Soup’s on!

Dinner inspiration with over 100 delectable recipes in The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas

Ojakangas - pea soup and pancakes

Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press.

Taste of Norway Editor

This will likely not surprise you, but I read a lot of cookbooks. With new titles coming out nearly every week with gorgeous photography and creative approaches, I check out a stack of cookbooks to browse from the library nearly every week.

But I am very selective when it comes to adding to my personal cookbook shelves: I want a collection of accessible recipes that inspire me to get into the kitchen and maybe even push my comfort level a bit, so I can learn new flavor combinations or techniques, with enough appeal to reach for it again and again. In other words, I am looking for a cookbook that I actually want to use, not just look pretty on the shelf.

(Only three books met my standards in 2020: 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer, Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen, and Modern Scandinavian Baking by Daytona Strong.)

And here’s one book that checks all those boxes and more: The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas.

Ojakangas lives in Minnesota and is a legend of Nordic and American food writing in the United States. She began her culinary career as a food editor for Sunset Magazine and went on to write for Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Redbook, Cooking Light, Country Living, Southern Living, and Ladies’ Home Journal. A columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Duluth News Tribune, she stars in the Food Network series “The Baker’s Dozen” and has appeared on “Baking” with Julia Child and Martha Stewart’s “Living.” She is the author of 30 cookbooks, including Scandinavian Cooking, Great Old-Fashioned American Recipes, Scandinavian Feasts, and the award-winning Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

I was honored to speak with Ojakangas by phone to learn more about her love of soup and good bread, and the inspiration for the book. Her Midwest warmth and hospitality shone through our conversation.

“Soup and bread is such a classic combination. It’s an everyday, stay-at-home comfort food,” said Ojakangas. 

Ojakangas’ mother was part of the inspiration for the book, when she suggested to Beatrice that if you don’t know what to order from the menu, a bowl of soup is always a good idea. And with soup often comes a good cracker or bread.

This collection of soup and bread recipes come from all over the world, inspired by Ojakangas’ travels.

“I’ve always been curious how people from other countries put together ingredients, and that’s how I got a lot of different recipes. I’ve made a lot of soups over my entire career, and it’s been my passion and my heritage,” she said.

With fresh ingredients available at different times of the year, the cookbook is thoughtfully divided into four seasons, ranging from cool, refreshing soups of summer to hearty winter fare, and with a bread recipe paired with each soup. She also includes a small section for basic stocks, broths, and bread, with helpful tips.

I’ve got my eye on several recipes to try this winter, from Dutch Cheese Soup with Oatmeal Rusks (page 198), and the Italian Bean and Swiss Chard Soup with Easy Italian Loaf (page 214). As I browse through the table of contents, I ought to make a plan to use this cookbook once a week. 

And best of all, the recipes in this cookbook are reliable and thoroughly tested.

“I have tested these recipes many, many times. I have multiplied these recipes to serve 100 people, and scaled them down to feed two,” she said.

OjakangasBeatrice Ojakangas has graciously agreed for me to share a couple of recipes with you, dear readers, and I chose Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pancakes.

This is a new combination to me, but ärtsoppa och pannkakor is a traditional husmanskost dish often served on Thursdays across Sweden.

I made my soup with split yellow peas, because that’s what was available at my grocery store, but Swedish whole yellow peas can be found in Scandinavian stores (email me if you need a suggestion!) or in the bulk section of health food stores and well-stocked groceries.

With a couple minutes of prep work, the pea soup simmered away on the stove for a few hours. I whipped up a batch of the rich pancake batter, and my 12-inch nonstick skillet made it easy to turn out three small pancakes at a time.

After one bite, I could see why this is a beloved favorite in Sweden. The soup is more than the sum of its parts: Hearty with rich flavor from the pork, and the pancakes dipped in the side. Where has this been all my life? 

“Soup and bread is comfort food,” said Ojakangas. “And in times like this, we need comfort food.”

Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press.

Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pork 

From Beatrice Ojakangas: “Pea soup is regarded as a national dish in Sweden. It has been served every Thursday in Swedish homes and cafes for hundreds of years, almost always accompanied by very thin pancakes that are buttered and then rolled up.”

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups dried Swedish yellow peas, rinsed and picked over*

3 quarts water

1 lb. meaty fresh pork hock or a 2½- to 3-lb. bone-in pork shoulder

2 medium onions, sliced

½ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. ground allspice

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. ground white pepper

*The classic Swedish yellow peas are whole, not split. If you cannot find whole yellow peas, you can substitute yellow split peas, but expect the soup to be thicker.

In a 5-quart soup pot, combine the peas and water (to cover). Soak overnight. Do not change the water.

Cover the pot, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Remove any pea skins that rise to the surface. Add the pork, onions, ginger, allspice, salt, and white pepper. Cover and simmer until the pork and peas are tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the pork and pull the meat from the bones. Cut into small chunks and return to the pot.

Swedish Pancakes

“Bake these in a Swedish plättpanna if you have one. A plett (which is what it is called in English) is a pan with little pancake-shaped indentations about 3 inches in diameter. If you don’t have one, simply make thin pancakes in a heavy skillet or on a griddle. If you are serving these pancakes for breakfast or for dessert, fill with lingonberry jam and top with whipped cream.”

Makes about 24 small, thin pancakes

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups whole or 2% milk

4 tbsps. (½ stick) butter, melted

¼ tsp. salt

Shortening, melted, or oil

Butter, to serve

In a bowl, beat together the eggs and cream until blended. Add the flour, mixing until the batter is smooth. Gradually add in the milk and stir in the butter and salt.

Heat a pancake pan or skillet until a drop of water sizzles when dropped onto the surface. Brush with melted shortening or oil.

Make pancakes using about 2 tbsps. of batter for each one. When the surface begins to bubble and get dry, turn over and cook until golden brown. Serve with butter.

All recipes from The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas (University of Minnesota Press, 2020). Copyright 2013 by Beatrice Ojakangas. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Christy Olsen Field

Christy Olsen Field was the Taste of Norway Editor from 2019 to 2022. She worked on the editorial staff of The Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons.