Rainy Night Dinner: Norwegian Sauerkraut (Surkål)

Umbrella

I don’t know whether it’s a sort of crunchy pride not unlike machismo or whether it has something to do with apathy and resignation to the rain, but true Seattleites tend to balk at using umbrellas.

Until a few years ago, the only ones I had were souvenirs from vacations–cheap or touristy emergency purchases to help me stay dry during unexpected rainstorms away from home. After living in Seattle for long enough (my whole life), however, I decided that it was time to break away from the norm and buy an umbrella I would actually use.

I’m proud to say I managed to find a beauty–one that’s chic enough to almost make me hope for rain. Almost. With an oversized canopy and a pretty wooden handle, opening it as I step out into the rain is always a treat.

Rain on LeavesThe rainy season has officially begun here in Seattle. It seemed to start on Friday evening, just as my son and I were walking to the car after a book signing with Aida Mollenkamp at Book Larder in Fremont. It continued today, with a sky so clouded that the view from my bedroom of the hills not too far in the distance was invisible.

We had such a beautiful summer and early fall that I forgot what it feels like to live in a rainy city: persistent raindrops poking me all over as I rush back inside to find my umbrella, soggy cuffs smearing water on the hardwood floors, and cold, damp jeans sticking to my legs.

On the other hand, rainy days are perfect for making cold-weather food, the kind of dishes that make you feel warm and cozy just eating them. I didn’t know when I started cooking a pot of Norwegian sauerkraut on Friday that we were entering a period of rain.

I had been thinking about my late Grandma Agny’s surkål, a Norwegian sauerkraut that my grandmother always made for special dinners, and decided to try my hand at it. The recipe is about as simple as can be, requiring the cook only to shred the cabbage, then simmer the handful of ingredients together in a large pot for about an hour and a half. It’s extremely economical, as well, as cabbage feeds a crowd for only a couple of dollars.

CabbageGrandma published her recipe in an old church cookbook, and the directions are limited to three sentences, 36 words:

Shred cabbage; peel and shred apple(s). Put butter in saucepan; mix all ingredients together in saucepan and cook over low heat until color darkens. Serve in a nice looking dish; garnish with apple wedges and parsley.

I love the way that Grandma kept details to a minimum, except when it came to how to serve the dish. That, to her, was worth a third of the small recipe, which hints back at her career in hospitality. I can picture Grandma’s surkål on the table so many years ago in a gold-rimmed porcelain or china serving dish and garnished with bright green curly-leaf parsley chopped, I imagine, by hand. She would have carefully placed the parsley onto the bland-colored caraway-flecked sauerkraut, taking care to present us with an attractive and appetizing dish.

My husband and I ate a late dinner of surkål and medisterkaker–Norwegian pork meatballs–after the book signing on Friday night, and it was the perfect meal to warm us up on a chilly, damp evening. Now that I’ve become reaquainted with these two welcoming Norwegian foods, they will be autumn and winter mainstays at our house.

Surkål

Agny Danielsen’s Surkål

750 grams cabbage
1 or 2 apples, cored
75 grams butter
1/2 liter distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon caraway
2 teaspoons salt
Curly-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish

Shred the cabbage using the slicing disc of a food processor, then switch to the shredding disk to shred the apple (it’s okay to leave the skin on).

Melt butter in a large, heavy pot, then add remaining ingredients (except parsley) and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes, until the cabbage is soft and has darkened and the vinegar has reduced and softened in flavor. You may need to increase the heat near the end to finish reducing the vinegar.

Remove from the heat and, as Grandma Agny indicated, “Serve in a nice looking dish; garnish with apple wedges and parsley.”

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6 thoughts on “Rainy Night Dinner: Norwegian Sauerkraut (Surkål)

    • My other grandma has many recipes like that too. Although when I feature my grandparents’ recipes on this site I like to elaborate as I see fit in the descriptions, I do hang onto the originals, because it’s just so special to have the original, especially if it’s in their handwriting!

  1. I love Surkal. I’ve called it Norwegian Cabbage in my recipe notebook and have written out the recipe as told to me by my mum as told to her from her mum. We always serve it when we have roast pork at Xmas (I do Ribbe with pork belly on the bone). My family recipe includes stirring through some of the pork fat – it adds a lusciousness to the dish. The caraway seeds are a definite must add and makes it memorably Norwegian!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! My grandparents used to serve it with medisterkaker and, like yours, roast pork. Such a special, homey, and stick-to-your-bones type of holiday meal!

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