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.

Swedish Sailor’s Stew (Sjömansbiff)

Sjomansbiff

If I could live in the pages of a Scandinavian cookbook, I might. Photographs of snow-kissed mountains and reflective fjords as dark as their chilly depths draw me in, and the food beckons as invitingly as the dinner bell my grandmother would ring when it was time to come to the table.

Some people daydream of sundrenched beaches while others find beauty in the mørketid. I’ve yet to experience a time and place in which the sun never or barely rises above the horizon, but it’s in my family’s blood. Scandinavians celebrate the darkness and embrace the cold. These inevitable parts of the season are merely what support the cozy atmosphere and active lifestyle they crave. (Think cozy, candlelit evenings and brisk jaunts on skis.)

The recipe I’m sharing with you today would warm one up even on the coldest of days. Called sjömansbiff, or seaman’s/sailor’s beef stew, it’s the sort of fare that I can imagine sustaining and nourishing countless Nordic sailors through grueling days battered by frozen winds.

Sjomansbiff

Sjomansbiff

The dish is the sort that fills you up and leaves you extremely satisfied. I haven’t seen as much of this dish as I’d expect (I first learned about a version of it in Trine Hahnemann’s The Scandinavian Cookbook from 2008 but have mostly seen it in the older, more traditional cookbooks I’ve collected; The Art of Scandinavian Cooking by Nika Standen Hazelton, from 1965, calls it a popular Scandinavian dish that is great for informal buffet entertaining). Sjömansbiff is a hearty Swedish stew made with beef, onions, and potatoes that have nearly melted into themselves. Served with some punchy condiments like pickled beets and whole-grain mustard, it’s a great mix of flavors and colors, and perfect for winter.

This is the sort of meal that complements the stunning landscapes and dramatic skies that illustrate some of the most authentic Nordic cookbooks. I think it’s time for it to have a comeback.

Sjomansbiff

Sjömansbiff
Some of the older or perhaps most traditional of the recipes I’ve encountered call for thin slices of beef, maybe pounded flat. I’ve taken cues from more modern recipes and used cubes of meat instead. Even with the traditional layered assembly, this approach is a bit more approachable while preserving the integrity of this very classic Scandinavian dish. This recipe comes from no single source, but rather embraces elements from The Art of Scandinavian Cooking by Nika Hazelton (republished in the 1980s as Classic Scandinavian Cooking); The Scandinavian Cookbook by Anna Mosesson, Janet Laurence, and Judith Dern; The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trine Hahnemann; and this recipe from The Boston Globe.

3 pounds chuck or round beef roast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
3 large thinly sliced onions
6 bay leaves
12 ounces ale (a Belgian-style beer is good here)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 sprigs thyme
Pickled beets, for serving (I have a recipe, if you need one)
Whole-grain mustard, for serving

Cut beef into 1- or 1 1/2-inch pieces. Toss with salt, pepper, and flour. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef, working in batches in order to not overcrowd them, and brown until they’re deeply golden, a few minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Using the same pan, lower heat to medium and cook the onions with the bay leaves until golden and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up the brown bits as you go. Reglaze with the beer and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 2 1/2-quart casserole with lid (cast-iron works great here). Layer a third of the potatoes on the bottom, followed by half of the meat and half of the onions (separated from the beer with a slotted spoon), another third of the potatoes, the remaining meat, onions, and finally the rest of the potatoes. Nestle 3 sprigs thyme throughout.

Pour the reserved beer over the layers. Cover and place in the oven until the meat and vegetables are cooked and tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, giving it a gentle stir from time to time. (They should almost melt into themselves when you take a bite.)

Serve with pickled beets and whole-grain mustard, removing the thyme sprigs. Scandinavian cucumber salad and knäckebröd/knekkebrød would be very typical and pleasing accompaniments.

Serves 6-8.

Biff à la Lindström

Biff Lindström

It occurred to me the other day as I set to work in the kitchen making an early dinner that the days are getting longer. Though afternoon, it was still light enough to snap some photos of the food, with hopes that the biff à la Lindström (piquant little Swedish meat patties) I was making for my family might be as appetizing to you as they were to me.

Some days it feels like we’re trudging on through the grey days and the dampness that forces its way through our clothes and skin down to the bones. While the darkness and the cold are nothing like the polar nights that my friend Dianna who lives in Tromsø has been experiencing, and while I do in fact love the winter and the coziness that it inspires, it can take some effort to break out of the weather-inspired lull and celebrate the season’s merits instead.

I read a recent story about how people in northern Norway cope with the darkness of winter. While sunlight is important for one’s physical and mental health, there are months in which the sun never rises above the horizon there—and yet people thrive. A Stanford University PhD student on a Fulbright scholarship in Tromsø discovered that seasonal depression wasn’t as common as one might expect. She found that people there celebrate the winter. They find ways to enjoy it, such as skiing. They take in the physical beauty around them, and they embrace all those wonderfully cozy elements of winter, such as curling up with a fuzzy blanket and filling the house with the warm glow of candlelight. The takeaway from the story was that shifting the way we think about winter might really help.

I’ve been trying to do that, from leaving a bunch of candles scattered throughout the house after Christmas to frequently baking treats like cardamom boller that fill my home with the warm, cozy aromas of yeast and spice (being a food writer engaged in frequent recipe testing helps with this). Soon enough spring will arrive and we’ll stash away our cold-weather gear until the next winter. We’ll miss the fireplace and the comforting feeling of knits and wool grazing against our necks and skin. It’s going to come soon—sooner perhaps than I would like—as evidenced by the lighter afternoons. Thankfully I have these little meat patties to help remind me to embrace it while it’s here.

Biff Lindström

People in Scandinavia have been enjoying biff à la Lindström for potentially over 150 years, making it a true classic. There are a couple of stories about its origins, one being that Captain Henrik Lindstrom allegedly brought the dish from Russia to Sweden in May 1862 when he introduced it at Hotel Witt in Kalmar. Another story involves Norwegian chef and polar expeditioner Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, who was involved in three famous Norwegian polar expeditions.

Whoever said that Scandinavian food is bland must not be acquainted with biff à la Lindström. The distinctive flavors are pickled beets and capers, which are bold and present enough to be interesting but without overpowering the overall meal. It’s commonly eaten for lunch; Danish chef Trine Hahnemann, author of The Scandinavian Cookbook, writes that these piquant little meat patties—which are sometimes topped with a fried egg—are also great as a hangover cure.

As with any classic recipe, variations for biff à la Lindström abound. It’s often made with mashed potatoes, though cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas swaps breadcrumbs for the potatoes in Scandinavian Feasts, and Hahnemann doesn’t use either. Recipes sometimes include a liquid of some kind—heavy cream, or perhaps even the liquid from pickled beets—but this recipe shouldn’t need it. I researched a number of recipes to come to this one, and I trust you’ll be pleased with the results. It’s delicious alongside a simple green salad, or perhaps some new potatoes that have been boiled, smashed, and then roasted with olive oil and salt.

I managed to whip these up for an early dinner yesterday before the sun had even begun to set. The patties came together quickly, a combination of little more than lean ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, capers, and pickled beets, leaving me plenty of afternoon light. We’re still in the heart of winter, but spring will be coming soon. It’s the perfect balance–enough time to savor the season while looking forward to the next one.

Biff Lindström

Biff à la Lindström

1 pound lean ground beef
½ medium onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 extra-large egg
½ cup chopped pickled beets, plus more for garnish (try mine, if you’d like)
2 Tablespoons capers, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of freshly-ground black pepper
1-2 Tablespoons butter
Whole grain mustard, for serving (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, stir together beef, onion, and bread crumbs (I used my stand mixer for quick, thorough, yet minimal mixing). Add the egg, picked beets, capers, and Worcestershire, along with salt and pepper, and mix to combine well.

Using your hands, shape the meat into 8 patties, creating a little indentation in the middle of each one with your thumb to help cook them evenly.

In a large skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Add the patties, in two batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, and cook, flipping once, until each side is a rich golden brown and the center is cooked as you’d like.

Garnish with additional pickled beets and a spoonful of mustard on the side for serving, if you’d like. Serve alongside small boiled potatoes and something green—a salad of baby arugula, simply dressed, is nice.

Serves 4.

Starting Again, with Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled BeetsTime goes quickly here, sometimes too quickly. I know it’s something we all experience, the subject of small talk and of catching up with old acquaintances at big events, but it’s true. The time really does fly. As I sit here at my desk on this 14th of January, the sun forces its way through the shades, reminding me that it’s a new year, that winter will soon give way to spring, that though the calendar might point to a season of stillness, new life–from the maple trees outside my home to the bulbs nestled in soil–is getting ready to burst forth in full bloom. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-January, that I have been sick–cold after cold and now bronchitis–for over a month. Has it really been almost a year since Grandma suffered her strokes? Almost a year since I drove my toddler son to the hospital to visit his great-grandma one blindingly sunny winter day after another? Soon it will have been a year since we gathered at the rehabilitation center for the makeshift 95th birthday party my dear Grandma couldn’t even comprehend.

I’ve shied away from this space lately for a variety of reasons: a sense of perfectionism that’s creeping in due to my other forms of writing; being uninspired by the formula that food blogs are falling prey to, getting duller and duller even as their photos and graphics get shinier and shinier (tell me, please, that you know what I mean?); and being in a season of life that I want to write about but find too personal to approach quite yet in such an informal place as a blog.

But I miss it, too, miss the way it feels to have a place to write quickly and without the gloss of perfection that some other forms of writing require. While there’s a permanence to blogs–content lives out there unless deleted–one post is replaced by another and then another in a fleeting way, almost like a journal entry that gets buried deeper and deeper into a collection of notebooks that the keeper fills and collects just in case there might be a time, somewhere down the road, when she might want to remember.

For a long time I’ve wrestled with the purpose of this blog. Sure, it’s a Nordic food blog, and its food sticks to that theme for the most part. But who is it for? Am I trying to create content for the reader? Or for myself? Maybe it’s just weariness from a seemingly-endless illness talking (right now my ribcage hurts each time I take a deep breath or dare to cough), but I think I want to care less and write more. There was a time when I didn’t believe in writer’s block. I was a journalist, writing story after story, day after day, focusing my brain on the words at hand even as scanners scratched and top-of-the-hour headlines blared on the competing networks. Deadlines didn’t wait for inspiration. Writer’s block was a luxury I couldn’t afford. These days–though I’m beginning to step up my freelance writing and other projects again–I have more of that luxury. And I’m afraid I’m giving in to it too often. Oh, I don’t feel like writing today. I can wait until tomorrow. Or this one (if you’re a writer, too, I’m sure you know it too): I should clear my desk. Or better yet embark on a massive organizing spree before I start writing! Yeah, the writing life can be full of excuses.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions or strict goal-setting. I find those too restrictive. But I do like to have intentions and a system to make them happen. So I’m not promising to blog here on any sort of predictable schedule. But I do want to do it more frequently. There will be recipes, sure, because that’s what a food blog is all about. But I’m going to care less about the format, the glossy veneer, the oneupmanship that’s so common, and care more about the practice, the experience of getting those words to flow more freely, and getting comfortable again with sharing those words online rather than obsessively editing myself.

And so I’m starting again today, with pickled beets.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

Scandinavian Pickled Beets with Star Anise
After baking a bunch of cookies (krumkaker, pepperkaker, sirupsnipper and more) while at home, sick, over the Christmas season, it seems appropriate to trade sweet for savory today on the blog. Pickled beets are a classic Scandinavian condiment, something to serve with everything from the Swedish hash pytt i panna to sjömans biff, or sailor’s beef stew. Though coming from no single source, this recipe takes cues from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trine Hahnemann, a 1964 recipe found on Epicurious.com, and An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler; the addition of star anise comes from Hahnemann, a Danish chef.

3-4 medium beets
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons pepper
1 star anise

To cook the beets, I like to use Tamar Adler’s method from An Everlasting Meal: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the beets snugly in a shallow pan, she instructs, then with the water running and the pan tipped to the side, wash the beets under its stream, leaving a little of the water pooled in the pan once it runs clear. Cover the pan tightly with foil, then roast until the beets are cooked through, about 40 minutes for medium-sized beets. Adler’s method steams the beets and allows the skins to be easily rubbed off once the beets are cooled. After rubbing off the skins, cut the beets into quarter-inch slices and place in a shallow, heat-safe dish.

Place vinegar in a medium-sized pot along with sugar, salt, pepper, and star anise. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the beets. Let cool, the refrigerate overnight before serving.

For the sake of transparency I should let you know that I’ve received review copies of some of Hahnemann’s books. I love them, regardless, and they hold prime spots in my Nordic cookbook collection.

Scandinavian Pickled Beets

Bringing Back the Casserole with Jansson’s Temptation

Jansson's Temptation

There was a time when my ideal evening at home would involve cuddling up with a pillow by the weathered-brick fireplace in our old house, my hardcover edition of Les Misérables or trade copy of Out Stealing Horses in hand. My husband would sit nearby on the sofa having a little quiet time of his own, and we would share the evening in good company, each immersed in our own little world of fiction and stories. I might sip on an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan as I turned page after page, and Max the cat would inevitably make himself known.

Months and years go by and routines and rhythms change. These days my husband and I still enjoy those quiet moments together whenever possible, often stealing the time from precious sleep. But rather than becoming engrossed in a book, I often now sit side by side with him–surrounded by books and bags and sweaters and toys–with a laptop, catching up on the day’s correspondence and planning my week, sometimes multitasking while we watch a show we’re following. Reading happens in found moments throughout the day rather than in luxurious hours-long evening sessions.

For someone like me who has historically devoured books like cookies, I seem to have taken a bit of a reading hiatus these past couple of years. It’s not that I haven’t read; rather, my attention turned from classic literature to informative guides on timely topics, including pregnancy, parenting, writing, and travel.

I’m excited to say that a new routine has begun this year, thanks to some great friends who enthusiastically backed my crazy little idea to start a “foodie lit” book club. We’re two meetings in, and I can already sense a great group forming. As friends arrived one by one last night, new connections formed and people whom I know from different parts of life came together and met. The ice breaker of the evening–having everyone bring a food that told a little about who they are or where they came from–would have been adequate to get people talking, but it turns out that they didn’t need my help at all. As we dined on Meagan’s Swedish meatballs, Julie’s fennel and apple salad, my Jansson’s Temptation and Christy’s salted chocolate chip cookies, we kept realizing that the topic of the evening–the books we had read–was taking a backseat to all the wonderful conversation. Success? I think so.

Jansson's Temptation

I’ve been curious about making Jansson’s Temptation for quite a while, and with adventurous cooks such as my friends, I knew my company would appreciate the culinary exploration. Jansson’s Temptation–or Janssons frestelse–is basically a traditional Swedish version of scalloped potatoes with the addition of Swedish Abba “anchovies,” or sprats. (The tiny fish are soft and somewhat sweet, and nothing like the anchovies you’re undoubtedly thinking about right now.)

So, the verdict? Make this dish as part of a smörgåsbord on a chilly winter evening when you have a lot of company (there’s a reason it’s often served for Christmas). The cream and the anchovies–not to mention the potato-based nature of the dish–make it a hearty and rich meal that probably ranks among the top Scandinavian comfort foods. I did, you’ll notice, add sliced mushrooms to the recipe below, which are not at all traditional. I couldn’t help thinking while shopping for ingredients that the recipe needed a little toothsome quality from mushrooms, and my guests concurred, calling the addition a must. There are a few couple of things I would do differently next time: slice the potatoes more thinly using a mandolin, experiment with other kinds of potatoes, increase the quantity of fish, and possibly add a little chopped parsley or dill–for garnish if nothing else. Aside from that, this recipe is a keeper.

Janssons Frestelse or Jansson’s Temptation (Swedish Anchovy and Potato Gratin)
Adapted from Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking…Scandilicious by Signe Johansen

2 large onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 100g tin Abba anchovies (or two tins if you like a more pronounced flavor), anchovies drained and cut in half
4 large potatoes
8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
3/4 cup sour cream or crème fraîche
3/4 cup whipping cream
Approximately 1/2 cup crushed melba toasts (plain)
2 tablespoons butter for topping

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter a shallow 2 liter pan.

Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan and add the onions, stirring occasionally over medium heat until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, get to work peeling the potatoes and cutting them into 1/5-inch slices (or thinner).

Layer the ingredients as follows:

  • Place a third of the potato slices in the bottom of the dish.
  • Top with half of the anchovies.
  • Evenly cover with a quarter of the onions.
  • Lay half the mushrooms over the onions.
  • Spread half of the remaining potatoes on top.
  • Scatter the remaining anchovies over the potatoes.
  • Spread the remaining mushrooms over the anchovies.
  • Add another quarter of the onions.
  • Arrange the final layer of potatoes.

Put the remaining onions in a small saucepan and add sour cream, whipping cream, and some salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat until it it just barely begins to simmer, then pour the mixture over the final layer of potatoes. Scatter the crumbs evening over the top, and dot with butter cut into pieces.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the topping is golden brown and the potatoes are cooked through.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...