Dutch Pea & Ham Soup (Erwtensoep)

Many years ago before I made food my career, I worked in the corporate world and my job took me to The Netherlands for a three year assignment. Yes, I survived three long winters (not to mention three pitiful summers). In fact, two of the three winters I spent there were so cold the canals of Amsterdam froze, and it was possible to ice skate from my front door!

To stay warm in these freezing temperatures, it was necessary to nourish oneself with plenty of hearty comfort food. This traditional Dutch winter soup certainly fulfils the brief: made with split peas, ham and packed full of vegetables, this soup is more like a stew. The Dutch claim that Erwtensoep should be so thick that you can stand a spoon upright in it!

All the vegetables used in this soup are in season and readily available at this time of the year, as are ham hocks. This is really a main-meal soup, as you are well and truly satisfied after a bowl of it. However, if you prefer to serve it as an entree, just serve small portions. Erwtensoep is traditionally served with addition of smoked sausage but this is optional.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a main meal):
500g dried green split peas
500g ham hock or bacon bones
250g smoked bacon, finely chopped
4 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celeriac, trimmed and finely chopped (if not available, substitute ½ bunch celery)
2 leeks, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Serving suggestions: pumpernickel or fresh bread, sliced smoked sausage (eg. rookworst, kransky)

1. Rinse the peas and soak in 2 litres of water for 1 hour (or more if you can afford the time).
2. Place the peas and their soaking water into a large lidded pot and add the ham hock or bones, bacon, onions, carrots, celeriac and leeks. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1½ hours, covered, stirring occasionally. If necessary, skim the surface to remove any foam.
3. Add the potato and simmer for another 20 minutes partially covered.
4. Remove the ham bones, shred the meat from the bone and return to the soup.
5. Season to taste with salt and pepper (it should not need a lot of salt because of the ham and bacon). If desired, add slices of smoked sausage for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

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