Two Red Cabbage Salads for Your Christmas Table

Red Cabbage Salad

The Christmas tree stands unadorned in my living room where it’s taken residence since the Sunday before last. The strings of lights and masses of translucent, opaque, and metallic red bulbs are ready to be strung and strewn throughout its natural, Douglas fir branches–waiting, just waiting, for the right time. As I scroll through Instagram during the quiet moments I see home after home decked out in an abundance of decorations. One person remarked on how she was taking a relaxed approach to decorating this year and had taken a week to trim her tree–she’d probably be shocked to see how much I have her beat!

The days of December and the weeks of Advent are passing by more quickly than I anticipated, and I’m choosing to be okay with that. I won’t manage to set up the entire ceramic Christmas village that has been in my family for years. I won’t bake as many cookies as I had hoped. I won’t be able to squeeze in every single Christmasy activity that I enjoy. December snuck up on me this year (perhaps due to a late Thanksgiving) and rather than trying to catch up, I’m choosing to relax and be okay with a calmer, quieter season. What I am striving for is a month full of special moments, quality time with loved ones, sweet activities at home with my family, and reflection on the reason we celebrate Christmas to begin with.

As I’ve worked through my calendar and my thoughts to come to that conclusion, I’ve reflected on the stress, frenzy, and overcommitments that might otherwise permeate the too-few minutes and hours of this short season. Rather than worrying about the faint dust that’s inevitably gathered on my bookshelf or whether I’ve put away the toys scattered around the family room (which are still in use into the evening) before guests come for dinner, I would prefer to do my best: to offer hospitality by warmly welcoming friends and loved ones through my door, ushering them into a peaceful and tidily lived-in home, and feeding them well.

Red Cabbage Salad

That was the case with the lutefisk feast I served my parents and grandma last week. What I really wanted that evening was to treat those dear people to a meal full of tradition, memories, and love. There were still dishes in the sink when they came (I would have needed two dishwashers to keep up after that day of cooking!) and the table had yet to be set. But the food was coming together, and it ended up filling each family member with not just the satiation of a good meal but with the warmth and love that I had so hoped. There was the julekake that Grandma loves so much and the Norwegian rice cream with raspberry sauce that my dad’s late mother always served at Christmastime. I served lutefisk with melted butter for my family and with cream sauce for my husband who remembers eating it that way while visiting relatives in Sweden. Looking back at how content and joyful everyone was at the end of the evening, I wouldn’t have prioritized anything differently.

We’re slowly bringing out the decorations. The stockings are hung, the Advent candles on the dinner table. When I start to feel antsy about the progress–what seems like slow momentum relative to so many other households–I reflect on my goals for the season and remember that for many families in Scandinavia, the Christmas tree wouldn’t be decorated until Christmas Eve. This year I’m trying just to savor. My attempts will be imperfect–that is just inevitable–but it feels good to know that I’m trying.

Red Cabbage Salad

Two Red Cabbage Salads for Your Christmas Table

I served the following two salads for last week’s lutefisk feast. While I love rødkål–the slowly-simmered sweet-and-sour red cabbage that’s a traditional Scandinavian Christmas side dish–I wanted to add something fresh and raw to what was otherwise going to be a rich and hearty meal. These two recipes have three things in common: red cabbage, apple, and walnuts. The first has a creamy dressing and the second is sweetened with lingonberry preserves. For either salad, you could certainly prepare the vegetables easily by shredding the cabbage using the slicing blade of a food processor and switching to the shredding disk for the apples as I did, which will result in a slaw-like consistency. Next time, though, I’ll try slicing the cabbage thinly using a sharp knife and cutting the apples into matchsticks. The latter approach is more work, but I think the vegetables will stand up better to the dressings.

Creamy Red Cabbage and Apple Salad
Adapted significantly from the Rødkålsalat in Ekte Norsk Jul Vol. 2 by Astrid Karlsen Scott. 

2 cups shredded or thinly-sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded or matchstick-cut apples (peels left on; 2 small apples or 1 1/2 medium apples)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Place cabbage and apples in a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent the apples from discoloring. This will also help season the salad. Stir in 1/2 cup of the walnuts. Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, and kosher salt in a small bowl. Add just enough of the dressing to coat the salad. Taste, and season with salt and pepper if you’d like. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining walnuts.

Serves 6-8.

Red Cabbage Salad with Green Apple, Lingonberry Preserves, and Toasted Walnuts
Adapted from Bon Appétit, January 2010, from Chefs Andrew Chase and Erwin Schrottner. The original recipe calls for blending part of the lingonberry preserves with part of the dressing, then stirring in the rest of the preserves later. I followed those steps and included that below, but next time I’ll try blending all the preserves with the dressing–that will make it easier to adjust the ultimate seasonings to taste.

4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 large Granny Smith apple, coarsely grated
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lingonberry preserves, divided
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil

Place cabbage, apple, and most of the walnut halves in a large bowl, reserving about a tablespoon or two of the walnuts for the garnish. Toss with lemon juice.

Puree 1 tablespoon of the lingonberry preserves with the mustard, vinegar, and salt in a blender. With the machine running on the slowest speed and a hand guarding the hole in the lid to keep the dressing from splashing out, slowly add the oil until incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

Add the remaining preserves and about half of the dressing and toss to combine. Add additional dressing until you have enough to coat the salad–be careful not to overdress it. Season with salt and pepper if you wish, transfer to a serving dish, and garnish with the remaining walnut halves.

Serves 8.

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice

There is a rolling continuum of the ingredients I cook with throughout the year, mounds of rhubarb in late spring toppling into the berries of summer, mingling on occasion in recipes like Nordic rhubarb and strawberry jam. In this way, fruits and vegetables help mark the changing seasons, ushering one gracefully into the next. Around this time each summer, when the midday sun begins to compete with the moist marine air around Seattle and the leaves begin their gradual display of changing colors, I feel compelled to embrace tomatoes, still vibrant and full of flavor, as often as I can and buy corn to grill for an outdoor meal, even if we must pull a sweater up over our shoulders while we dine.

This time of year, we do a lot of grilling. My husband prepares good quality meat or fish, seasoning it simply with olive oil and sea salt and maybe a little pepper and puts it on the grill while I make the side dishes and set the table. On Friday evening we needed little more than lamb chops and a couple of simple salads to make a meal.

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice and Tomato Salad

Cucumber salads have figured prominently in my home in recent months, with the sweet-and-sour cucumber salad and cucumber salad with dill that I made for June’s Midsummer picnic and a creamy salad of cucumber and radish. There are any number of varieties in Scandinavian cuisine, and even with similar ingredient lists they can taste much different, depending on technique, the palate and taste preferences of the cook, and the seasonings. I veered away from the traditional Nordic varieties this past weekend, taking cues from David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke instead. Peeling the cucumber and slicing it into half moons, I dressed it with yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh dill and mint, and drizzled olive oil and sprinkled red pepper flakes over the top. Adding a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, we were set.

Heirloom Tomatoes on Board

Soon enough the tomatoes will make way for the foods of autumn. Apples are already making their way into my baking, and soon artichokes and Brussels sprouts will take up significant parts of our meals. And don’t forget the squash and root vegetables that conjure up all the cozy nostalgia of autumns past. One season is beginning its gradual roll into the next, but I’ll hold onto every last bit of summer as long as I can.

Tomatoes and Summer Dinner

Creamy Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Spice
Inspired by the Cucumbers and Yogurt in Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis

1 large cucumber
Salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, pressed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped dill
Red pepper flakes

Peel the cucumber. Cut it in half lengthwise, then slice into half moons about 1/3-inch thick. Place in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add yogurt, garlic, olive oil, mint, and dill, and stir. Refrigerate while you’re preparing the rest of your meal–try to give it at least a half an hour. Check the seasonings and add more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with red pepper flakes and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Serves 4.

Salad with Tomatoes, Radishes, Dill, and Danish Blue Cheese

Danish Blue Cheese Salad Vertical

To paint with light–that is what photographers do.

That idea, a way to reshape the way I look at the world, is the one nugget that’s stayed with me all these years since I was first studying photography.

Fast forward from the late 1990s to the present, I’ve been switching from film to digital this year as I relearn the art of SLR photography. Although technology has evolved, film has become a niche, and time has clouded much of what I learned back then, one thing is still the same: the science of light and the way it wraps around an object, enveloping it with its invisible yet transformative qualities.

Radishes and Salad

Armed with a new DSLR camera and taking workshops here and there, my eyes are being reopened to the beauty of the world around me–in particular, the beauty of food.

Just take a look at a bunch of radishes, their magenta skin glowing and contrasting with the green leaves. Exact opposites on the color wheel. Nature. Art.

Radishes on Plate Vertical

When food is this pretty in its raw, whole form, it deserves to retain its dignity when integrated into a dish.

That’s one of the things I love about this Danish blue cheese salad. Isn’t it pretty? On a bed of curly lettuce, thinly-sliced cucumbers and radishes nestle together with sliced cherry tomatoes, a trace of shaved onion, fresh dill, and crumbled blue cheese. It’s so simple there’s almost nothing to it. The dressing–oil and vinegar accented with a little mustard, salt, and sugar–highlights the salad’s flavors without drawing attention to itself.

Crisp, fresh, summery. No one ingredient dominant, except perhaps the blue cheese with its pungent pop of flavor. Just right.

Of course, presentation is important–ingredients this beautiful want to be dressed up, allowed to shine.

Danish Blue Cheese Salad Horizontal

In some regards, photography has been reminding me about how lucky we are to have access to so much good food. Quality, whole ingredients–radishes, tomatoes, artichokes, you name it–possess a special beauty that their canned and frozen counterparts lack. As I’ve been studying photography and applying what I’m learning to my own work, I’ve been reflecting on the luxury that living in Seattle provides; as I mentioned the other day, the city has a multitude of farmers markets, some of which operate year-round, and it’s no problem to find grocery stores stocking quality, whole, organic items. Eating well is easy.

Circling back to the idea of painting with light, consider that the next time you sit down to eat something fresh. Look at the reflections and shadows, the range of colors and textures, and how they all work together to create something beautiful. See if taking the visual nature of food into account doesn’t somehow elevate its taste. It sure does for me.

Lettuce and Salad Closeup

Salad with Tomatoes, Radishes, Dill, and Danish Blue Cheese
Adapting a recipe from Scandinavian Feasts by Beatrice Ojakangas, I added dill and tomatoes, giving it an extra special summery touch. I resisted the urge to swap the canola oil and white wine vinegar with more special versions; I’m glad I did, as the resulting salad is just right. 

1 head curly green lettuce
1 small bunch radishes
1 2-inch length of cucumber
1/2 sweet onion
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
1 small bunch fresh dill
1/4 cup crumbled Danish blue cheese (or other blue cheese of your choice; I used Stilton)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
Freshly-ground black pepper (optional)

Prepare the salad ingredients and place them in individual prep bowls: Wash and dry the lettuce then tear roughly into pieces; thinly slice radishes, cucumbers, and onion with a mandoline; cut tomatoes in half; and roughly chop dill.

To make the dressing, combine vinegar, mustard, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Slowly pour the oil into the vinegar while whisking, allowing the ingredients to combine.

Assemble the salads by dividing the lettuce between six plates and topping with radish and cucumber slices. Place a little sliced onion on the top of each salad, then arrange tomato halves around. Scatter blue cheese and dill over each salad. Just before serving, spoon the dressing over each salad. Top with a little freshly-ground black pepper if desired.

Serves 6.

Savoring the Seasons: Chicken with Baked Rhubarb

Dining Outside on Spring Day

Visiting Bergen back in the summer of 2008 I noticed something special about the Norwegians, the way they embraced the long hours of sunlight and milked the sunshine for every last drop. Out on ski boats in bikinis and swim trunks as the evening sun hovered lazily above the horizon, never seeming quite like it would ever fully set, the smiles never left their faces as their boats skimmed the surface of the golden water, bouncing along as it went. That image of pure bliss, of people relishing the moment, has stayed with me through the years, and it demonstrates a part of the Norwegian character that is not so unlike that of people in the Pacific Northwest.

Chicken with Rhubarb, Cucumber Salad, and Potatoes

Here, as in Norway, spring and summer are short, and hot, sunny days are rare. At least on this side of the Cascades. When such conditions happen, restaurants with outdoor seating fill up and the roads leading to any body of water become clogged with traffic. It seems ingrained in us to seek out the sun and to bask in its rays amongst strangers who are celebrating it as well.

Chicken with Rhubarb

Cucumber and Radish Salad

Each year I make a summer list, a collection of ideas and ideals, things that seem to capture the essence of the season. This year one of the first to surface is dining outside whenever possible. Though squinting our eyes in the bright sun and enduring the goosebumps that come from the breeze that even the warmest days can bring, we can hardly imagine anything better, while in the moment, than sitting amongst friends in the little bits of nature we try to create in our urban dwellings.

Please promise me, no matter where you live, that you will embrace the sunshine this spring and summer too, that you’ll get out there and enjoy meals on your patio or deck or front porch or the nearest park. Listen to the birds chirping and dogs barking and notice the warmth of the sun mingling with the gentle breeze on your skin. Breathe in the fresh air and smell the scent of flowers and grass being carried on the wind. The winters can seem so long and so dark, and moments like these are ones to savor.

Chicken with Rhubarb Served with Salad and Potatoes

Chicken with Baked Rhubarb and Cucumber-Radish Salad
When it comes to using foods in respect to their sources and peak seasons, Danish chef Trina Hahnemann is a star. Her book The Nordic Diet–from which this recipe is adapted–celebrates locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients with a collection of innovative recipes that are always fresh, always healthy, and totally satisfying. Hahnemann would have you using a whole organic or free-range chicken cut into eight pieces, along with organic raw sugar and goat-milk yogurt. If you choose to follow her lead, please do. I have modified it below for ease and convenience. This dish only needs potatoes to round it out (I recommend six medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes).

For the chicken:

8 chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
11 ounces rhubarb
1/4 cup raw sugar

For the salad:

1 medium cucumber (about 11 ounces)
1-2 bunches radishes (about 7 ounces)
Generous 1/3 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken thighs on a baking sheet or shallow ovenproof dish and season with salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes. While the chicken is roasting, cut the rhubarb into 1-inch slices on a long diagonal and toss in a medium-sized bowl to coat. After 30 minutes of roasting, remove the chicken from the oven and tuck the rhubarb pieces underneath the chicken and return to the oven to roast for 15 minutes longer.

To make the salad, peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1/4-inch slices and toss in a medium-sized bowl. Thinly slice the radishes and add them to the cucumber. Stir together the yogurt, garlic, mint, salt, and pepper, and add to the cucumbers and radishes, stirring until well combined.

Serves 4.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

Composed Salad of Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Mâche, Egg, and Asparagus

Composed Salad with Smoked Salmon

I think it’s part of the collective food-lovers’ experience to crave salads as soon as spring rolls around. In contrast to the hearty dishes that have dominated our kitchens for months, salads seem to represent the fresh air, lightened moods, and sense of new beginnings that come with spring. So it seems appropriate, then, that my latest article for the Norwegian American Weekly features an original recipe for Composed Salad of Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Mâche, Egg, and Asparagus.

This salad makes me think of a Norwegian variation on the salade Niçoise, which I love so much. Just as with that French favorite, this salad is fresh and light yet contains enough protein to make it a meal. Just butter a slice of bread and pour a sparkling beverage, and you’ll be set. Or, better, yet, pack it up and make it part of a Syttende Mai picnic if you live in a city that has a parade. Click here for the recipe, and enjoy!

Composed Salad with Smoked Salmon and Cucumber

In the Norwegian American Weekly: Golden Beet, Geitost, and Watercress Salad

Goat Cheese, Beet, and Watercress Salad

It’s a wonder to me that North America hasn’t caught on yet to the wonders of Scandinavian cuisine. With smoked or cured salmons, caramel-like brown cheese, sweet-tart lingonberry preserves, and bountiful berries and fresh herbs, the foods of the Nordic countries are just as enticing as those of the Mediterranean, Asia, and other beloved cuisines of the world. As the writer of a Scandinavian food blog, I take it upon myself regularly to highlight what I love about these foods–sometimes in traditional preparations and othertimes in unconventional ones. My latest article in the Norwegian American Weekly features my original recipe for Golden Beet and Geitost Stacks (stay tuned for the link to the recipe if you don’t get the hard copy). This beautiful salad pairs the creamy sweet flavor of Norwegian geitost with the delicate earthy taste of golden beets. These stacks–to be served one per person–are set atop a bed of peppery watercress dressed in walnut oil and white balsamic vinegar, a simple dressing that complements the the flavors perfectly. I hope you enjoy this salad as much as I do!

Update: The story and recipe are now available online. Check them out!

Beets and Watercress

Goat Cheese and Beet Salad

 

 

In the Norwegian American Weekly: A Norwegian-Built Kale Salad

Kale Salad with Lemon, Almonds, and Nordic Cheese

If you’ve been reading this blog over the past months, you probably know that I write for the Norwegian American Weekly. As a contributing editor, I regularly submit articles that often include an original or family recipe. For my latest article, out today, I revisited my Raw Kale Salad with Almonds, Lemon, and Nordic Cheese, which I created for Outside Oslo this past Christmas season. Head on over to the Norwegian American Weekly’s website to read the article!

Lemon Half

Kale and Almonds

Kale in Colander

Kale Salad Ingredients

 

Kale Salad

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