Traditional Icelandic saltkjöt og baunir, salted meat and bean stew, is eaten in Iceland today to celebrate Sprengidagur (‘Bursting Day’), which is Iceland’s answer to Shrove Tuesday. The motto is to eat stew until you burst.
Salted lamb or mutton can be bought in most stores the days preceding Bursting Day, easily recognizable by the meat’s distinct pink color.
Stores sometimes also sell the other ingredients needed to make this dish in one package. Such a package typically includes onions, yellow turnips, carrots and yellow split peas.
Bursting Day is always celebrated on a Tuesday seven weeks before Easter. It’s a Catholic custom to eat meat on that day because it’s the last chance to do so before fasting.
Salted meat and bean stew has been served on this day in Iceland since the late 19th century. Before that, hangikjöt, smoked lamb, was eaten on Bursting Day.
Yesterday was Cream Puff Day or Bun Day and tomorrow is known as Ash Wednesday, when children dress up in fancy costumes and sing at stores in exchange for candy.
Here’s the recipe for saltkjöt og baunir:
First chop the onions and fry them for a little while. Then peel and chop some potatoes along with the remaining vegetables from the package.
Bring out a large casserole and fill half of it with water. Do not salt the water—the meat is salty enough. Bring to boil and then add the meat, a generous portion of yellow split peas and some whole peppercorns, preferably black.
Let the concoction boil for about a half an hour before adding the remaining ingredients. Then boil for another 20 to 30 minutes.
Take the meat out of the stew, remove the fat and bones and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Then put the meat back into the stew and it is ready to be served.