Fårikål (Lamb and Cabbage), Norway’s National Dish)

I remember the first time I tasted fårikål, the national dish of Norway. I had read for a long time—years maybe—about this stew of lamb and cabbage that is Norway’s national dish. It seemed too simple, I thought—just lamb and cabbage, with water, salt and pepper, the building blocks of most stews. Most recipes I’d seen were light on details, too. It must be easy to mess up, I figured, so I stayed away. Emboldened with a deadline and a job to do, however, I set to work this past spring at tackling this dish that had previously intimidated me. With Fårikålens Festdag, Norway’s fårikål feast day, coming up in the fall (it’s always the fourth Thursday of September), I knew I’d have to write about it. As food editor of The Norwegian American, I didn’t feel right outsourcing our coverage of this annual classic yet again.

Armed with a small quantity of bone-in lamb, cabbage, and a handful of recipes, I began the traditional process of arranging the ingredients in the pot, letting it all simmer, and trusting that over the next couple of hours some sort of culinary magic would take place. The results, let me tell you, exceeded my expectations.

I knew the finished dish would be simple, but I couldn’t anticipate the way the modest list of ingredients—humble ones for that matter, as mutton and tougher cuts of meat would typically be used—would somehow yield results that were just right in their restraint. The flavors of the cabbage and lamb shone individually and yet informed by one another. The whole peppercorns added an herbal, subtle floral note that was almost imperceptible and yet accented the flavor of the lamb.

I’ve since come to appreciate the dish for not only its simplicity, but also its ease. After layering or nestling the ingredients in a pot, all you need to do is wait for a couple of hours, perhaps boiling some potatoes to serve on the side, and dinner is served. Of course, we don’t always have that amount of time for dinner to cook, but one of the wonderful things about fårikål is how easily it reheats, and some people swear that leftovers get better over time. (That served me well last week when I cooked a batch of fårikål early in the day and chilled it until dinnertime, when we had only a brief amount of time for dinner before rushing off to an event.) Still, there’s nothing saying you have to make a large batch of fårikål to enjoy it. I’ve found that I prefer small-batch fårikål, the type of dish that might serve two hungry adults or a small family.

Aside from perhaps the small quantity, the recipe I’m sharing today is typical. Many recipes call for layering the ingredients in a pot. This is a small batch, so nestling them is fine. Don’t mess with the dish as it cooks, aside from checking it every once in a while; let the cabbage retain its shape. As unattractive as the dish often is—and that’s to be expected—this is one way to thoughtfully preserve the visual integrity of the ingredients, letting the eyes as well as the mouth perceive the simplicity in which the dish’s key ingredients are allowed to shine. Serve with boiled potatoes—red-skinned ones with flecks of bright green parsley will further add visual interest when serving. Flatbread and lingonberry preserves round out the meal.

The ingredients themselves reflect foods that are integral to the region. Sheep are plentiful and a fixture of Norwegian mountains. Cabbage has a significant role in Nordic history—it’s one of the oldest vegetables in the region, writes Camilla Plum in The Scandinavian Kitchen, who adds that it was the only vegetable grown in the Viking age. Though it mutes to a nondescript color as it cooks down with the lamb, it’s flavorful and is so cozy and nourishing.

For as simple as fårikål is, the results are fantastic. The challenge for many may be the cooking time, a long time for a weeknight. If you’d like to mark Fårikålens Festdag this month with a batch of homemade fårikål but don’t have the time, feel free to make it in advance—it reheats easily and will taste just as good—perhaps even better—the next day.

Fårikål (Lamb and Cabbage Stew with Peppercorns, Norway’s National Dish)

1.5 pounds lamb (shoulder, shank, or neck) cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1.5 pounds green cabbage, cut into wedges
1-2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
water to barely cover (approximately 4 cups)

In a large pot, nestle the lamb amongst the cabbage wedges. Sprinkle the peppercorns and salt over it, then add water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for about two hours, until the lamb is remarkably tender and pulls easily away from any bones.

To serve, carefully lift the cabbage out of the pot and arrange it in bowls with pieces of the lamb. Pour over the broth, and make sure to distribute peppercorns between the bowls.

Serves 2, with perhaps a little left over for the next day’s lunch.

Delicious Nostalgia: Boiled Cabbage with Butter and Dill

Cabbage with Butter and Dill

I wonder if all of us who cook bring a certain amount of nostalgia to the process. There are the dishes we remember from our childhood, those homey, cozy recipes that nothing can beat when it comes to comfort food. They are the staples of our family’s cooking repertoire that we come back to when we want a taste of home. And they satisfy, time and time again.

As a reluctant foodie, one who embodies the love of food that the term inhabits but chaffs at the title, I love chasing the next trend as much as the next enthusiastic eater. But it is the food of my youth and family heritage that intrigues me more than any.

Cabbage Half

Cabbage Slices

Outside Oslo has long been a means of discovery, a place where I can record and share what I’ve uncovered as I’ve explored the cuisine of Norway and its neighboring countries. I’ve featured some of my own family’s stories and recipes as well. Something I’ve discovered in the process is the value of hanging onto elements of the past as we move forward with the future. So much of a place’s history is evidenced in its cuisine; once you know a little bit about both, you can start seeing the correlation between the two. The same goes with family history. I love rummaging through my grandma Adeline’s old recipe boxes and her notebooks full of handwritten recipes. Through her handwriting and those of her friends and relatives, I find treasures that are priceless, and I am grateful that she has given me her collection now that she no longer cooks alone. Those recipes are filled with her stories and memories. Each time I get together with her to bake, I uncover little snippets of her life as she talks.

Dill and Cabbage

Cabbage in Pot

With all this about nostalgia in cooking, perhaps it won’t take much effort for me to convince you of the merits of writing about something as seemingly “anti-gourmet” as boiled cabbage on a food blog. To be honest, I wouldn’t have given this preparation a thought until I read about it in Nigel Slater’s Tender last week. In two paragraphs, this talented chef and author transformed my idea of boiled cabbage from a limp, soggy, tasteless mess into something luscious, incredibly simple, and comforting. Upon preparing it as a quick side dish for a weeknight meal, I was reminded of something deep in my past that I haven’t thought about for years: the steamed cabbage my mom used to make when I was growing up. I can’t remember the last time she made it, and I had forgotten how satisfying toothsome and nourishing it tasted. I guess some foods go out of fashion in families just like they do with global food trends. After rediscovering this though, I’ll be keeping it in my own cooking repertoire.

The key, I think, is in watching the cabbage carefully and removing it from the water at precisely the right moment. With a pat of butter, a sprinkling of salt, and some chopped fresh dill, the cabbage has a warm, thick yet silky quality and the flavors that any Norwegian would appreciate.

Cabbage with Dill

Boiled Cabbage with Butter and Dill
Inspired by Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater and many meals of my childhood

1/2 head cabbage
1-2 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and liberally add salt. Meanwhile, slice cabbage into 1 1/2- to 2-inch-wide pieces and separate the leaves. Drop them in the water and cook just until the color begins to brighten and the cabbage softens slightly. This will take just a couple of minutes. Immediately remove the cabbage with a slotted spoon or sieve and allow to drain for a moment in a colander. Divide between two plates and top each serving with a pat of butter, a sprinkling of dill, and salt to taste. Serve immediately while still hot.

Note: Please don’t even consider making this in advance and reheating at serving time; fresh from the pot is best. Due to the quick preparation, it’s easy to prepare this recipe right before going to the table. If you’re preparing a meat dish that needs to rest, you can easily make the cabbage in those last few minutes as long as you have a pot of water boiling in advance.

Serves 2.