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Water Cooler: How to make Snert, the signature Dutch pea soup

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 31, 2020

Dutch “snert” is one of many variations of pea soup that is popular in the winter.  (Associated Press)
Dutch “snert” is one of many variations of pea soup that is popular in the winter. (Associated Press)

Pea soup is found all over the world, but in the Netherlands it is a wintertime specialty. “Erwtensoep” or more casually, “snert” is the rich, thick Dutch version of pea soup.

It was often sold at koek-en-zopie outlets, which were small drink and food stalls that popped up on frozen bodies of water to sell treats to hungry and cold ice skaters.

Snert is about utility. It is straightforward and unglamorous as many hearty soups tend to be, but there are a few items needed to create its characteristic, delicious flavor. Obviously, the most important ingredient will be green split peas. The richness of the soup is brought on by simmering the peas slowly on low heat with collagen-rich cuts of pork, like trotters. It’s common to also find meatier cuts of pork in the soup like shoulder or pork belly. One of the signature ingredients is smoked pork sausage.

To balance the richness of the pork, the soup also includes a lot of pantry-stable winter vegetables like onion and potato. The starch of the potato is also key to cultivating the density that this soup is supposed to have. One of the qualifiers of a proper snert is that when you stick a spoon into it, the soup should be so thick that the spoon can stick up straight. The starch requires a long cook time in order to create that thickness.

To start, add in 2 tablespoons of neutral cooking oil or fat and two chopped yellow onions and stir until softened. Next, add one chopped leek, three diced carrots and three to five celery stalks. Once all of those ingredients have softened and become fragrant, toss in two diced and peeled russet potatoes, or any type of mealy potato. If you can get your hands on it, you will also want to add celeriac, or celery root. Chop and add about half the root.

Now add 4 to 6 cups of dried green split peas, depending on how dominant you want the peas to be compared to the other vegetables. Add the meat. Since trotters are not as common to find, you can use ham hock or any bone-in cut to get the collagen content. Add about 2 pounds of meatier pork, like a pork chop, bacon or spare ribs. You can vary the amount depending on how much meat you prefer.

Cover the soup and let simmer. Check if the pork chop or whatever meat you added is done after 15 to 20 minutes. If it is cooked, remove and set it aside. Stir the soup to make sure nothing sticks the bottom and continue simmering for at least a half hour, but more likely an hour or two. The traditional method requires a longer cooking time so everything breaks down and becomes soft and hydrated. As a shortcut, you can blend the soup to help it break down faster, but avoid blending to the point that it becomes totally smooth.

If you need to thicken the soup, continue to simmer without the cover so the water will evaporate. Once the soup is close to done, chop up any meat you had set aside and add in the finishing touch, rookworst. Rookworst is a Dutch pork sausage that is smoked and seasoned with spices like nutmeg. This specific sausage won’t be easy to come by, so you can use any smoked pork sausage that isn’t distinctly seasoned for another cuisine, like chorizo, and then add your own nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Once the spoon stands straight, this hearty Dutch staple is done. Maybe eat it outside with some snow and ice for an authentic experience.

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