Swedish Winter Soul Food: Yellow Split Pea Soup

My Scot/Scots-Irish/Anglo-Irish/Alsatian-American mother would make this soup to honor my father's Swedish heritage, using the bone and some of the left over meat from a roast ham, typically from some family gathering the day before.  I always liked this soup even better than the roast ham itself.  My mother used yellow split peas for this soup.

For St. Patrick's Day, I plan to make the French version of this soup, called Potâge St. Germain, which is sometimes made with green split peas (that's the way Magic Pan used to do it), but more often with fresh or frozen peas.

Swedes always use yellow split peas.  I remember driving with our family on road trips around California when we would see those signs advertising how far away we were from Andersen's Split Pea Soup Restaurant.  "Aw, they use green split peas!" one of us would scoff in a superior tone.

I watched my mother make this from the time I could barely tug on her apron strings (she put me up on a stool so I could watch what she was doing), and I think this recipe captures pretty well how she made it, only substituting ham hocks and a slice of ham for the leftover ham bone and ham.  I think I got it online somewhere when I was working on the second addition of Kip and Marilyn's Favorite Recipes.  The addition of mustard as a garnish at the end is not something we did, but it is traditional in Sweden and adds a nice contrast.  You dip your spoon first in the mustard, then in the soup.  This soup will really stick to your ribs, perfect for this snowy day in Connecticut.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound yellow split peas, soaked overnight
  • 6 or more cups water (6 cups to cover the peas over night, and more to cover everything once you add the ham hocks and onion)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, or less to taste
  • 1 medium onion stuck with 2 whole cloves (I used four cloves)
  • 2 smoked ham hocks (about 1 1/2 lbs...I used four small ones that were about 2 lbs total)
  • 1 bay leaf (I used 2 or 3...see note at bottom)*
  • 1 lb ham, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 lb (or more) carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I used white potatoes)
  • 1 tsp marjoram or thyme, or to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Prepared mustard (I used a smooth Dijon, but a course-ground Dijon would be really good too, or maybe that Swedish mustard they sell at IKEA)

DIRECTIONS

In Dutch oven or large pot soak peas in 6 cups water overnight. Or bring to a boil, cover and cook 2 minutes; remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. (I soaked them overnight.)

Add salt, onion, ham hocks and bay leaf.  Bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until all is tender, stirring carefully once or twice toward the end of cooking to prevent scorching.  Add carrots and potatoes in last 1/2 hour of cooking.

Discard onion with cloves (if you can find the onion). Add more water if soup is too thick (or if it looks like it may be too thin, leave the pot uncovered for the last half-hour of simmering, which is what I did). Remove ham hocks; cut off meat and dice small. Discard skin and bones.

Add meat from hocks and ham to soup; season with marjoram and pepper. Heat through and serve with prepared mustard on the rim of the soup plate.

Step by Step

Soak yellow, not green, peas (see below) in 6 cups of water overnight:

Here is the soup after adding the ham hocks, clove-studded onion, salt and bay leaf to the soaked peas and their soaking water:

As you can see, the soup produced a lot of foam as I brought it to a boil for the 1.5 hour covered simmer, so I decided to skim it off, even though the recipe didn't say to do that.  I vaguely remember my mother skimming the soup.  Probably doesn't matter, as it will end up as a thick purée, rather than a clear broth.  Here it is skimmed.  You can see how much foam there was in the overflowing white dish next to the pot:

2 potatoes and 1/2 lb (or so) of carrots peeled:

And chopped:

And added to the soup:

I love the skinny carrots I found in the organic section at Stop and Shop.  They make beautiful little round chunks in the soup.  NOTE: when you add the potatoes and carrots to the soup, it will cool it down, so you'll have to increase the heat to return it to a boil, then turn it down again for its last half-hour simmer.

Here's the meat I cut off the ham hocks:

This may not even be worth the bother as the hocks are mostly skin and bone, and there will be plenty of meat from cutting up the 1 lb of ham:

Here is the soup with the ham, hock meat, majoram and pepper added, and the bay leaves, hocks and cloves removed (the onion dissolved somewhere along the way), during its final heat through prior to serving:

And here it is as served:

Oh so good.  I highly recommend the Swedish practice of dipping your spoon in the mustard before taking a spoonful of the soup.  Adds just the right punch.  Only wish my sister Robin and brother Peter were here to have it with me!

The sun came out and it's a balmy 42 degrees outside.  So I had a second bowl for supper on the deck with a "Belgian IPA" from 30 Mile Brewing Company.  I walked over there just now with my empty half-gallon growler to see what they had on tap today that I could fill it with (that's how they sell their beer).  I thought the citrusy bitterness of this on-the-light-side IPA would cut through the heaviness of the soup.  It did.  30 Mile Brewery is about a half-mile from my house.  One of my definitions of a civilized place is that you can walk to a microbrewery from your house.

I've got the Neil Young station on Amazon Music playing on the UE.  Right now "Do It Again" by Steely Dan is up.  Seems appropriate for a second bowl of soup!

And finally, it's now Tuesday and 53 degrees!  The last of my leftover Yellow Split Pea Soup was feeling like Cinderella watching her step-sister Celery Root get all dressed up for the ball, so I did some Fairy Godmother magic with the last bowl for this warm day:

Dijon mustard on the rim of the bowl.  The greens are pea shoots, which go especially well with this pea soup.  Sophisticated.  Worthy of that glass slipper.

*I caught a bit of the Faith Middleton show last week when she and her guests were discussing whether adding just one bay leaf to a dish actually does anything flavor-wise.  Tend to agree with them that it doesn't, so I added two, maybe even three bay leaves to this soup.  I think that's what my mother did too.  Speaking of bay leaves, when I was at UCSC, I liked to explore around in the local history archive and I still remember this bit of purple prose from a late 19th century tourism brochure: "....the towering redwoods, redolent of resinous balsams, and the world renown bay tree, with its camphorated aromatic fragrance..."  So over-the-top that it has stuck in my memory 45 years later.

52 thoughts on “Swedish Winter Soul Food: Yellow Split Pea Soup”

  1. I soooo remember Mom making this soup! I hate cooked peas but I always loved this soup! Maybe I blocked out the ‘pea’ part because Mom always used these split YELLOW peas, which in my mind were not really peas! I’m really excited to now have this recipe so I can make it myself. I had no idea it was a Swedish soup but Mom did always try to appease Dad’s Swedish tastes. I’m going to make it tomorrow. We won’t have snow here in San Diego but I did receive a frost alert for tomorrow so that’s about as close as I will get to a chilly winter’s day! Thanks for sharing this recipe…it brought back a lot of warm and fond childhood memories. Love you bro!❤️

  2. You’re going to love it. Will put you right back to our childhood. Recommend an IPA to go with. See what I added just now to the original blog.

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