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Dill; A Taste of Norway

What would Norwegian food be without dill? The mere smell of dill sends me right back to the kitchen and garden of my home in Sykkylven, in north western Norway. There is something so pure, vibrant and satisfying about this fresh herb, I suppose one has to be Scandinavian to truly appreciate all of its glory, as the flavors and aroma of this wonderful herb does not just remind me of food and my mother’s kitchen, but of life in the fjords.

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Dill is used frequently in cooking in northern, central and eastern Europe, but less so in southern Europe.  Dill originated in Central Asia, and its name stems from the English word “dile”, which again has its roots from the norse word “dilla” or “dylle”, which means to calm down. Tea made from dill, for example, has a calming effect, and has been used to battle insomnia, and the oil from the dill seeds calms and stabilizes the stomach. Dill has been used as food, medicine and a sorcery herb since the old times. During the middle Ages, people thought dill had magical effects, and was used in love potions and as an aphrodisiac.  During weddings, the bride was to put dill seeds in her shoes, and the groom carry them in his pocket, as this would then lead to a happy wedding. Dill would also be used to help ease the pain of contractions during child birth and combat colic. Pretty powerful and diverse herb, right?!

Below is a photo of some beautiful crown dill (my favorite)  – great for decorating dishes!

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Whether dill is used to pickle cucumbers or beets, added to sauerkraut, aquavit or added to cheese, it adds a distinct taste to dishes that can only be from the Nordic countries.

Here’s an example of a super simple dish using dill; crushed potatoes with lemon and dill and lots of cracked pepper (image from bama.no):

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Dill is of course the star player in dishes such as cold poached salmon, herring, gravlax and mustard sauce, in salad, potato dishes, dressings, breads and with shellfish, but since I have chosen to live plant based I wanted to showcase a dish without animal products.  I was inspired to make a recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ book “Isa Does It” where dill is the star. Isa is a brilliant vegan chef and her recipes are some of the best I’ve ever tested, plant based/vegan or not, and highly recommend checking out her work!

This is an incredibly flavorful stew with a roux base (flour and olive oil cooked with vegetable broth to make a thick, creamy sauce), with lovely rosemary dumplings cooked with white beans, potatoes (another Norwegian staple), carrots and onions.  While not necessarily 100% Norwegian (this might remind you of a plant based version of chicken and dumplings!)  you will certainly be reminded of my country’s flavor profile when biting into these delightful dumplings and sipping on the wonderful, dill flavored sauce.  This was yet another hit in my house with my meat eating family members! Hearty, yet not so rich you feel like taking a nap afterwards! :)

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DILL FLAVORED STEW WITH ROSEMARY DUMPLINGS

adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’ “Isa Does It” cookbook

For the stew:

3 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 medium sweet Vidalia onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 tsp kosher salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups vegetable broth, at room temperature

2 ribs celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch chunks

1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch half moons

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (or more!)

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

generous pinch of ground black pepper

1 x 15 oz can navy beans, rinsed and drained (About 1 1/2 cups)

For the Dumplings:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp fresh or dried rosemary, finely chopped

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other non dairy milk of your choice)

2 tbsp olive oil

Prepare the Stew:

First make the low-fat roux. Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium- low heat. Add the oil and sprinkle in the flour. Use a slanted wooden spatula to stir consistently for about 3 minutes, until flour is clumpy and toasty.

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Add the onion and salt, and toss to coat the onions completely in the flour mixture. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 more seconds.

Stream in the broth slowly, whisking constantly to prevent clumping. Add the celery, potatoes, carrots, dill, thyme, paprika and black pepper, then turn the heat up and cover to bring to a boil. Stir often so it doesn’t clump or boil over.

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Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and let cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the stew is nicely thickened and the potatoes and carrots are tender. In the meantime, prepare the dumplings.

Prepare the Dumplings:

Sift the flour, baking powder, and slat together in a large bowl. Mix in the rosemary. Make a well in the center and add the milk and olive oil. Use a wooden spoon to mix together until a wet dough forms.

When the stew is ready, mix in the beans and plop spoonfuls of dough right on top of the stew. You should get about 14 dumplings.

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Cover the pot tightly and cook for about 14 more minutes. The dumplings should be nice and firm. Use your ladle to dunk them into the stew to coat them.

Ladle the stew into bowls, and top with the dumplings. Garnish with additional dill and serve.

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Dillstew1 Dillstew2

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Meatless Norwegian Meatballs

I often get asked by people how I manage to write about Norwegian food now that I’ve gone vegan. After all, 90% of the classic dishes contain some type of animal product, whether it be meat, fish, eggs or dairy.  The beautiful thing is that it is quite possible to recreate almost any dish using plant based foods.  Being relatively new to the vegan world, I am amazed every day at the creativity of my plant loving fellow chefs and recipe developers out there. There are plenty of fabulous Norwegian plant based cooks and food writers, one of them is Jane, author and creator of the site veganmisjonen.com.  She is known throughout the Norwegian vegetarian community for coming up with the fabulous “vegisterkaker”, a riff off the classic “medisterkaker”, pork meat patties that are served with the traditional Norwegian Christmas dish, “ribber, or pinnekjøtt (more meat in the form of mutton…).  Now I love little piglets too much to make these anymore, but I can tell you that Jane’s vegisterkaker are amazingly tasty and will be part of my yearly holiday meal going forward. She inspired me to come up with a recipe for Norwegian “kjøttkaker”, or meatballs.  Many people are forced to watch their red meat intake these days due to deteriorating health, so even though you may not be vegan, want to avoid having too much of this in your diet. Red meat is packed with saturated fat, and can cause clogging of arteries, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, not to mention the environmental impact of raising meat; to produce a four-ounce (quarter pound) hamburger, for example, requires 7 pounds of grain and forage, 53 gallons of drinking water and irrigating feed crops, 75 square feet for grazing and growing feed crops, and 1,036 BTUs for feed production and transport—enough to power a microwave for 18 minutes. Something to think about!

Yes, an oxymoron, you might say – why call them “meatballs” if they do not contain meat at all? To me, these look exactly like the meatballs I made when I used to eat meat, and dare I say- taste even better. Made with cooked lentils, brown jasmine rice, some ground up oats and chopped parsley with lots of warming spices; these made my big meat eating husband squeal in delight. (He even had the leftovers the following night!). He first started whining when I suggested I make them, expressing “I want REAL meatballs!”, then after he tasted these, he quickly quieted down, and scraped his bowl clean. Mission accomplished!!  I serve my “meatballs” with mashed potatoes, mashed peas and lingonberry sauce. I no longer miss my mom’s meatballs, that’s how good these are! Try them out and let me know what you think!

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NORWEGIAN MEATLESS MEATBALLS

Makes about 14-6 meatballs

1 Vidalia (sweet onion), chopped and sauteed (I like to caramelize them for additional flavor)

2 cups cooked brown basmati rice

1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils

3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats, coarsely ground in blender/food processor

1/4 cup all purpose flour (or use gluten free flour if you want to keep recipe gluten free)

1-2 tbsp olive oil (use about 1/3 cup vegetable stock if you want to avoid oil)3

3 tbsp tamari

1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup nutritional yeast (this adds a rich, cheesy flavor and contains B12 vitamins)

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp-1tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for sauteeing

Directions:

Cook the lentils and rice according to the package directions, let cool. Place them in the bowl with the ground oats.

In a medium or large saute pan, saute the onion until caramelized. Add the onions to the lentil mixture and add all other ingredients.  Combine with a spoon and stir until the mixture is thick and sticking together, about 2-3 minutes.  Using a spoon form the meatballs into sizes of a golf ball and place on a tray. I like to flatten them a bit to ensure they cook evenly and don’t burn on the outside and cook all the way through in the middle.

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Prepare a saute pan over medium heat with a touch of olive oil. I like to test a small piece of the mixture first to see if it needs additional seasoning.  Saute the meatballs in batches of 5 or so, and place on a tray while you prepare the gravy.

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Flavorful Gravy

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp vegan butter

2-3 cups vegetable stock

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

touch of nutmeg

1-2 tbsp lingonberry relish

1-2 tbsp fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and/or oregano, chopped

1/2 cup almond or other plant based milk

In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, until the roux browns a bit and the flour is all cooked out. Slowly start adding in the vegetable stock, constantly whisking. Add enough vegetable stock until you have the consistency you want.  Add in the nutritional yeast, spices, fresh herbs and lingonberry relish, finish with the almond (or other plant based) milk, whisk again, season with salt and pepper to taste.

ERTESTUING  (Mashed Peas)

This popular, ultra Norwegian side dish is versatile and can be used as a companion to many meals.  Most commonly known as the side kick to the famous (dreaded?) “lutefisk”, I certainly prefer it with my kjøttkaker. Simple, but satisfying – just remember to season well – nobody wants bland peas!!

Recipe:

2 cups green peas (frozen is ok, just thaw them first)

1 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp flour

1 tsp sugar

salt, pepper

about 1/2 cup of plant based milk (almond, cashew, soy)

If using fresh peas, soak them overnight. Cook them according to the package in lots of salted water, about 1 – 1 ½ hour.  Drain. (otherwise if using frozen peas, all you need to do is thaw them ).  Melt the butter in a sauce pan, whisk in the flour. Add in a splash of plant baed milk and whisk until smooth. Fold in the peas and let them simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

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Sweet and Fluffy Norwegian Wheat Buns

With Fat Tuesday and “fastelavn” just behind us, I am still thinking about how easy and tasty Norwegian “hveteboller” are. There is something special about Norwegian and Scandinavian baked goods. It’s never over the top, the pastries are rather rustic, and done just right, enough to make my mouth salivate by just looking at the many selections.  While the French might take the crown for their baguettes, pain poulaine, croissants, eclairs, macaroons and other fabulous pastries, Scandinavians are not far behind when it comes to mastering this craft.

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Growing up in Norway, I delighted in buying one of these sweet and fluffy wheat buns at my local bakery after school or on a Saturday afternoon when out shopping with my mom, it was always such a treat.  I would eat them plain, just as they were on the shelf, no need for any topping or spread, as they are naturally incredibly tasty, with just a hint of cardamom and a sweetness from the sugar (and sometimes vanilla sugar) in the batter.  Why the cardamom in Norwegian baked goods, many ask? One theory is that the Vikings brought home this spice from Istanbul, Turkey, after being hired soldiers there. While most countries use cardamom in savory dishes, we like to use it in our sweet and baked goods. Cardamom is supposed to be good for digestion, metabolism and balance out your hormonal system. But I digress… (no excuses needed to chow down on these awesome wheat buns!)

While some of the recipes call for regular butter, milk and eggs, you will be astounded to learn none of these ingredients are necessary.  On this snow Sunday afternoon, I decided to make a dairy free and eggless recipe of “hveteboller” for my husband and myself as we are watching “The Shining” .. because, that is just what we felt like doing on this lazy day. And I have to say, the buns came out amazing.  Light, fluffy and so flavorful they almost melt on your tongue, it brought me back to the times as a child when I ran to the bakery with my 5 kroner and bought myself a hvetebolle.  A true treat does not have to be expensive or decadent.  Try these out and let me know what you think…   If you want, you can always cut these in half and fill them with whipped coconut cream and a dollop of jam to make them an extra special affair… at your own risk, because one is never enough!!

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NORWEGIAN “HVETEBOLLER”

Makes about 16 buns

1 stick/8 tbsp vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)

1 1/2 cups almond milk or other plant based milk

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 packet dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp)

1 tsp cardamom

1/2 tsp salt

about 4 cups of all purpose flour

almond milk/other plant based milk for brushing buns

Optional: You can add some raisins to the dough if you’d like (called ‘rosinboller’ in Norwegian)

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Directions:

Preheat oven to 450F. Butter/oil two sheet pans.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pot, then add the milk.  Whisk in the confectioners sugar until smooth and heat until the mixture reaches around 125F. Be careful not to let the liquid get too hot, or you’ll kill the yeast.

Add the yeast, salt and cardamom into the bowl of a standmixer, fit it with a dough hook and gradually add the flour and beat for about 10 minutes on low-medium speed until a firm dough forms. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot for about 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, divide in half and knead each half into two long “sausages”. Using a dough cutter, divide each sausage into 8 equal parts, and roll into a bun. Place the buns onto the greased sheet pans and cover with a towel. Let rise again for about 20 minutes or so.  Brush with almond /plant based milk and bake in oven for 12-15 minutes until the tops are golden brown.  Best when fresh out of the oven!

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Chocolate Cake: A Universal Delight

Norwegians are as passionate about their chocolate cakes as anybody else in the world, so it seems wrong not to include a recipe for one on Arctic Grub.  I have been looking to make the perfect chocolate cake for quite some time now, and I finally have a recipe that I am super excited about!

Chocolate cakes can take many shapes and forms, using lighter chocolate like milk chocolate or dark, poured into baking pans, cake pans, loaf pans or even muffin pans.  Here’s a picture of some classic Norwegian chocolates:

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I prefer using dark chocolate, not just because it is void of any milk products, but because I find the flavor is much richer and deeper, and of course… dark chocolate contains more nutrients and has all the heart-protecting anti-oxidants. Here are some great reasons why you should choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate:

1.  Dark chocolate is brimming with monounsatured fatty acids.

2. It contains half the sugar of milk chocolate and four times the fiber.

3. Iron levels soar in dark chocolate and can help make you strong!

4. It’s got way more magnesium and twice the potassium.

5. Dark chocolate has more theobromin, the bitter alkaloid of cocoa that helps lower blood pressure.

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Now, if I still haven’t convinced you which chocolate is better, all you have to do, is just make this chocolate cake and you will throw your hands up and agree with me! :)

It’s hard to believe this cake does not contain any dairy or eggs. Rich, yet still light and fluffy – it comes together in 6 minutes and you don’t need a bowl to mix the ingredients – you just mix them right in the cake pan! Quick, easy and delicious? Yes, please!   Don’t think the vinegar in the recipe is a mistake, the combination of vinegar and baking soda helps the cake rise.

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For the frosting, use a high quality chocolate like Valhrona or Callebaut.   For a more beautiful presentation and if you have a few more minutes, you can mix the ingredients in a bowl, and line the cake pan with parchment paper, oil the sides and dust with flour. This makes for an easy removal of the cake after it comes out of the oven and a more elegant look for guests.

I made this for my colleagues at work, and the cake was gone in minutes! Enjoy!

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MY FAVORITE, MOST DELICIOUS VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE
Cake Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cold, strong brewed coffee
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Chocolate Glaze
  • ½ pound dark/bittersweet chocolate
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Equipment: 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pan, 2-cup measuring cup, double boiler
  2. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar directly into the cake pan.
  4. In the measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, coffee, and vanilla.
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly.
  6. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool.
  8. To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
  9. Stir the hot water and vanilla into the melted chocolate until smooth.
  10. Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake.
  11. Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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Kålruletter: An Old Norwegian Recipe Gets A Lift

In my constant quest of veganizing the Norwegian cuisine, I’m updating an old, classic Norwegian recipe called “kålruletter” or “kålruller”, which in the traditional way, are Savoy cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and baked in the oven, served with a white, creamy sauce.  My version has cooked rice, lentils, sauteed shallots, garlic and red bell pepper seasoned with freshly ground nutmeg and spiced paprika.  I have to say… my version is a lot more flavorful – of course I’m not biased at all ! I still challenge you to try my version, as I feel it’s packed with deep, layered flavors from all the different ingredients and also incredibly satisfying.

For those hard core old school’ers, you can check out my old post about kålruller here.  Even if you prefer the vegetarian version, you can get some additional information about the dish and its background there.

According to the World Healthiest Foods, cabbage can provide some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you cook it by steaming (as in the first step of this recipe). The fiber-related components in cabbage do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they’ve been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it’s easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels.

Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, and has great anti-oxidant related properties, which is partly responsible for its cancer prevention benefits.

Cabbage has a long history of use both as a food and a medicine. It was developed from wild cabbage, a vegetable that was closer in appearance to collards and kale since it was composed of leaves that did not form a head.

It is thought that wild cabbage was brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers. It was grown in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations that held it in high regard as a general panacea capable of treating a host of health conditions.

While it’s unclear when and where the headed cabbage that we know today was developed, cultivation of cabbage spread across northern Europe into Germany, Poland and Russia, where it became a very popular vegetable in local food cultures. The Italians are credited with developing the Savoy cabbage. (end quote whfoods.com)

If you have not been convinced yet by the amazing health benefits of cabbage (and vegetables in general), then at least try this recipe for its amazing flavor!  The meat will not be missed, I promise! :)


Kålruletter The Healthy Way

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup white rice

1/2 cup green lentils

3-4 shallots, sliced thin

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1 tsp organic vegetable bouillon powder

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

1 head of Savoy cabbage, whole leaves picked apart

1 cup vegetable broth

Directions:

Oil an ovenproof dish that will fit 8 to 10 rolled up cabbage leaves and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 F.

Rinse the rice and the lentils separately. In two different small pots, cook the rice/lentils with 1 1/2 cups of water each for about 15-20 minutes until done.  Set aside.

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Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add shallots, garlic and bell peppers and season with salt. Saute for 5-7 minutes, then add nutmeg and paprika, saute for another 30-40 seconds until fragrant. Add the rolled oats and toasted walnuts, and saute for another minute.

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Add the lentils, rice, and onion mixture in a food processor along with bouillon powder and the 1/3 cup of water and pulse a few times until a rough farce is formed.  Place in a bowl and place in fridge while you prepare the cabbage leaves.

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In a large pot, bring a generous amount of salted water to a bowl, and place the separated cabbage leaves in the water, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, until just starting to soften. Be careful not to overcook, as you want the vibrant color of the cabbage to remain.  Scoop the leaves out of the water and place on clean dish towels so the water dries off.

Place one big spoon of the lentil rice filling into each cabbage leaf, and roll up like a spring roll.

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Place the stuffed roll with the seam down into the prepared ovenproof dish. Fill with the vegetable broth, it should only cover the bottom of the pan.

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Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes, the cabbage rolls should be golden brown on top.

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 cup vegan butter

1//3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

3 cups non dairy milk (I used almond milk)

2 tsp salt

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp agave nectar or maple syrup

Heat the vegan butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until melted. Add the all purpose flour and whisk.  Allow to cook, whisking frequently, for a few minutes until a roux is formed. Make sure it does not darken, as we are making a white, not brown gravy!

  1. Add the non dairy milk, nutritional yeast, salt, Dijon mustard and garlic powder and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes until sauce is nicely thickened to the consistency of cheese sauce.  add the lemon juice and agave nectar and stir. If too thick, add some more non dairy milk.

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Serve the baked kålruletter with the baked potatoes and drizzle over some of the white sauce. Guilt free and super delicious!!

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Norwegian “Pannekaker” Re-invented

It has been nearly two years ago since I posted about Norwegian pancakes on this blog, where I included a traditional recipe which included eggs and milk, you can read that post here. A lot has happened since, the most important thing has been my decision to adopt a plant based diet.  Initially I was slightly worried I was not going to be able to supply true Norwegian recipes, because let’s face it: 95% of all dishes from my country contain one animal ingredient or another…  Diving into test mode a bit further, I was relieved that not only can I make a lot of the old, classic recipes without resorting to butter, milk and eggs, I could recreate them to taste exactly the same way, and sometimes even better!

In place of eggs, I use flaxseed mixed with water, often referred to as “flax eggs”.  It looks something like this and acts like a binder, just like eggs do:

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Here are some of the other ingredients I added into this batter: almond milk, maple syrup, good quality, organic all purpose flour, and the secret ingredient to all the tasty Scandinavian baked goods: vaniljesukker, or vanilla sugar.

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In Norway, pancakes are thinner than American pancakes, and enjoyed for dinner, not breakfast, and typically filled with blueberry jam and accompanied with a savory vegetable soup, such as “beta suppe” (although this often has meat in it) or green or yellow pea soup. The combination of sweet and salty is heavenly,  very filling and most importantly, satisfies all the taste buds.

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This recipe for pannekaker is very versatile and can be used both for savory and sweet pancakes – simply omit the sweetening agent and the cinnamon if you prefer them savory. I personally like a bit of a sweet batter, regardless of what I choose to stuff them with.   These are super soft, juicy and delicious, all without adding eggs or milk!

COMPASSIONATE PANCAKES NORWEGIAN STYLE

makes about 8-10 pancakes

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)

2 tbsp ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water

1 1/4 cup almond milk

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup vegetable oil (rapeseed oil or canola) *or 4 tbsp melted vegan butter, I like Earth Balance

1/4 cup maple syrup

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.  In a smaller bowl combine all the wet ingredients, then gradually add into the dry mixture until well incorporated and the batter is free of lumps.  The batter should be relatively thin in texture.  If too thick, you can add a bit more water/almond milk /plant based milk of your choice.

Let the batter rest for about 10-15 minutes before you begin cooking them.  Add a bit of oil (not too much) or vegan butter to a frying pan and carefully pour in the batter with a ladle.  When the surface starts drying out, flip the pancake and finish cooking on the other side until golden. Repeat.

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Top with blueberry jam, fresh fruit, maple syrup, sauted vegetables or topping of your choice – roll them up into a sausage like concoction and chow!

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Pepperkaker: a staple on Norwegian Christmas tables

Pepperkaker is what the Norwegians lovingly call gingerbread cookies.  These are very common all over the country, not just as cookies served in people’s homes, but they are often seen placed on tables in retail stores, kindergartens, nursery homes and other public buildings as an offering during the Christmas holiday season. They are particularly suited to enjoy with the piping hot mulled wine beverage, “gløgg” –  the spices in both the cookies and the wine are similar, and nothing says “Christmas” quite like this combination.  Families will serve this while decorating the tree, wrapping Christmas presents or just as a snack or treat in the evening time while watching Christmas movies.

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Above image from ikeafamilylivemagazine.com

Tradition in Norway is to make seven different kinds of cookies before Christmas, and pepperkaker is often part of this series. There are strong opinions about which cookies exactly belong in the group of seven, and you are bound to hear as many different answers as there are Norwegians! But the most important thing, is that you select seven cookies that you and your family enjoy eating and perhaps have been part of your family history.  I don’t see how anyone could dislike biting into some pepperkaker, so I always include these in my seven :)  Kids always love to bake these, as they are easy, tasty, come in funny shapes and sizes and are also fun to decorate. For people who are extra motivated and ambitious, gingerbread houses are often made with the same dough recipe and decorated with ‘seigemenn’, an awesome Norwegian candy:

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pepperkakehusImage from pepperkakegalleriet.no

It wasn’t until the 19th century, when the oven became a standard household appliance in Norway, that the true art of cookie baking kicked off.  In the 17th century, no specific cookies were defined as “Christmas cookies” and before that it was unclear which cookies were typically baked during Christmas. What people considered food tradition for this holiday, were also repeated and made for Easter and Pentecost.  The first trace of  the “seven different cookie” phenomenon was traced back about 100 years ago in western Norway, but then for a wedding, not Christmas.  They also included big “lefser” (a very traditional Norwegian soft flatbread made out of flour, milk and cream and spread with butter, vanilla sugar, and sometimes cinnamon), and on top two slices of bread and two types of cakes on top of that again.  They were the kinds of cookies and cakes we no longer regard as very fancy, but the emphasis was on the importance of serving seven different varieties.

pepperkakevisitosloAbove image from visitoslo.com

Along with “kringler“, more sophisticated types of bread and “kavring”  (buns, biscuits or bread that are dried in the oven), the pepperkaker arrived to Norway in the 17th century.  Since most people did not get ovens in their houses until the 18th century, as mentioned above, these cookies usually arrived from bakeries or large farms who were equipped with ovens. The tradition of pepperkaker continued to spread as more and more people started baking themselves when they acquired their own ovens.

So today I continue the tradition of making seven different kinds, and today is pepperkaker!

For best results, it’s preferable you make the dough for the gingerbread cookies the day before you bake them. This allows for all the spices to steep into the mixture, but also for the dough to get firm and cool enough so it is easy to handle.   This recipe is super simple to veganize as it traditionally contains no eggs, and I have just gone ahead and substituted plant based creamer /milk for traditional heavy cream. This way, these cookies, while they might contain their fair share of sugar, are at least low fat! But who’s counting calories this time of year anyway? I hope you like these!!

Awesome Vegan Gingerbread Cookies

Makes about 50 cookies

1/2 cup light corn syrup (or use maple syrup or other liquid sweetener of your choice)

1 cup granulated sugar

150 grams (2/3 cups or 1 stick and 2 tbps) vegan butter

1/2 cup soy milk/creamer, or other plant based milk

3 -4 cups all purpose flour (enough to get a firm, smooth dough)

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tsps ground cardamom

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla sugar

1 tsp baking powder

First Day:

Combine the syrup, sugar and butter in a small saucepan, heat up until sugar is dissolved.   Remove the saucepan from the heat and cool down the mixture.  Whisk in the milk/cream, then gradually add the flour, spices and baking powder and stir until well combined. Cover the dough and place in fridge until the next day.

Second Day:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).

Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Knead the dough and roll out the dough until very thin, about 1/8 inch thick.  Using your favorite cookie cutters, start cutting out cookies and place on the prepared cookie sheets.

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Brush off any extra flour on top of cookies.   Bake for 8-10 minutes; the cookies are supposed to darken, but not become dark brown.

Cool off on a rack. If you want to decorate the cookies, you can mix some confectioners sugar with a few tbsp of water until proper consistency, place in a piping bag and let the artist in you out! Enjoy!

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The Healing Properties of Fermented Foods

I’ve now more than passed the half way mark to completing my education at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and was just recently awarded the title Certified Holistic Health Coach. I am so inspired and motivated learning about all kinds of different dietary theories, but also how what we call “primary foods” (our  personal relationships, career, spirituality and exercise to name a few) make such an impact on our health.  I’m surrounded by a sea of wonderful people who are also in the program and so knowledgeable and resourceful about the world of nutrition, and we all share the same desire: To make the world a healthier place for everyone in a way that inspires and motivates, and not discourages.

As we are encouraged to look back at our childhood and remember what we ate while growing up, I naturally reflect on Norwegian cuisine and what my mom fed me.  Luckily I have a mother who made everything from scratch, and is an incredible cook. There were no pre-packaged, processed items that made it to our table, and the dishes were recreations of what her mother and her grandmother had made, going back over one hundred years. As I’ve grown older, I grew more curious and wanted to research further about dishes that are particularly Norwegian, ans has a long history in my country, hence the creation of this blog.

Fermenting vegetables (and fish) has a long tradition in Norway from the old times when people did not have refrigeration, yet allowed people to store food in a safe and nutritional way.   Cabbage and caraway were popular items to use in this process.  Caraway was planted and harvested in the fields and was a popular item to chew on when people had problems with bloating and gas, for instance.  The combination of cabbage and caraway is popular as a side dish for Christmas (surkål, translated directly as “sour cabbage” because of the vinegar added to this process), but here the cabbage is cooked.  When fermenting cabbage, the cabbage is not cooked but rather macerated with salt to bring out the natural juices in the cabbage. Cabbage consists of a lot of water, as I’m sure you home cooks know; when cooking it on the stove, very little water is needed as the cabbage produces its own water, which is also more nutritious.

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Fermentation of vegetables happens when the natural bacteria in the vegetables break down the components of the vegetables into forms easier to digest and often more nutritious than the raw vegetable itself.

For those who have apprehensions about food safety, fermented vegetables can be safer than raw vegetables, thanks to the ability of lactic acid, which forms during fermentation, to hunt down and kill any harmful bacteria that might be present.

Fermented vegetables are incredibly healthy, and especially good to promote gut health.  To understand why, read on here (or skip to the recipe!):

Your digestive tract is probably the most under appreciated system of your body, often ignored until it screams of discontent loud enough for your to even hear.  Unhappy gut bacteria can even make you fat! Your gut is much more than a food processing tube — it houses about 85 percent of your immune system. When your GI tract is not working well, a wide range of health problems can appear, including allergies and autoimmune diseases. If you suffer from any major illness, you simply will NOT be able to fully recuperate without healing and sealing your gut. Balancing the menagerie of microorganisms that occupy your GI tract is a key part of maintaining your immune health.  More than 100 trillion bacteria live in the human gut.1 In fact, throughout the body, microbes outnumber human cells by about 10-to-1.2. While the thought of playing host to so many microbes can be unsettling, these “gut bugs,” most of which live in the colon, have very important jobs. Friendly bacteria can help protect the body from disease-causing bacteria. They can break down fiber and other undigested carbohydrates to produce substances that provide us with energy. They can even make vitamin K and some B vitamins.

Ninety percent of our cells are nonhuman, microbial cells. Since our diet influences our microbes, it’s true: We really are what we eat.

The good news is that you can cultivate a new microbiota, formerly known as gut flora, in just 24 hours—by changing what you eat. Bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, also known as gut bugs, flourish off of colorful, plant-based foods.

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Healthy gut bugs act like quarterbacks in our intestinal tracts: They call the shots and control the tempo by helping our bodies digest and absorb nutrients, synthesize certain vitamins, and rally against intruders, such as influenza and toxic cancer-forming carcinogens. In addition to boosting our immune system, microbiota sends messages to our brain and helps regulate metabolism.

Over time, microbiota forms colonies to combat obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and even certain forms of cancer.

The bottom line: The more diversity you have in your gut bacteria, the better off you’ll fare in the long run.

Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, contain sulfur-containing metabolites, known as glucosinolates, which are broken down by microbes to release substances that reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach cancer.

(above info taken from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine).

In addition to helping prevent cancer, red cabbage is a great food for the detoxification and elimination of harmful chemicals and hormones found in food, water, and air pollutants. The vegetable’s waste removing abilities are particularly beneficial to the liver, the digestive tract, and the colon.

I could go on in much more detail about this, but have I convinced you to try out fermenting cabbage yet?? :)

Some of you may have heard of kimchi, which is the Korean version of fermented vegetables. You can also ferment beets, carrots, and ginger among other vegetables. You can do the below recipe with regular white cabbage, but I love the color of red cabbage, and in general am a huge fan of colorful foods!

Try this out, it will spritz up and add amazing flavors to your dish. Be kind to your body – because all it wants is to keep you healthy!!

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                                                     Photo Credit: Nadin Martinuzzi/renmat.no

 

FERMENTED RED CABBAGE

2 whole heads of red cabbage

2 tbsps sea salt

1 tbsp whole cloves

1 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp whole peppercorns

1 handful blackcurrants (optional)

Directions:

Clean the cabbage well, and remove the outer leaves and the stalk.  Slice the cabbage into thin strips.

Place the cabbage with the salt in a large bowl and massage the salt into the cabbage until the water starts to release. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Add the mixture to a fermenting pot, or a big mason jar with a wide opening.  Using your fist, keep pushing the cabbage down into the jar until the water reaches above the cabbage.  It is important that the water level rises above the cabbage to complete the fermenting process. If it doesn’t, add some salt water. 

Place a heavy item on top of the cabbage (like a dish with something heavy on top) to keep the cabbage submerged in the liquid.  Place a cloth tightly on top and around the jar to prevent any bugs to get into it. Place on your counter to naturally ferment for about 7-30 days, depending on how acidic you want the mixture.

When your tastebuds have decided the mixture is acidic enough, add it to a clean mason jar and tighten it with a lid and keep in the refrigerator.  If you like a little bit of sweet mixed in with your fermented cabbage, you can add maple syrup or a little bit of red currant jelly for a nice touch. Enjoy – your gut and your body will thank you!!

 

October Means Pumpkin!

After living for more than 20 years in the United States, I have finally learned to appreciate the pumpkin. I love carving them out for Halloween and to see everybody’s decoration with these glorious vegetables around my neighborhood and around the state of New York, but only lately have I really started baking with this delectable orange product.

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I have mentioned in a previous blog post that pumpkin is not a traditional Norwegian food item, hence I suppose we never developed a taste for it in my country until just recently. My mom used to pickle pumpkin to use as a condiment for various dishes , and I always thought it sounded and tasted a bit “exotic”, because none of my friends’ mothers used this. I suspect she picked up the recipe in one of her women’s home magazines she subscribed to in an effort to create something different for dinner for us :)

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Image from frukt.no

With the increasing popularity of Halloween in Norway, around 200,000 pumpkins are produced in Norway today, and there are about 10 serious pumpkin producers in the country.   It is thought that the origins of the pumpkin has its root in North America and arrived to Europe in the 17th century. Archaeological findings show that Native Indians produced pumpkins as long as 5,000 years ago, and there have been findings of seeds from pumpkin like plants in Mexico all the way back to 7,000-5,500 B.C.  There are over 700 different varieties of pumpkins and they range in size from 30 lbs to an astonishing, 1,000 lbs!  Pumpkins can be grown in all climates, expect the Antarctic.  A few fun facts about the pumpkin!

This time of year every fiber of my body just wants to be in the kitchen all day long and bake while watching cheesy horror movies from the 70s on TV (I have a small TV hanging on the wall in my kitchen – this is how Americanized I’ve become) while my puppies are napping in the living room. The warmth of the kitchen mixed with the wonderful smell of cinnamon, pumpkin and chocolate is more than enough to make a Norwegian girl happy!  I’ve selected to share a recipe I whipped up yesterday before heading into work … I shared some with my co-workers, but kept most of them to myself.  After you’ve tried these, you’ll see why! :)

Vegan Pumpkin Spice Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (or you can use vegetable oil)
1 cup packed light brown sugar (you can also use maple syrup here for added flavor)
1 1/2 cups organic canned pumpkin
1 tbsp flax meal mixed with 3 tbsp water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

3. Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the pumpkin, flax seed mixture, and vanilla and mix until combined, about 3 minutes. Slowly add in the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. In a small bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon. Shape dough into rounded tablespoons and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Lightly press down on the cookies with a spatula or the palm of your hand.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for two minutes. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.

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“Eplekake”: Norway’s Answer To American Apple Pie

The fall is the season to celebrate all the amazing Norwegian produce. This time of year, it’s high season for apples, onions, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, parsnips and rutabaga in Norway.   With the cool climate, it is only natural that root vegetables and fruits high in acidity (apples) as well as berries thrive the best. Traditions around these foods are near and dear to my heart, I love nothing more than to recreate them in my home in New York, as it brings me just a little closer to my family at home while I get to enjoy the familiar smells in the kitchen and taste around the table.  I always find it fascinating that these two cultures share similar customs as well, albeit in slightly different ways.

For instance, Thanksgiving is not just an American tradition.  Although Americans celebrate it in November, since 1889, the Norwegian Church has celebrated Thanksgiving in conjunction with the harvest around September or October.  It is customary to bring in corn husks, fruits, vegetables and flowers to the church during service being held at the end of September.

After a long summer, we often feel as if fall hits us fast and hard with its grey, darker and cold days. But the fact is, much like in the U.S., this is one of the most colorful seasons in Norway both when it comes to nature and the variety of produce in season.   As the weather gets colder, it feels more and more appropriate to spend days inside by a warm stove and do some cooking and baking together with family and friends.  When I saw all of these gorgeous apples at the farmer market the other day, I got inspired to bake one of Norway’s most beloved cakes: The apple cake, or “Eplekake” as we fondly call it.

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Did you know that October 17th is Norwegian Apple Day?  Eplekake definitely belongs to fall in Norway.  This flavorful cake is juicy, moist, light and buttery all at the same time, with the crisp acid from the apples and the sweetness from brown sugar and the apricot jam the sliced apples are brushed with.  Not elaborate to make at all, but sure packs a lot of flavor and every home has their own version.

Here are my sliced apples ready to be placed on top of the batter (sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to avoid them from turning brown):

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I’ve made it a dairy and egg free cake, where I replaced the eggs with ground flax seeds mixed with water, and I used vegan butter, although you can also use a good vegetable oil (not olive oil as the flavor is too strong).  A nice touch is the sprinkles of sesame seeds at the bottom of the cake pan for added texture and flavor.

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This is also an extra decadent apple cake as I add in some shredded marzipan. It really adds tremendous flavor and texture (so moist!) – worth every calorie! I usually buy the ready to use package from Odense, but you can also make your own by combining almond paste with confectioner’s sugar and some sugar water or corn syrup.

Here is what the ground flax seeds look like once they’ve swelled up in water. I use 1 tbsp of flax seeds with 3 tbsp of water for every egg. Works fantastic as a binder – just like eggs!

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So simple and quick to make, but will look like you spent hours in the kitchen!

I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I did – apples are abundant right now – this is a fun and delicious way to utilize this seasonal fruit!

NORWEGIAN EPLEKAKE WITH MARZIPAN

Serves 10

1 tbs vegan butter or butter of your choice, melted

1 tbsp sesame seeds

For the batter:

200 grams/7 oz vegan butter, melted and cooled off

150 grams/5 1/4 oz marzipan, roughly grated on a box grater

4 tbsp flax seeds combined with 3/4 cups of room temp water

1 cup light brown sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used spelt flour)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)

4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 cup organic apricot jam

1 tbsp water

50 grams or about 3 tbsp pine nuts (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).

Butter a 10-inch (24 cm) cake pan and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and set aside.

Combine the flax seed with the water in a small bowl and let it swell for about 5 minutes while you measure out the other ingredients and prepare the apples.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and vanilla sugar in a small bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the apricot jam with the water and whisk until smooth, turn off and set aside.

Whisk the flax seed mixture with the brown sugar until well combined.  Add in the melted butter and the grated marzipan (and vanilla extract if using).  Add in the flour mixture and mix until all the flour is integrated. Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Neatly arrange and stick the apple slices into the batter in a circle until the entire surface is covered.  Brush the apple slices with the prepared apricot jam.  If using pine nuts, sprinkle those on top (I omitted these).  Place the cake in the oven on the lowest or second to lowest rack and bake for 50-60 minutes.

Serve the cake warm with vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream or whipped coconut cream. Yum!!

Here is my cake right out of the oven – ready to be devoured!!

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