A Nordic pea soup for all seasons

This lighter take on the hearty classic is easy to prepare, filling, and healthy

Photo: Maria Stordahl Nelson Served with light rye crisps, this soup makes a perfect spring meal.

Photo: Maria Stordahl Nelson
Served with light rye crisps, this soup makes a perfect spring meal.

Maria Stordahl Nelson
Seattle, Wash.

With spring upon us, it’s only natural that our thoughts turn to light, fresh, and seasonal fare. Vegetable soups are one of those delicious dishes that can be served in any season and easily fulfill the need to eat wholly and healthfully.

While it’s typical for many to eat equally delicious, fresh green pea soups this time of year, real pea soup in my mind will always be this yellow variety. Steeped in my childhood memories, this soup was and is the one most often served around our family dinner table.

Easy to prepare, while at the same time filling and low in calories, it really is a wonder meal. In the winter months we serve it alongside big toasted slabs of rye bread and frosty glasses of beer. During the warmer months we pile fresh watercress on top, swirl in a little sour cream and serve it with light rye crisp, thin slivers of cheese, and small icy glasses of akevitt. It can easily be suited to and enjoyed in any season.

Recipes for this soup abound. This particular recipe is one we’ve tweaked over the years to meet our desires for a soup that is subtly flavored with ham and thyme, but not overbearingly thick. Keeping it a lighter, looser consistency helps bring out its delicate flavors and goes a little easier on the digestion. But there is nothing to say you can’t serve it however you wish. This soup freezes exceptionally well and often tastes best the following day.

Perfect for impromptu spring dinners or whenever you’re craving a light Nordic meal.

Yellow pea soup with ham & watercress
1 lb. yellow dried peas
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 medium ham hock
1 medium carrot, diced finely
½ cup ham, diced finely
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh watercress for garnish
Brown mustard or sour cream for garnish

Rinse dried peas in a colander under cold water. Place in a large stockpot with the water, bay leaf, thyme, and ham hock. Simmer over medium low heat for 45 minutes, stirring periodically.

Add the diced carrot and ham. Cook for 30 more minutes, and then remove the ham hock and bay leaf from the pot. Shred meat from the hock if desired and add to soup.

If necessary simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until soup begins to thicken slightly. Mash a few of the peas with the back of a wooden spoon to encourage thickening if desired. Soup should be somewhat loose but not watery.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, then ladle into bowls and serve with watercress and mustard if desired.

Serves 6-8.

Maria Stordahl Nelson is a Seattle-area food writer, photographer, and recipe developer. She shares her love of all things sweet, savory, and sometimes Nordic at www.pinkpatisserie.net.

This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.