Finnish Summer Soup - Kësakeitto

A taste of summer sunshine, the Finnish classic recipe for 'summer soup,' a milky broth with tiny garden-fresh vegetables.

Finnish Summer Soup (Kesakeitto)

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' (kësa = summer, soup = keitto, pronounced [keh-sa-kay-toe]) 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 food blog A Wee Bit of Cooking also lived in Finland as an exchange student and calls kësakeitto 'sunshine in a bowl'. Deinin, a Finnish food blogger who is much missed, says that kësakeitto is controversial: although why, to my taste, there's no understanding.

This was 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.

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Milky broth with the freshest, newest vegetables from the garden
Hands-on time: 50 minutes
Time-to-table: 50 minutes
Makes 8 cups
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (don't skip)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 cups skim milk
  • 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 and especially peas
  • Cream to taste - I use 1 cup
  • Fresh dill, chopped

In a pot large enough to eventually hold everything, stir together the sugar, flour and salt. A tablespoon at a time at first, slowly stir in the milk until the mixture is smooth and liquid; add remaining milk. Gently heat the milk but don't allow to boil.

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

Prep the vegetables, cutting into small pieces of roughly equivalent size – keep separate those that will take longer to cook (in my case, the potatoes, carrot and kohlrabi). When the water boils, drop these first vegetables into the pot and cook til nearly done. Add the remaining vegetables and cook until just done. Drain and add vegetables to the hot milk and cook – but again, do not boil – for a minute or two. Stir in cream to taste and warm through. Adjust seasonings.

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

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Cup: 153 Cal; 7g Protein; 6g Tot Fat; 4 Sat Fat; 19g Carb; 2g Fiber; NetCarb17; 616mg Sodium; 23mg Cholesterol; Weight Watchers 3 points
Adapted from The Finnish Cookbook. For all who'd like to know more about Finnish cooking, this is a lovely cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. The recipes are classics but are written for American ingredients.

Recipes for kësakeitto 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.
Be sure to include some onion, even if it's a small amount of chopped onion.
In winter, this is actually a decent soup made with frozen vegetables, the bags of 'mixed' vegetables that are all small in size.
Believe it or not, this soup is actually good cold, too.
Like many soups, its flavors develop if made one day and then served the next. But don't hesitate to serve it the same day.
Since kësakeitto 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.

More Recipes from Finland

(hover for a description, click a photo for a recipe)
Finnish Meatballs Homemade Finnish Mustard Finnish Fruit Tart

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