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Icelandic Split Pea Soup

March 3, 2012

Iceland is an epidemiological “cold spot” for depression, meaning that the incidences of depression are significantly lower in this far-northern nation than in most other parts of the world.  According to Daphne Miller, MD, author of The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World and How to Make Them Work for You, the reason for Icelanders’ lack of depression — despite living in near-darkness for a portion of the year — is their diet.  Rich in omega-3s, antioxidants, fermented foods, and slow-release carbohydrates, the traditional Icelandic diet holds the dietary keys to warding off the blues.

I used to think SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) was a myth until I moved to Texas, and year-round sunshine helped me fend off what I had come to think of as the “winter blues.”  Now that I live up North again, I turn to diet and exercise to keep my spirits buoyed in the dark winter months.  Deep in the February doldrums, it seemed like a good time to explore the Icelandic diet.

This split pea soup is good, hearty comfort food, especially with a few thick slabs of well-buttered Icelandic Thunder Bread on the side.  I whipped up a batch last weekend to bring to our friend Kori’s house, and we enjoyed a cozy winter evening with our humble soup and bread dinner, a bottle of good red wine, and some vintage ’90s vampire movies.  Now that is a way to comfort the spirit during the dark days of winter.

Icelandic Split Pea Soup

[Modified from The Jungle Effect]

1 cup dried split peas (yellow, green, or a mix of both)

1 large, sweet onion, chopped

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp fresh)

9 cups cold water, divided

1 1/2 lb ham shanks

2-3 cups root vegetables, chopped (I used 4 rainbow carrots and 1 small rutabaga)

freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Makes 4 to 6 servings.  Combine the dried split peas, chopped onion, thyme, and 8 cups cold water in a large Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, then partially cover and lower the heat to a simmer.  Simmer for about 1 hour, until peas are tender.  Skim foam off the surface as necessary.

Add the ham shanks to the pot, along with an additional cup of cold water.  Return to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop or slice the root vegetables into bite-sized chunks.  Add the chopped root vegetables to the soup and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Remove the ham shanks and set them aside.

Using a stick blender or regular blender, puree some or all of the soup, depending on how chunky you would like it to be.  (I used a stick blender and pureed until the soup thickened, but still left lots of vegetable chunks for texture.)

Shred the meat off the ham shank bone and add the meat to the soup pot.  Season with freshly cracked black pepper to taste.  Serve with Icelandic Thunder Bread, or another hearty-grained bread.

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