Traditional Dutch Pea Soup Recipe–the Taste of Family and Memory

In a country not famous for gourmet food, real Dutch Pea Soup stands out as one of the Netherlands’ great contributions to the culinary world. Hearty, filling, and redolent with the scents of peas and pork, of memory and home. This old family recipe takes me back to an Amsterdam apartment and a dinner table surrounded by love.

The Oranjebrug--Orange Bridge--over the Browersgracht canal in Amsterdam, in summer.

Ah, Amsterdam, you are so beautiful, especially with the green of summer and fresh flowers all around.
Is it any wonder I fell in love with you all those decades ago?

Food and Memory–Lifelong Triggers

Many years ago, I lived in Amsterdam. Beautiful city… city of my heart. It was my first time traveling outside the US, my first time living so far from my family. I had a dream job doing what I always wanted to do, a nice place to live, and a busload of wonderful friends, both Dutch and other ex-pats. It was then I fell in love with Holland and the Dutch, a love that has never faded.

When my dream job ended after several months and I could no longer afford my own place, a Dutch friend, Inez Hendriks, invited me to move in with her. It was another step in my education in “being Dutch.” Every Tuesday, Inez went home to her parents’ apartment for a family dinner. Once I moved in, I was “family” too. So of course, I was expected for Tuesday dinner as well.

Mevrouw Hendriks was a good, basic home cook. One Dutch specialty after another appeared on her lace-covered table—hutspot (a one-pot meal of potatoes, carrots, onions and a smoked sausage or meatballs), stamppot (potatoes mashed with a vegetable, often kale), kibbeling (chunks of white fish breaded and fried), pork chops, sausages, stewed pears. But my favorite, the one that always had me thinking “I hope… I hope…” as Inez and I strolled together along the canals toward her house, was Erwtensoep, the thick and smoky, traditional Dutch Pea Soup. It’s so much a part of Dutch family meals that it has a nickname… snert.

A bowl of hearty Dutch Pea soup, so thick it's more stew than soup.  This is what the Dutch call Erwtensoep, or  more commonly "snert."

Of course I don’t have a photo of Mev. Hendriks’ Dutch Pea Soup, after all these decades. But this is close… a bowl of goodness so thick it’s more stew than soup. Photo by the Master Experimenter on flickr. CC 2.0 license

Dutch Pea Soup had been a favorite of mine almost since the day I arrived in Amsterdam. During my days of being pretty broke, I often stopped into a workingman’s café for lunch of a steaming bowl of erwtensoep met broodje, pea soup and a soft white roll spread thick with butter. I slurped it up surrounded by Dutchmen young and old, mostly dressed in blue coveralls and wearing soft caps, hurrying to get the last drops before heading back to work. Back then, such a lunch cost less than a dollar. It was a filling and tasty meal.

Some cooks add potatoes to the peas, some dump in schunks of carrot. Fancier cooks might add a few dollops of sour cream on top. But to me, Mev. Hendriks’ homey snert was the best. Always the best.

Memory can play tricks on us. On recent visits, I’ve never managed to find Dutch erwtensoep in any Amsterdam restaurant with quite the same richness and depth of flavor as Mev. Hendriks’. Is it because hers was seasoned with love and a warm welcome that really did make me feel like family? Was it because it’s hard to find a restaurant in Amsterdam with a traditional tablecloth trimmed in lace, with white lace curtains at the windows, and with the perfume of Mijnheer Hendriks’ scented pipe tobacco still hanging in the air? Perhaps.

Eating Dutch Pea Soup at Moeders

The Dutch Pea Soup, or "snert' at Moeders Restaurant in Amsterdam, is the closest I've found to homemade.

Try this Dutch Pea Soup–Erwtensoep–at Moeders, in Amsterdam. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to Mev. Hendriks’ home-made snert. Served with fresh bread and a little pot of house-made hummus.

I continue to search for the real thing on every trip back. The closest I’ve found is served by my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, and it’s got just the right name: Moeders… Mothers. It offers a slightly modernized take on traditional Dutch food. It’s smallish, with tables pushed close together. The dishes and glassware are mismatched and homey, walls are lined on every side with photos of mothers… brought by years’ worth of patrons wanting to add their mom to this great altar to motherhood and mom’s cooking. See my full review of Moeders here.

But when I want true Dutch Pea Soup, the one that brings back that cozy apartment, soft Dutch accents, and my struggles with the language, I make my own using Mev. Hendriks’ recipe. I’ve been carrying it around the world for over 45 years and through more than a dozen moves. She was a “handful of this and pinch of that” cook, so her measurements were guesses. But I’ve made this soup several times and they seem to work. The celeriac/celery root is a crucial ingredient to get the flavor true, but it may be difficult for some to find. You can substitute chopped celery hearts with the green tops and a bit of celery seed. It won’t be exact, but it will be close.

Mevrouw Hendrik’s Echte Hollandse Erwtensoep (Real Dutch Pea Soup)

(Copied from a page in my journal, dated December 8, 1971)

INGREDIENTS

  • 750 grams/1½ lb. dried split peas
  • 1 medium celeriac (celery root), diced
  • 2-3 large green onions, chopped
  • 1 med. onion, finely chopped
  • ½ lb sliced pork (with fat) or one ham hock
  • 1 med. beef cutlet or 1 lg. slice ham, cooked
  • 1 large smoked sausage, sliced into large chunks
  • Salt, parsley & garlic powder

PROCEDURE

Wash the peas and let them soak for a few hours. Then bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the celery root, green onions, and onion. Stir well. Let cook 1-1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until peas are soft.
Add sliced pork or ham hock and the beef cutlet or ham, shredded into small pieces. Cook another 30 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes, add the sliced smoked sausage.
Season with salt, parsley, and a little garlic powder to taste.
Serve with soft white rolls slathered with good butter.

Pin It for Later:

Pin this for Later - Do you love real Dutch Pea soup? Try this recipe Soup? Try this recipe.Pin this image - "Erwtensoep" -- Traditional Dutch Pea Soup recipe


19 replies
  1. Janet
    Janet says:

    I, too, associate pea soup with Holland and mention it every time I make and eat pea soup. Love them both. However, I’ve never had soup as full bodied as this. What a treat!

    Reply
    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I know, Janet. The two are inseparable in my mind. I’ve enjoyed pea soup that is much thinner that this, also some that has been blended into a thin puree, with all the flavors blended together, then topped with a hearty dollop of sour cream. They can all be delicious. But this is my favorite. This is the one that evokes that sense of my Dutch “home.”

      Reply
      • Janet
        Janet says:

        I can well imagine your preference for this recipe has much to do with the people connection that accompanied the eating of this soup. The richness of travel is deepened by those connections and forms the memory bank that feeds the heart.

        Reply
        • Donna
          Donna says:

          You’re absolutely right, Janet. I’ve had many variations on split pea soup over the years, and have enjoyed many of them. But for me, none has had the ability to “feed the heart” like this one. And yes, I agree that far more than what we see, where we go, how beautiful the scenery or how deep the history of a place, it is the personal connections we make in a place that cause it to reverberate in our minds and hearts for years to come.

          Reply
          • Janet
            Janet says:

            I’ve just returned from two weeks in Switzerland. The Alps ALWAYS feed my soul, but the people contacts are the spice that flavors each day and enrich me even after I return. I believe these connections are a bond of peace that holds the world together. Imagine if more people traveled! And experienced this joining of humanity. Like you, I promote travel to all I meet.

          • Donna
            Donna says:

            I agree completely, Janet. I believe if many more people traveled and experienced other cultures, made cross-cultural connections, there would a lot less strife and war in the world. You don’t tend to kill people you know and love and have shared meals with.

  2. Janet
    Janet says:

    The problem is strife and war are caused by governments, not people. I’m not sure how to change this reality. The connection made while traveling strengthens the bonds among people but that strength grows ever so slowly and seems insignificant compared with the power and greed of governments. How can we harness the goodness of connection?

    Reply
  3. Rachel Heller
    Rachel Heller says:

    I make a big vat of snert every year on New Year’s Day. It’s similar to your recipe, but I use leeks rather than onions and there’s only pork, not beef, in it. It takes about 3-4 hours to make. Really good snert should be so thick that the spoon stands up in the middle. And, at least here in Groningen, it isn’t served with white bread, but rather with a slice of roggebrood, a rough, heavy dark rye bread, with a bit of mustard on in.

    Reply
    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Yours sounds perfect, Rachel. And yes, it should be THAT thick. I think Mev. Hendriks only used “karbonade” when she had it on hand or, more likely, had leftovers and added them to the pot. Otherwise, it was just pork and rookwurst. Yep, it’s great with roggebrood. but I still remember the soft, fresh broodjes in that workingman’s cafe near the Keizersgracht, where I slathered about half a stick of butter on one, then dunked it in my soup. Yum. At the time, I was dancing 3-4 hours a day, in class, rehearsals or on stage, so I could afford all those fat calories!

      Reply
  4. Patti Morrow
    Patti Morrow says:

    What a sweet memory of having that hearty pea soup at your friend Inez’s family home! Some of those other dishes you had there had my mouth watering, too. How fortunate that you were able to get the recipe and recreate those memories any time you want!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.