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Kjötsúpa {Icelandic Lamb Soup}

Saturday, October 29, 2016 8:03
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It’s always been stew to me.  Grandma Bodin’s stew. The first time I remember ever having it, I was 10 years old.  It didn’t look like stew, as in from the can kind, but it had familiar elements of meat, potato, carrots and liquid. 

Only it wasn’t the same, and it wasn’t stew.  It was called stew but after tasting it I knew that this was not stew.  There was weird tasting stuff in there, at least weird to a 10 year old who couldn’t recall eating something as strange as these unidentifiable veggies. 

I quickly figured out that I liked the round white veg (parsnip) and the orangish potato (rutabaga) but once in a while in this concoction there would be a white firm veg that I didn’t like (turnip). Like all children I adapted to my grandma’s stew by recognizing the cut and color of the veg I didn’t like, then dutifully eating all around it and then suddenly become full…

Fast forward to last year when a friend’s cousin from Iceland came to visit and we hog tied her and begged that she do a cooking class.  Yona agreed; Kristen and I hosted while Yona and her daughter prepared a traditional Icelandic meal (I even brought my Great Great Grandmother’s original Icelandic Costume to display).

The main course was Kjötsúpa. Hello lightbulb moment, you mean my grandmother’s stew (which I knew wasn’t really stew) was Kjötsúpa! I instantly recognized it. My grandmother used beef versus lamb probably because that was readily available but otherwise it was the same.

For those of you with gardens full of root vegetables this is an ideal recipe.  It was translated by Yona from an ancient Icelandic cookbook.  The only real seasoning is salt and pepper. Kjötsúpa lets the lamb and veg do all the palate pleasing.

Iceland is not the land of plenty so there wasn’t much in the way of seasoning or variety of food. This soup is a perfect reflection of making a hearty meal with food that stored well and grew in their very short growing season.


Lamb, diced up and ready for browning.


Diced Celery and onion (browned lamb in back ground).


Carrots, parsnip and rutabaga.


The veg are so colorful cut-up.


Potatoes, cleaned and ready to cut. No need to remove skin off of red potatoes.


Ready for the pot!


Final product with homemade pumpernickel bread.

Here is the translated version from Yona:

Serves 10 to 12

  • 2 pounds lamb shoulder (with bones), cut up (leg of lamb may be substituted)
  • 34 ounces water (add more if necessary)
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 ounces barley
  • 1 pound each carrots, rutabaga and potatoes, chopped
  • Onions, parsley and fresh herbs (optional)
  • Beef bouillon can be added to boost flavor
  • Ground white pepper and salt to taste

This is a rather small portion we translated from an ancient Icelandic cookbook. It is not uncommon that this recipe is done without any measuring.

  1. Lamb meat in moderate small sizes added to the pot and boiled with salt and barley.
  2. 30 min later the vegetables are added.
  3. Boil for additional 30 min and add spices as preferred.

This soup is perfect for leftovers as the flavors have merged overnight. This traditional meal is very popular on cold winter nights and has been enjoyed in Iceland for centuries.

I’ve modified the recipe a little to add more flavor but stay true to its original dish.  To boost the flavor I salt and peppered the lamb then browned it on all sides.  I add celery and cooked it with some diced onion.  Instead of using water I used beef broth, lots of salt and white pepper and a garnish of fresh parsley and it was perfection (of course there weren’t any turnips in it either)!

I’m currently on a journey to explore the foods of my Scandinavian heritage. I’ll be posting recipes from Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Some may be authentic while others updated versions or my spin on them.  Some may be a fusion, you know, just like me.

Kjötsúpa {Icelandic Lamb Soup}

Serves 10
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Total Time
1 hr 30 min
Total Time
1 hr 30 min
  1. 2 pounds lamb shoulder (with bones), cut up (leg of lamb may be substituted)
  2. 1 tablespoon oil
  3. Kosher salt and pepper
  4. 1 small onion, diced
  5. 2 ribs celery, diced
  6. 34 ounces water or beef broth (add more if necessary)
  7. 1-2 tablespoons Icelandic sea salt (adjust if using bouillon)
  8. 2 ounces barley*
  9. 1 pound each carrots, rutabaga and potatoes, chopped
  10. Onions, parsley and fresh herbs (optional)
  11. Beef bouillon can be added to boost flavor
  12. Ground white pepper and salt to taste
  1. Heat a dutch oven on medium high heat. Season the cut up lamb with salt and pepper. Brown the lamb in small batches and place on paper towel to drain.
  2. Saute onions and celery in remaining fat, until tender about 5 minutes.
  3. Add meat, barley, salt and water or broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
  4. Add vegetables and continue to simmer another 30 minutes or longer until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season with more salt and white pepper to suit taste. Garnish with parsley if desired.
  1. Quick cooking barley can be substituted, just add during last 15 minutes of cooking versus earlier.
  2. Because this recipe makes so much, rather than cutting in half I make a pot pie with the leftovers. Simply thicken the leftover soup up with a flour slurry, put it into a casserole and top with a sheet of puff pastry. Cut a few slits, brush with an egg wash and bake at 400°F for 30 to 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly and the puff pastry is golden brown.
The Kitchen Witch

You can read more recipe’s and ramblings at The Kitchen Witch, or follow on Facebook and Twitter@TKWblog. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of The Kitchen Witch. All rights reserved by Rhonda Adkins.


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