Finnish Summer Soup – Kesäkeitto

The Recipe: A taste of summer sunshine, the Finnish classic recipe for "summer soup," Traditionally, its milky broth is packed with the season's first tiny garden-fresh vegetables: sumptous, that tradition. Me, I make Finnish Summer Soup all summer long with all kinds of vegetables: we lap it up, one potful after another.

The Conversation: I learned about Finnish "kesäkeitto" (kesä meaning summer, keitto meaning soup, in Finnish) when I lived in Finland as an exchange student.

Finnish Summer Soup aka Kesäkeitto ♥ KitchenParade.com, perfect new summer vegetables suspended in a milky broth, make it all summer long.

After graduating from high school, I spent a year as a Rotary International exchange student.

I was dead-set on my first choices for host countries, South Africa and Norway. My third choice, Finland, was added to the list only because Rotary insisted on three countries and my dad, like many in the Greatest Generation, held Finns in high regard because Finland was the only country to repay its war debt. But when I was matched to Finland, I sobbed and sobbed, "I'll never learn the language. It's too hard."

As life goes, I did learn to speak the notoriously difficult Finnish – and Finland both fit and came to define my northern soul.

(But the food, Alanna, get to the food!)

This soup is a classic Finnish classic recipe. It is called "summer soup" (kesä = summer, soup = keitto, pronounced [keh-sa-kay-toe], pronouncing the sa with a hard a, like sad without the d) because it uses the very first baby vegetables from the garden, the smallest, the newest, the freshest. It uses so few ingredients, it's hard to believe that the result can be anything special. But trust me, this soup celebrates summer – it's glorious.

Wendy from the Scottish food blog A Wee Bit of Cooking also lived in Finland as an exchange student and calls kesäkeitto "sunshine in a bowl". Deinin, a Finnish food blogger who is much missed, says that kesäkeitto is controversial! Be sure to read the comments from the wonderful Finnish dog blog Life of Jajo in the comments below for more on the controversy! To my taste, why, there's no understanding. I a-d-o-r-e this summer soup!

FINNISH SUMMER SOUP is a perfect dish for Midsummer, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and one that the Finns and other Nordic souls celebrate with great abandon. But really, it's all about the vegetables and thus is a soup that all of us, no matter where we live, can enjoy, again and again, all summer long.

ALANNA's TIPS Recipes for kesäkeitto often call for cream and if ever a soup deserves the indulgence of cream, this is it. But it occurred to me that if one "starts" with skim milk, then "enriches" with cream stirred in, that we'll use "just enough" cream. That said, use the milk you have on hand. I often use whole milk and then skip the cream entirely. Or I use 2% milk and if there's no cream, I'll enrich each bowl with a small pat of butter that melts right there on top. I often play fast 'n' loose with the milky liquid. One potful was especially good, a 1:2 mix of whole milk and whey leftover from making another summer staple, Homemade Ricotta. Be sure to include some onion, even if it's a small amount of chopped onion. Onion really needs cooking, make it one of the longer-cook vegetables. In winter, this is actually a decent soup made with frozen vegetables, the bags of mixed vegetables where the bits of carrot and so on are all small in size. Believe it or not, this soup is actually good cold, too! Like many soups, FINNISH SUMMER SOUP's flavors develop if made one day and then served the next. But don't hesitate to serve it the same day. Since kesäkeitto uses a small volume of so many vegetables, you may end up with lots of leftover vegetables. Be sure to check out either Favorite Ingredients or A Veggie Venture's A-Z of Vegetables for ideas on how to best use them. Want to add some protein? Stir in some cooked smoked chicken.
Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Share a favorite recipe from your own international experience, send it via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. Never miss a Kitchen Parade recipe: Sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, forward this recipe to a friend who might too!

FINNISH SUMMER SOUP – KESÄKEITTO

Milky broth with the freshest, newest vegetables from the garden
Hands-on time: 50 minutes
Time-to-table: 50 minutes
Makes 8 cups
    MILK BROTH
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (don't skip)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 cups skim milk or 2% milk or whole milk
    TINY VEGETABLES
  • Water to cover
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or salt to taste)
  • 8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables – I especially like broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi and onion but also think turnips, fennel, radishes, okra, corn and especially peas
    TO FINISH
  • Cream to taste – about 1 cup (omit if using whole milk)
  • Fresh dill, chopped (don't skip)

MILK BROTH Stir together the sugar, flour and salt in a pot large enough to eventually hold the soup. Slowly stir in the milk, a tablespoon at a time at first, until the mixture is smooth and liquid, then pour in the remaining milk. Gently heat heat the milk on medium heat, stirring it occasionally to distribute the heat, adjusting the heat up or down to keep things moving without allowing the milk to boil.

TINY VEGETABLES In a separate large pot, bring the water and salt to a boil.

Prep all the vegetables, cutting them into small pieces of roughly equivalent size but varying each vegetable's distinctive shape and color. Start with the vegetables that will take longer to cook, including ones like potatoes, carrot and kohlrabi, keep these separate. Finish with the more tender vegetables that will cook more quickly, including ones like zucchini, cauliflower florets and asparagus tips. It helps to have all the vegetables prepped before beginning to cook them.

Once the water boils, drop the longer-cook vegetables into the pot; let the water come back to a boil, then lower the temperature to let them slowly simmer, just until nearly done. Stir in the quicker-cook vegetables and cook until just done.

COMBINE Drain the hot vegetables, discarding the cooking water. Gently stir the vegetables into the first pot of hot milk. Bring the milk back up to temperature – but again, do not boil – for a minute or two.

Stir in cream to taste and warm through. Taste and adjust the salt to taste: be generous!

TO SERVE To serve, scoop a few vegetables into bowls, then top with broth and a sprinkling of fresh dill. Savor slowly, tasting that summer sunshine.

NUTRITION INFORMATION With 4 cups skim milk + 1 cup heavy cream, Per Cup: 191 Calories; 11g Tot Fat; 7g Sat Fat; 43mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium; 17g Carb; 2g Fiber; 11g Sugar; 7g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 4 & PointsPlus 5 & SmartPoints 8 CALORIE COUNTERS 100-calorie serving = 1/2 cup (4g protein).
With 4 cups whole milk + no heavy cream, Per Cup: 112 Calories; 4g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 12mg Cholesterol; 353mg Sodium; 14g Carb; 2g Fiber; 10g Sugar; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 3 & SmartPoints 5 & Freestyle 4 CALORIE COUNTERS 100-calorie serving = scant 1 cup (5g protein).
WOW. Sixteen years of nutrition calculations and Weight Watchers point calculations and I still totally missed that whole milk has so many fewer calories than a 5:1 blend of skim milk:heavy cream. My bad.
Adapted from The Finnish Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. That's the original edition, the cookbook my Finnish mother gifted to my own mother the year I was an exchange student in Finland. It is a faithful representation of authentic Finnish cuisine, adapted for American ingredients and measurements. There's also a newer edition of The Finnish Cookbook. For all who'd like to know more about Finnish cooking, start with this lovely cookbook.


A Summer Tradition in Finland

Finnish Summer Soup aka Kesäkeitto ♥ KitchenParade.com, perfect new summer vegetables suspended in a milky broth, make it all summer long.

More Summer Recipes from Finland

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Smoked Salmon Spread Caraway Cabbage Homemade Finnish Mustard
Zucchini Spiral 'Noodle' Salad Simple Grilled Salmon Finnish Meatballs
Finnish Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake Finnish Fruit Tart Estonian Apple Cake


Just what my stack of recipes from you needs: more Alanna recipes.

PS Call me excited, really.
 
It's a wonderful soup, isn't it? That's a fantastic picture too.

Really miss Finland in the summer months. I wasn't an exchange student, by the way. I worked over there for a few years. :)
 
Urgh. Here's a Finn who will tell you that the controversy surrounding Kesäkeitto is well deserved...

I've never liked it. The version you get in school cafeteria's had already turned me against it, but eating in its true form (with or without the milk base) is still something I don't like. But then again, I'm not a fan of soups in general.

I'm afraid that this is one of those foods that will die a slow death in Finland because of the blandness of school food.
 
Ali ~ glad you're excited, me too.

Wendy ~ Tis glorious! It had been some years since I'd made kesakeitto, twas almost a revelation. PS I have it in my head, I guess, that an exchange was your connection. I'll try to remember otherwise.

Ramin ~ Phooey on you. (I'd say something in Finnish but am not sure how it'd come out!) :-) I don't remember this soup from my own school year in Vantaa, but DO much remember the fish/coleslaw (excellent) and blood pancakes (managed a single bite as I recall, with lots of Finnish boys looking on and laughing). Pats to the koira-dogs from me, romps from Lady.
 
That soup is just beautiful! The market had fennel this week. Would that work too?
 
Fennel would be lovely, MA. The idea is to have a mix of vegetables, lots of color, cut small. Somehow, as simple as this is, it just really really works.
 
My grandmother was Swedish and she used to make a soup called sommar soppa (spelling?) that our parents all hated and the children just loved. I haven't made it myself in years, it's time to introduce it to my own grandchildren.
 
We've got the same 'supp' in Estonian (you see, we use a different word for 'soup' from Finns, although 'keedus' (aka keitto) would still mean something to older people here, I believe). We simply call it milk soup with vegetables and I LOVE it :)
 
Nice pictures.
 
There are definitely a few key ingredients that MAKE this soup ... black pepper and most importantly the freshly picked and shelled new sweet peas. I really recommend not skimping on this. The cream - instead of milk - version is nicer in the winter. This is definitely a comfort food that my "Mummu" makes to this day, and my picky eater of a 5 year old inhales it, along with riisi puuro. --- Alannah (a different one)
 

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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna