When it comes to comfort food, one needs to look no further than Scandinavia for inspiration, with its array of root vegetables, meat stews, cured and pickled fish, and soups such as the traditional yellow pea soup. Yet despite its warm culinary traditions, Scandinavian food is much less common among restauranteurs in America than the more popular cuisines of France, Mexico, China, and the like.
Even in Seattle, which boasts a rich Nordic heritage, the presence of Scandinavian-related businesses has thinned in recent years. However, the food of that region will hopefully make a comeback in 2012.
Scandinavian cuisine is projected to be one of the top ten food trends of 2012, according to The Telegraph. Plus, in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, a couple of restauranteurs are opening a restaurant called Queen of Norway this winter. Before that, the neighborhood’s Copper Gate bar declared itself “Seattle’s only surviving Scandinavian restaurant and lounge,” though one could also get coffee and a pastry at Larsen’s Danish Bakery up the street or smørrebrød (open sandwiches), lefse, and other items at the cafe inside Scandinavian Specialties, less than a mile away.
I had the opportunity of picking up Grandma D. some years ago and bringing her to Scandinavian Specialties for lunch. I wish I remembered more about that visit, and that I had done that with her more often. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember reading about my regrets about not asking Grandma to share some of her stories–stories about her youth, what it was like to live in Norway during the Norwegian resistance movement in World War 2, her experience as an immigrant coming to the United States in 1956. I’m now determined to capture whatever family memories I can, and as food is such a great connector, my mom and I are putting together a book of family recipes and stories. I have dreams of publishing a cookbook someday–a gorgeous photo-heavy book that weaves together food with the memories that surround it–but in the meantime the important thing is preserving my family’s history and recipes. What a fun project to work on with my mom!
I also brought my other grandma to Scandinavian Specialties a while back, and it was there that I learned–after all these years–that she grew up speaking Norwegian and learned English as a schoolgirl. Grandma H. lived in North Dakota at the time, and to this day has never traveled to Norway, so it surprised me that Norwegian was her first language. It’s amazing what stories are there within our loved ones’ lives, just waiting to be uncovered!
I believe it was during that visit that we had a cup of yellow pea soup, which is traditionally served on Thursdays in Sweden and Finland. Grandma H. enjoyed that soup so much that when I saw a recipe for traditional yellow pea soup in a review copy I had just received for Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad, I decided to make a batch and share it with her. It’s a big deal making a traditional dish for a veteran cook who knows all about the cuisine, so when Grandma approved, I knew this recipe was one to keep around.
Traditional Yellow Pea Soup
Adapted from Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking
This soup, served hot with a dollop of sour cream, truly is comfort food, with its thick, porridge-like texture and hearty flavor–think split pea soup with a Scandinavian twist.
10 ounces dried yellow peas, soaked in cold water overnight and drained
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 cups low-sodium beef stock, plus more, if needed, to thin soup
1/3 cup finely chopped celeriac
1/4 cup fimely chopped leek (white and pale green parts)
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped thyme, sage, or rosemary (optional)
Sour cream for serving
Fry the bacon in a pot until it turns golden and somewhat crispy. (The original recipe calls for frying the bacon in a tablespoon of butter, which just seems excessive. I followed the instructions, but in hindsight should have omitted the butter.) Add the chopped onion and sauté until it starts to turn golden as well. Add the yellow peas, 6 cups of beef stock, celeriac, leek, rosemary sprig and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat, allowing it to simmer for about an hour. This step is complete when the peas are soft and starting to break apart. Give it a good stir to further dissolve the peas, and add more stock if necessary to thin the soup to your desired consistency. It should be the thickness of split pea soup. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprig, adding chopped herbs if desired. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and serve with sour cream.