Erwten Soup – a Dutch Delicacy

When I first got to know my husband he came to visit me in my Cornish home and I asked, with hostessly feeling, what his favourite meal was – and I had every intention of making it.  He looked at me blankly and said he didn’t know. Not a response I was expecting. “How can you not know?” I asked.  He said no-one had ever asked him before.  “What about when you were a child on your birthday?”  Again the blank look.  “Didn’t you get to choose the evening meal?”  I just ate what I was given.

After prolonged questioning I got him down to the following statement:

“I like peas.”

So that’s what I worked with – peas.  I then discovered he had never had fresh peas, only ones in tins or jars that are full of added salt and sugar.  So I introduced him to frozen peas.  “These are nice!  Better than the ones in the jar.”  So I grew some peas and introduced him to eating them fresh from the plant.  “These are even better!”  And so his love of peas continues.  Mushy peas with fish and chips were a revelation for him, as was Dutch pea soup to me.

He loves erwtensoep – ‘erwten’ – peas, ‘soep’ – soup (you probably made that leap on your own).  And so do I.  It looks a little regurgitated, but tastes fabulous.  So over the years I have developed my own recipe to our tastes, as home made is always better than shop bought.  My last batch was declared the best yet, and he has eaten a lot of pea soup over the years – so here is my version of erwtensoep, or as it is known in our household –

Erty-Werty Soup  (I found the language very difficult when I first came here.)

750g dried split peas, 3 leeks, 3 carrots, 3 celery sticks and assorted pork (I use a thick slice of smoked bacon, pork short ribs (or another cut on the bone), a pork heel (could use a trotter) and a smoked sausage (rookworst)), black pepper to season and a couple of stock cubes.

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You need a big pan.  I first seal the meat (but not the smoked sausage – he’s already cooked) in a little rapeseed oil, then pour on 3 litres of boiling water and add the peas (1 litre water for 250g of dried split peas).  I bring it to the boil, turn the heat down, put the lid on, and gently simmer it for 45 minutes – stirring occasionally.  In the meantime I chop up all the veggies into small pieces.  When 45 minutes has passed I take out the meat, and put the vegetables in.  Bring back to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes – lid off.  I then take all the meat from the bones, chop it up small, chop up the bacon, slice the sausage, and then throw it back in in the last couple of minutes. I also add the stock cubes and pepper at this point – to taste.

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That’s it.  It tastes good straight away, but even better the next day.  The test of a good Dutch pea soup is that your spoon can stand up in it unaided – it has to be thick!

Other vegetables can be used. Traditionally an onion, a floury potato and a celeriac are used.  But it’s not written in stone…I think.

The traditional pudding that follows erwtensoep is pancakes.  This is a proper mid-winter meal!

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