my list of comfort foods and I’ve been making my own for ages too, but I didn’t know that celeriac was better in it than celery: all this time I’ve thought that leeks, carrots, celery and potatoes were authentic. I bake my own bread (or used to, when I had the time) and rye bread is one of my favorites, made with caraway, lemon peel and molasses (sounds awful, but it’s really pretty good).

Macaroni and cheese are good when it’s freezing cold, and so is chili. Damn. Now I’m hungry…

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Land of shimp February 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm

The snow gods have been hurling on the citizens of DC with wild abandon, haven’t they? But at least you have your substantial soup!

There are several organic grocery store chains that seem to be rather good about carrying “celery root” as it is often called here. Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage being two of them. I wouldn’t call it cheap, but it’s not too bad. Plus, they’ll often willingly order whatever you’d like, at no additional charge.

By the way, I live at high altitude, and there is a way to cook split peas, and several different kinds of dried legumes — just soak them at room temperature for a day, with some baking soda stirred into the water. Sounds weird, but it works 🙂 Go with about 1 teaspoon per six quarts of water.

Someone finally told me that out here, and it works 🙂 I don’t know why it works, but work it does.

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Aledys Ver February 18, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Great!! Shrek’s soup!! :o) That’s what one of my cousins call this soup back in Argentina, where every time we go for a visit with my Dutch husband, we are asked to cook it for the family 3, 4, or more times during our stay :o)
Now, here in NL I just buy the ready chopped veggies that you can find in the Appie. BUt I don’t think they include celeriac in that?
I made a pot just two days ago. We normally make it in bulk and then freeze in in batches :o)
Groetjes!

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Miss Footloose February 19, 2010 at 9:59 am

Welcome anonymous Dutch person! Leuk om van je te horen. Een gezellige message en jammer dat je niet meer in Bali woont. Het is er prachtig.

@ Teri, let me know how it worked for you and if you liked it!

@ Mara, yes SNERT is of course the folksy name for pea soup. Glad you like it.

@ Mary Witzl, celeriac is what we use in Holland because it’s been traditionally been available. And, since that is what we are used to, we consider it better 😉 It’s always just a matter of personal taste, I’m sure.

Chili, yes, I’ve adopted that one as a favorite winter food! And I love baking bread too.

@ Shimp, yes I’ve heard of the baking soda method, but heard it knocks out the B-vitamins in the beans. Don’t know if that’s true or not.

Great you have such wonderful stores in your area! I love internationl stores (some huge one in Northern VA, an hour plus drive from where I live in the WV mountains.

@ Aledys Ver, Shrek soup, I love it! Thanks for the laugh! Nice to know even the steak-eating Argentines love it. I think the mixed veggies you buy for pea soup have the celeriac in it. Once it’s peeled it is white and it looks like potato.

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Jennifer Griffith February 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Can you please fly back to Moldova tonight and make me some Dutch split pea soup. You’d be happy to see sun light and muddy instead of snowy roads here. The soup looks amazing! But no energy and not enough ingredients to even try after a long weekend indoors (mostly) with the wee ones. I want to jump into the blog and take a slurp. 🙂 Miss you but happy to have this great blog to connect with you.

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missfootloose February 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Hi Jenny! Great to see you here! If you can find the split peas, you can make the soup. All the ingredients are available in Chisinau. The sausage from Pegas works okay.

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missfootloose February 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Jenny, thanks for dropping by! Would love to fly over for a visit with all my friends. I miss everybody and am lonely here 🙁

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