Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

“Apart from taking lýsi (cod liver oil), kjötsúpa is the best cure for short-day depression and a vitamin boost for those suffering from a relentless cold.”
— “Winter Soup

Winter is the time to make kjötsúpa, a traditional lamb soup that’s like Iceland in a bowl, and we were impatient to recreate it following our trip there last spring. Fragrant with the sweet earthiness of winter vegetables packed into a nourishing lamb broth, this warming soup is a delicious sum greater than its humble parts. We’re always alert to dishes that can be localized with our own ingredients, and from the first spoonful, we knew we’d be able to source it almost entirely from the Winter Farmers’ Market. As for its claim as the best cure for the season’s short-day depression and relentless colds, all the better.

Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

Like most traditional dishes, kjötsúpa is one based on home cooking, and what one would have on hand — a bit of lamb that’s left clinging to bones, vegetables that store easily over winter, and a broth that makes itself while the soup simmers away. Each ingredient is cut small enough to fit in the belly of a spoon, yet chunky enough to feel substantial when eaten, and is added in stages to keep the flavor of the individual vegetables clear. The rutabaga is important for balancing the richness of the lamb; turnips may be substituted, especially Gilfeathers if you can find them (they’re actually another rutabaga), but will contribute a different flavor. While this soup can be served when ready, letting it sit overnight allows you to skim the extra fat off, and the flavors to more fully develop. We’ve been imprinted to prefer kjötsúpa without grains, though, at the discretion of the cook, many suggest adding a handful of rolled oats, barley, or brown rice for a creamier, or more porridge-like texture.

Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

A note on the dried herbs: We used Villikrydd, a wild herb mix that we happened to bring home with us. It contains Arctic thyme, birch leaves, bog bilberry, bilberry and juniper, and is meant to go well with lamb. There’s a deep culture in Iceland of using herbs medicinally, and we wonder if this is part of this soup’s legendary healing powers. More readily accessible substitutes would be parsley, thyme, bay, celery or lovage.

Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

2 pounds lamb shoulder (preferably with some bone)
6 cups water, plus more if necessary
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion or leek, chopped
1 – 2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs (see note above)
1 pound rutabaga (or turnips), peeled and chopped
½ pound carrots, peeled and chopped
½ pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped green cabbage

– Trim some of the excess fat off the meat, and cut into chunks. Place it in a large pot, add 6 cups cold water and heat slowly to a boil. Skim the broth, then add salt, pepper, onion, and dried herbs. Simmer, partly covered, for about 45 minutes.
– Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. They should be chunky, large enough that each piece is a separate spoonful. Add the rutabaga, carrots and potatoes to the soup, and continue simmering for 15 minutes more.
– Add the cabbage and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Lift the meat out from the soup, and separate out the bones, sinew and excess fat. Chop the meat up into bite-sized pieces and add them back into the soup. If needed, add a cup or two of more water, and adjust seasonings. Let soup sit overnight for flavors to develop. Garnish with fresh parsley or chives, if available. Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.

Adapted from “Icelandic Food & Cookery” by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, and “Into the North” by Inga Elsa Bergþórsdóttir and Gísli Egill Hrafnsson.

Local ingredients: Lamb from Riverslea Farm; rutabaga from Brookford Farm; cabbage from Meadow’s Mirth; onions from Black Kettle Farm; potatoes, carrots and celeriac greens from the garden.

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25 Responses to Kjötsúpa — Icelandic Lamb Soup

  1. Katrina Hall says:

    Oh, that looks delicious!

  2. Chris says:

    This warms me up just looking at the picture!

  3. Pretty photo! Makes me warmer just looking at it. 😊

  4. Karen says:

    A warming soup always helps chase away the cold.

  5. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    This meal looks wonderful. I wish I had access to the original herb mix but will make do with substitutes. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Fig & Quince says:

    I feel nourished just by looking at it.

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  10. David says:

    Looks delicious and your photos are beautiful. I’m looking forward to making this with our own Icelandic lamb, maybe for shearing day. For a bit more authenticity, you might try searching out a local source for Icelandic lamb as there are breeders of Icelandic sheep all over the U.S.

  11. mmmm delicious. Kept me going during my holiday there last week. It’s very similar to the Welsh Cawl and Irish Stew, possibly a nod to their Celtic / Viking heritage

  12. I fell in love with kjötsúpa last summer on our trip to Iceland! Thanks for sharing this. We’re having some today!

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  16. Starr McNally says:

    Icelandic lambs in the US are not the same. Lambs born in the field, not given meds, free range and glacial waters… just not the same :(

    • You’re so right, Starr, the lamb in Iceland very much tastes of place and for exactly these reasons! However, I feel lucky to have access to lamb from local farms with these same practices!

  17. Gill Wilson says:

    Thank you so much for your recipe. I fell in love with this simple, hearty and nourishing soup, and brought back a few packets of the “soup herbs” with me from Iceland, which I will add to your basic recipe. These are available in any Icelandic grocery store and are dried finely chopped vegetables. Unfortunately, the Villikrydd would not be allowed into Australia, so I will have to make do with thyme and parsely. I will be using organic New Zealand lamb which is the closest I can get to the Icelandic lamb. I cant wait to try it out!

    • You are so very welcome! I try as many versions of this soup as I can whenever I visit, the latest variation I learned about comes from West Iceland where they add a splash of milk!

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  19. Lucia Harrison says:

    I have made this soup so many times and we still love it. I ordered Villikrydd from Iceland, and store the bottles in the freezer. I use Ontario lamb, which is not as good as Icelandic lamb but a close second. (My only change is no cabbage, because it does not agree with me)
    Thanks again for the recipe.

    • I’m so glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed this recipe, it’s one that’s close to my heart! I’ve had many versions of Kjötsúpa on return trips to Iceland, including one Westfjords variation that adds a dollop of creamy milk!

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