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Hernekeitto: Embracing the Finnish Tradition of Pea Soup

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Hernekeitto, or Finnish pea soup, holds a cherished place in Finnish cuisine as a hearty and comforting dish enjoyed throughout the year, especially during the long, cold winters. This traditional soup is simple yet flavorful, featuring dried yellow peas, pork, and a handful of basic ingredients that come together to create a satisfying meal. Join us as we explore the history, ingredients, preparation methods, and cultural significance of Hernekeitto, along with a detailed recipe to bring this iconic Finnish soup into your own kitchen.

History and Cultural Significance:

Hernekeitto has deep roots in Finnish culinary tradition, dating back centuries when peas were a staple crop that provided sustenance during harsh winters. Over time, the dish evolved into a beloved national favorite, enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. It became particularly associated with Thursdays in Finland, earning the nickname “Hernekeitto Thursday” (Hernekeitto torstai) due to its frequent appearance on school and workplace lunch menus.

The simplicity of Hernekeitto reflects Finland’s reliance on local ingredients and its practical approach to cooking. Traditionally, the soup was prepared in large batches, often simmering slowly on the stove for hours to develop rich flavors and tender textures. Today, Hernekeitto remains a symbol of Finnish culinary heritage, celebrated for its comforting qualities and ability to bring people together over a shared meal.

Ingredients for Hernekeitto:

  • 300g (1.5 cups) dried yellow peas
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1-2 celery stalks, diced
  • 300-400g (10-14 oz) pork shoulder or ham hock
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tsp dried marjoram
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Water, as needed

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Peas:
    • Rinse the dried yellow peas under cold water and drain. Soak the peas in a large bowl of water overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain and rinse again before cooking.
  2. Cook the Soup:
    • In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine the soaked peas, chopped onion, diced carrots, diced celery, and pork shoulder or ham hock.
    • Add enough water to cover the ingredients by about 5cm (2 inches). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Simmer:
    • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add bay leaves, dried marjoram, salt, and pepper to taste.
    • Cover partially with a lid and simmer gently for 1.5 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the peas are tender and the pork is cooked through and falling apart.
  4. Finish and Serve:
    • Remove the pork shoulder or ham hock from the soup and set it aside to cool slightly. Discard bay leaves.
    • Using a slotted spoon, transfer about half of the cooked peas and vegetables to a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth and return to the pot to thicken the soup.
    • Remove the meat from the pork shoulder or ham hock bones, shred or chop it into bite-sized pieces, and return it to the pot. Stir well to combine.
  5. Adjust Consistency and Seasoning:
    • If the soup is too thick, add more water to reach your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Serve:
    • Ladle the Hernekeitto into bowls and serve hot. Garnish with a dollop of Finnish mustard (sinappi) or a swirl of sour cream, if desired. Serve with crusty bread or rye bread on the side.

Tips for Perfect Hernekeitto:

  • Peas: Soaking the dried yellow peas overnight helps to reduce cooking time and ensures they cook evenly.
  • Pork Selection: Pork shoulder or ham hock adds rich flavor to the soup. The meat becomes tender during cooking and complements the earthy sweetness of the peas.
  • Consistency: Adjust the thickness of the soup by blending a portion of the cooked peas and vegetables. This step enhances the texture and creaminess of Hernekeitto.

Serving Suggestions:

Hernekeitto is traditionally served hot as a main course, often accompanied by Finnish mustard (sinappi) for added flavor. It pairs well with hearty rye bread or crusty white bread, perfect for soaking up the delicious broth. Enjoy Hernekeitto as a comforting meal during cold winter days or as a delightful reminder of Finnish culinary heritage throughout the year.

Conclusion:

Hernekeitto, with its tender yellow peas, flavorful pork, and aromatic spices, embodies the essence of Finnish comfort food and cultural tradition. By following this recipe, you can recreate the authentic flavors of Hernekeitto in your own kitchen and experience the warmth and simplicity of Finnish cuisine. Share the joy of Hernekeitto with family and friends, and embrace the rich culinary heritage that has made this soup a beloved favorite in Finland for generations.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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