Seeing in the New Year with Ärtsoppa

Happy New Year everyone!

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

Around this time of year, as part of our family visits, we’ve frequently been to see my sister and her husband. Rolf is Swedish, and is an excellent cook. His yuletide lunch traditionally includes julskinka, the Swedish Christmas ham, and ärtsoppa, the celebrated Swedish yellow pea soup.

They’ve moved to the west country, so are too far away for a casual visit, but they kindly gave us a beautiful julskinka, which was the centrepiece of a post-Christmas lunch party. We still have some left, so for New Year’s Eve we thought it would be in the spirit of things to re-create something of the flavour of Rolf’s Swedish cooking.

Swedish Lentil Soup 003a

I know that ärtsoppa is traditionally served on Thursdays, but we thought we’d make an exception for New Year.

Just to emphasise the Swedishness of the meal, I made some rye sourdough bread using my very wonderful Ankarsrum Assistent. We already had the ham and the sweet mustard. We decided against including the traditional punsch drink, not least because I hadn’t left enough time to find any!

So that left only the soup. It’s obviously simple enough, but every recipe that I found, even from Scandinavian cookery sites, is different. All have yellow split peas, water, and chopped yellow onion. Most have carrot. Many have celery. Then the divergence really starts.

The first question is, which spices? Ginger, fresh or dried or some of each say some recipes. No ginger say others. Some include cloves, others not. Mustard in the soup (as opposed to an accompaniment)? Then which herbs? Thyme, marjoram, oregano or some combination?

All seem to include some meat. but should it be uncooked salt pork (ham hocks), cooked ham or bacon? Smoked or unsmoked?

So I asked my brother-in-law to share his recipe, which is delicious. He confirmed that there are indeed many variations on the theme, so based on his advice, this is what I did:

Bring 500g yellow split peas to the boil in plenty of water. Skim off the white foam that rises as it boils. Strain the split peas through a sieve and discard the water.

Put the split peas in a slow cooker with sufficient fresh water, two finely chopped yellow onions, a couple of teaspoons of dried marjoram, and a teaspoon of dried thyme. I added a couple of whole cloves and a chopped carrot. Little or no salt is needed, since this will come from the meat to be added later.

Bring to the boil, and turn the slow cooker down to low. Cook until the split peas are soft. Remove the cloves, and use a stick blender to puree the carrots and break down the peas somewhat. Don’t make the whole soup too smooth, though.

For the final stage, I added the jelly from the julskinka, which we had preserved. You can use any good stock, though. Finally, around 250g of finely chopped cooked unsmoked ham. I bought some offcuts of mild Wiltshire ham for the purpose.

The result? Perhaps not quite up to the head chef’s highest standards, but not at all bad. Certainly good enough to translate into …

Gott Nytt År

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