When the weather starts getting colder in the Netherlands, sometime in October, restaurants and cafés start advertising: snert season is here again! Snert, known in polite language as erwtensoep (pea soup) is the quintessential Dutch winter food. Like most traditional Dutch dishes, it’s nothing fancy. It is full of winter vegetables like celery root and potato and although it is available in canned form year round, you won’t find anybody eating this in summer. Snert is associated with ice skating, with Sinterklaas, with snow and sleet and ice cold fingers. Nothing is better after a long walk out in the cold than stepping into a warm room and eating snert. It is warm and filling and can be lunch or a meal in itself.
Snert looks bad. It is the green of dried peas, thick enough to stand a spoon in and filled with hard to define lumps of vegetable and meat. Snert is one of those foods that you either love or hate, and while many people look forward to snert season, I also know people who can’t stand the sight and smell of it.
On a side note, “snert” is also a pronoun that means awful. Snertweer (snert weather) is sure to involve rain and wind and perhaps even hail. A snerttocht (snert tour) on the other hand is a skating tour leading to a place where snert is eaten. In Rotterdam, you can travel on the snert tram, which is a charming old tram that takes you on a guided tour of Rotterdam, while in the back a cook serves pea soup to the travellers.
Snert is something your mother makes, or even your grandmother. It’s one of those old-fashioned foods that take a long time to be made from scratch. I recently tried making it myself for the first time, and it turned out not to be difficult at all! Just time consuming. The end result was very good, and rather cheap. Snert tastes best when you make it a day before you actually plan to eat it. It keeps in the fridge for several days and it can be frozen if you want to keep it for longer.
The recipe below is what I used to make snert. It will feed four very hungry people. Some of the ingredients might be hard to find outside of the Netherlands, especially the rookworst (sausage). This is not a crucial ingredient (although many Dutch would disagree), but what you do need to make an authentic tasting snert is something to give it a similar smoky taste. Smoked bacon might be a good substitute and is in fact sometimes used in snert. Other alternatives could be frankfurters or knackwurst, which are smoked types of pork sausage, similar to rookworst. A rookworst weighs around 300 grams, so you'd need about the same amount of substitute. If you use bacon, put it in at the same time as the pork chops. For a vegetarian version, leave out the meat and substitute the water with vegetable or mushroom stock. You might put in some smoked tofu or veggie sausages if you like those, or even some liquid smoke.
- 2 liters of water
- 400 grams of dried split peas
- 500 grams of pork chops (preferably shoulder chops)
- 1 celery root
- 1 large winter carrot
- 2 potatoes
- 3 leeks
- small bunch of celery leaves
- 1 rookworst (Dutch smoked pork sausage)
- salt and pepper to taste
Wash the split peas well. Put them in a large soup pan, together with the water and pork chops and half a table spoon of salt. Bring to a boil and skim off the foam that comes floating on top. Turn down the fire and let it all boil for 45 minutes.
In the mean time, peel and cut up all your root vegetables into small cubes. Clean the leeks and cut them into slices. Chop up the celery leaves. After the 45 minutes of boiling, fish out the pork chops. Let them cool a little, then remove the bones and cut the rest into small chunks. Put all the ingredients except for the sausage back in with the peas and let it all cook for another 30 minutes. By then the peas should have turned to mush and the vegetables should be tender. Now turn down the fire really low and add your sausage to warm it through, for about ten minutes. Take out the sausage, cut it into slices and put those back into the soup. Finally add salt and pepper to taste, and if you really want to capture grandmother’s cooking style, just a pinch of ground cloves. There, all done!
As mentioned above, a good snert should be really thick, almost like porridge. If your soup isn’t thick enough, you can take out part of the vegetables and puree them, then stir them through. If you prefer your soup runny, you can just leave it as it is, the taste will be the same. .
Traditionally, snert is served with rye bread (there is a Dutch type of rye bread that mostly seems to consist of stuck-together rye kernels, see "roggebrood" on nl.wikipedia.org for a picture) with butter, cheese or bacon. If like me you do not like rye bread, you could also eat your snert with toast soldiers or a toasted cheese sandwich with some mustard.
Final note: I have noded this under snert, because pea soup could be any kind of pea soup, and snert is one specific kind. Also, erwtensoep is almost impossible to pronounce if you don't speak Dutch. However, snert is not the most widely used name, "erwtensoep" is. So if you're ever in the Netherlands and decide to try it, look for erwtensoep.