Cookbook Review: “Kitchen of Light”

Every once in a while you come across a cookbook that you feel you would like to live with exclusively for a few weeks, cooking obsessively through the mouth-watering recipes and discovering the full range of the author’s palate. For me, one of those cookbooks is Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad.

In this colorful book, Viestad, a Norwegian food writer and TV host, takes hungry readers on a culinary tour of Norway through his eyes. Viestad’s essays take readers to big cities like Bergen–which boasts northern Europe’s largest outdoor fish market (he also shares a recipe for the classic Bergen Fish Soup)–as well as to remote parts of the country that few of us will ever see. For example, as the host of American Public Television’s New Scandinavian Cooking, Viestad has had the opportunity to tape an episode in Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island well north of the mainland and less than 750 miles from the North Pole. He calls it “the last frontier,” and “one of the few remaining areas of totally unspoiled wilderness in Europe, even the world.” Not many of us will ever step foot on its snow- and ice-covered ground, but thanks to Viestad’s book we can get a taste of what it must have been like to be a trapper or hunter living on a chilly island, the “northernmost inhabited place in the world,” over a century ago; with his accompanying recipe for Svalbard Beet Soup with Goose Stock, we can imagine what it must have been like to eat a steaming bowlful of soup made with goose meat when the geese arrived in the spring.

What I love about this book–well, one of many things that I love–is how Viestad manages to modernize Scandinavian food while staying true to its roots. While you won’t find recipes for rømmegrøt, lefse, or many of the other dishes my grandparents would have cooked, you will occasionally find other traditional dishes, including Viestad’s lovely herb-scented Traditional Yellow Pea Soup (I recently featured the recipe here) and the classic dessert called Veiled Farm Girls. The recipes are based on ingredients commonly used in Norway, including cod and pollock and berries such as lingonberry.

While much traditional Scandinavian cuisine is hearty, such as porridge or lamb stews, and sometimes consists of preserved foods like lutefisk or gravlax, Viestad shows readers the fresh and seasonal side of how Norwegians eat, highlighting the sun-kissed berries ripened to perfection in the long summer days and the wild mushrooms found in late summer (I made his New Potatoes with Chanterelles and Dill a few years ago, and loved it).

It’s rare to find a Scandinavian cookbook published recently that doesn’t veer from the traditional and include recipes that look nothing like the Nordic food of days gone by–Kitchen of Light included. But Viestad includes notes throughout the book on how his recipes fit into Scandinavian cuisine. For example, accompanying his recipe for Slow-Baked Salmon with Soy Sauce and Ginger, he points out that soy sauce and ginger have been known in Norway for centuries but have recently been popularized by Asian influence on Scandinavian cuisine. However, I still have no idea how Viestad’s recipe for Broccoli with Capers, Garlic, and Anchovies, while delicious and full of flavor, relates to Scandinavian cuisine.

Kitchen of Light, is a lovely book that’s so much more than cookbook. Viestad’s essays on places and products–with beautiful photos by Mette Randem–will make you want to visit Norway and discover its food. If I haven’t sold you yet on checking out this book (I have no incentives to do so, other than wanting to share something delicious with you), let me offer a few recipe titles to entice you. Here is a sampling of what you’ll find in Kitchen of Light: Rosemary Cod with Vanilla-scented Mashed Rutabaga; Salt Cod with Peas, Mint, and Prosciutto; Mussels with Aquavit, Cream, and Tarragon; Juniper-Spiced Venison with Brown Goat Cheese Sauce; Onion Pie with Jarlsberg and Thyme; Summer Berries with Bay Leaf Custard; and Cloudberry Cream with Rosemary and Vanilla. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Kitchen of Light from the publisher. However, I made no promises to give a positive review, and am sharing my honest opinions of this book.

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4 thoughts on “Cookbook Review: “Kitchen of Light”

  1. I love this cookbook! His stories show how much passion he has for Scandinavian dishes, and his style is what sets the tone for me. I have reprinted several of his recipes in the Weekly, and I’m glad you like it too!

    Viestad is a food writer for the Washington Post, and I enjoyed his articles when I lived back there!

  2. I have been looking for a Norwegian cook book, will give this a try. I have the recipes for the Old old basic recipes, but looking for a broader range. Thanks

  3. I watch his show regularly and have the cookbook on hold at the library. I can’t wait to try a few things I have seen on TV for myself. I like Viestad’s style and wit in addition to his food.

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