Scandinavian cuisine is a wonderfully distinctive world of simple, hearty ingredients culled from the cold ocean, the woods, the mountains, and the garden. From cured salmon to pickled gherkins, from reindeer meatballs to potato salad, the fare of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (along with Finland, Iceland, and other countries included in certain geographic definitions of Scandinavia) has a spare elegance, one easily honored and emulated—to healthful effect—in the home kitchen.
Finnish Herring Salad
Herring are one of the staples of Scandinavian cuisine. This small, oil-rich fish of the North Atlantic is popularly consumed pickled, salted, smoked, or otherwise cured, and in some forms it can be truly pungent and unforgettable. A tamer appreciation of its ocean flavor can be had with this salad, variations of which have been eaten since time immemorial; this particular recipe comes from the folks at New Scandinavian Cooking.
First, slice into small pieces about 18 oz. of salt herring fillets. Work this into a well-combined mixture of sour cream (10 fl. oz.), minced dill (5 tablespoons), one finely chopped fennel bulb, and the juice and peel of a lemon half. Once all the ingredients are mixed in a large serving
bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours, so that the flavors can co-mingle to utmost deliciousness.
This would be a great addition to a healthy smorgasbord, of which we’ll talk more about shortly.
This Norwegian flatbread makes a versatile, hearty accompaniment to nearly any Scandinavian meal. It’s commonly eaten on its own, rolled up with a little sweet or savory garnish, or wrapped around meat or fish. Lefse combined with wild-harvested foods can be a particularly healthy and nourishing snack—and one nicely representative of the importance of feral ingredients to Scandinavian cuisine. Examples would include lefse rolled with wild-berry jam or sautéed wild mushrooms.
There are numerous variations in the preparation of lefse; the simplest recipes call simply for flour, potatoes, and water. You can render richer, easier-to-work dough with the addition of butter and heavy whipping cream. You can make the dough and cook the breads on the same day, but it’s often easier to roll the breads out if the dough’s sat for a few hours or overnight.
The process begins by basically making mashed potatoes: Set the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover them, take them to a boil, and
cook until they’re soft and yielding. After draining, mash the potatoes or pass them through a ricer; you want to render a tender consistency without chunks.
Combine this smooth potato mash with the cream, butter, and salt, then stir in your flour until the dough is pliable and smooth. (For two pounds of potatoes, you might use a third or fourth of a cup of butter and a half-cup of cream, along with one or two teaspoons of salt.) Some recipes call for kneading; others recommend against it. Either way, you want a ball of easily workable dough as an end result.
You’ll divide this ball into 12 or 15 patties or so—depending on the size you desire and what your cooking surface can accommodate—and then roll each into a broad, 10- to 14-inch round as thin as you can make it. (This is why you want a completely lump-less potato mixture.) Traditional lefse rolling pins are deeply grooved to minimize sticking, but you should be successful with enough flour and a light touch.
There are specially designed lefse grills, but you’ll do fine cooking these on a cast-iron skillet of adequate size. You’ll slap down your thin round over medium-high heat, then flip it within thirty seconds or a minute—once the newly forming bread starts speckling and rippling. Cook the other side in the same manner; it probably won’t take even as long as the first.
A crowded table spread of myriad cold dishes accompanied by breads, milk, yogurt, and any number of beverages—from tea and coffee to beer and schnapps—is a centerpiece of Scandinavian culinary tradition. It’s perhaps best-known by the Swedish term for it, smorgasbord,
but each country has its own moniker: It’s a koldtbord (or koldt bord) to the Danes and Norwegians and a voileipapoyta to the Finns.
The smorgasbord offers a wonderful array for a get-together, and you can fill it with healthy and nutritious dishes. Gherkins—a cultivar of cucumber, commonly served pickled—are healthy staples of the cold table, as are smoked and cured fishes (like pickled herring) and a variety of salads.
Beets are popular vegetables for the spread, and rank among the most nutritious and healthiest foods around. In their Flatbreads and Flavors (1995)—which also includes a fine recipe for lefse—Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid include a tasty Scandinavian beet and dill salad of simple preparation and luxurious flavor. Boiled beets are cubed and dressed with dill, caraway, vinegar, salt, and pepper; after an hour or two setting, the salad is ready for the banquet.
So roll up those sleeves and compose your own smorgasbord suite—and remember that Scandinavian spirit of simple, honest foods prepared lightly enough to let the original taste of high-quality ingredients come to the fore.
This is a guest post by Jane Spencer.