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From the Heart of Northern Europe

Posted Aug 24 2008 1:34pm

S ince times of old, chefs were fashioned out of family, traditions, and beliefs. Each generation passed on a family secret recipe that was probably not so special to an outsider as opposite to your great-grandmother. It was she who added that specific spice or prepared a dish a certain way that made it so very unique and personal. Everyone can recall one recipe as such; I know I can. Unfortunately, I’m only familiar with one side of my roots.

I’m Italian-Scandinavian. I live with my mother’s mother, the Italian half, and have been raised by her and my grandfather ever since I was little due to misfortunate circumstances. I never met my father face to face and recently just discovered the missing pieces of my past. My father was adopted but his real biological father hailed from Scandinavia and was, ironically, a cook; my adoptive grandfather was a doctor. For the longest while I was rather disappointed knowing that I was half a nationality that I didn’t know existed. Well, I knew it was there, just never gave it a second thought. Yeah, Denmark, Finland - woo? Little did I know that there’s more than meets the eye.

So, exactly what/where is Scandinavia? The Scandinavian Peninsula lies within the northern part of Europe and is, as partly previously stated, made up of the kingdoms of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway. Finland and Iceland aren’t “technically” part of Scandinavia but seeing as how tiny they are, why leave them out? They border Denmark anyway. Historically, the Nordic countries were most identified in the Napoleonic wars when the Swedish King wanted to unify Denmark, Norway and Sweden but this was frowned upon. In short, after the wars everyone became friends but this leads to a cultural confusion. Being so similar in styles of living, each country’s traditions are thought to be another’s or are shared by all. Cuisine is one of those misjudgments.

So, what’s there to eat? The food of these lands are common with meals from Germany and Russia. A staple starch is the potato in every form and other root vegetables; the main protein sources are fish, pork, livers, and the occasional wild game such as bear, deer, etc. Dairy reveals itself in the form of strong cheeses specialized in each country, crème fraiche, and cream. Fruit seems to be mainly apples, stone fruit, and berries. In general, all Nordic countries rely on what’s readily available but each country has their specialties.

Sweden is popular for its meatballs (duh), pancakes, and of course the smorgasbord. What is a smorgasbord? Meals served ala buffet style of course. Yes, the Swedes are founders of the smorgasbord. Traditionally foods served at a buffet in Sweden are both hot and cold dishes, ranging from either simple lunch items to vast elaborate dinner dishes. For a very in-depth education on the smorgasbord, etiquette of, and how to prepare one, go here .

The cuisine in Denmark is highly influenced by France and Germany. They, too, have something similar to the “smorgasbord” called Det Kolde Bord which is usually served at lunch time either family style or as a typical buffet. Norway deals with a lot of smoked fish, gravlaks - smoked salmon - being a popular one.

The purpose of salmon is not just to be smoked but is used exclusively in Scandinavian cuisine as seen below in my recipe; however, I have yet to dive deep in the heart of the Nordic lands and savor the authentic flavors of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The best has yet to come! Especially since I ordered a 200 recipe Scandinavian cookbook..hehehe.

Salt Baked Salmon with horseradish dill sauce, Mashed Rutabaga, and Sautéed Spiced Cabbaged

The Salmon

4 oz salmon fillet with skin on

Coarse sea salt

Spray a pan with nonstick cooking spray and place the salmon skin side down. Liberally salt the top of the salmon and cook on high for 10 to 12 minutes or longer if you prefer the salmon less raw. Salmon, to me, is one of those fish best in sushi along side tuna so I don’t mind eating it near raw.

The Rutabaga

8 oz rutabaga, peeled and cubed

1 ½ tsp honey

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp margarine

Salt & pepper to taste

Place the rutabaga in a pot and with enough water to cover the chunks. Boil for 20 to 25 minutes or until soft. Add the remainder ingredients and mash well.

The Cabbage

½ small head of cabbage, red or green, sliced very thin

1 shallot, sliced thin

1 ½ tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp pure unsweetened cranberry juice


Caraway seeds



Spray a pan with nonstick cooking spray and sauté the onions until just soft. add the Cabbage with a little water in the pan then cover and cook on medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Once the cabbage becomes tender, add the remaining ingredients and sauté until the cabbage becomes caramelized.

Quick Horseradish Dill Sauce

1 ½ tbsp horseradish

2 tbsp sour cream

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp dill

Combine all ingredients and set in the fridge for a few minutes to collect.

Welcome to Scandinavia.


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