Råkostsalat; a true Norwegian vegan dish

Having just returned from a week in London, I definitely feel a tad heavier after too much restaurant food and wine.   The Brits sure like their share of booze and heavy food… I do try to eat as healthy as possible while I am on vacation, but I also subscribe to the theory that you should also go for the experience and allow yourself some foods you wouldn’t normally eat.

Today’s recipe then was inspired by me craving a lighter meal and more vegetables. I wanted to create a cold meal because the temperatures have been soaring to 90 degrees here in New York for the past few days, which doesn’t make it very tempting to be standing over the stove.

When I first started veganizing my blog,  I went into a state of panic.  How on earth could I write about Norwegian food if I didn’t include smoked salmon, mutton, eggs, milk and butter?  Thankfully the vegan world has some very creative cooks who have managed to recreate both shrimp, fish, meatballs and cream cakes using plant based foods.

But what about original Norwegian dishes containing only vegetables and fruit?  They certainly are far and few in between but some exist.

Enter “råkostsalat”,  literally translated as “raw food salad”.  This simple dish is often served with ‘fiskekaker’, or fish patties, but is also enjoyed on its own when people want to lose weight or even just find a way to add more vegetables to their diet.   The Danish are also fond of this salad, and you will find even more variations there.

A funny fact about råkostsalat, is that it used to be a classic recipe students would have to learn to make when they entered a school called “husmorsskolen”.   This word translates to “housewife school” but more correctly defined, is a home economic school that was established in the late 19th century and were popular until the 1960s and 1970s.  A type of technical school for the domestic arts, its purpose was to provide specialized instructions in domestic subjects.   They were developed simultaneously with the agricultural schools that popped up around the country and were meant to teach mainly food preparation and housework.

Hence, in order to become a proper “housewife” you had to master making the råkostsalat!   Times sure have changed…

Here is a picture of a husmorskole class around the year 1913:

(photo credit: Romerike.no)

husmorskole

husmorskoledigitalmuseum

(Photo Credit: digitaltmuseum.no)

Råkostsalat is still popular today, and is a perfect food for the summer, because it is, as the name suggest, all raw, so very cooling, refreshing and filling at the same time. Providing lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber,  easy to make with beautiful colors ,  this should be on your repertoire too, whether you are vegan or not!

There are as many recipes for råkostsalat as there are mountaintops, valleys and fields in Norway,  so I encourage you to play around with a variety of vegetables and other ingredients.  We typically use vegetables that are readily available in Norway such as root vegetables and apples, and I find these keep well too.  I use my food processor to shred all the vegetables, but you can also use a box shredder and do it manually if you like additional work 🙂

I like to serve this salad with my vegan crab cakes made from hearts of palm (you will have to stay tuned for that recipe later!), or some beans and whole grains like quinoa or farro.  It can also serve as a healthy snack between lunch and dinner – this dish gives you so much energy and does your body a whole lot of good!

If you feel like whipping up a colorful plate this weekend that is healthy, pretty,  inexpensive and easy to make – this one’s a winner!

RÅKOSTSALAT

2 large carrots, shredded

1 red apple, cored, peeled and shredded

1/2 small red cabbage, shredded or sliced finely
1 small red beet, peeled and shredded
1 small yellow beet, peeled and shredded
1 small rutabaga, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup raisins
juice from 1 lemon
1-2 tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener
handful of fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the shredded vegetables and raisins in a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and maple syrup and pour over the vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper and let sit in fridge for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend together. Serve topped with fresh parsley or other fresh herbs.

 

raakostsalat1

Forget about the prom; here’s how Norwegians celebrate the end of high school

Today’s blog post was inspired by my niece Synne, who is graduating high school this month and is pictured in the feature image (she is the lovely young woman on the very left).  Seeing her photos made me reminisce back to when I was celebrating finishing school in Norway and having fun being a “russ”.    Even though the American tradition of prom has somewhat seeped into the Norwegian culture, it’s the “russ” time that still dominates at home.

If you’ve ever found yourself in Norway around the national Constitution day on May 17th, you may have seen huge parades of people marching on the street.  Intermixed in the crowd, you might spot a number of tired, ragged looking teenagers dressed in red or blue overalls with writings all over them.   Who are these people and why are they dressed like this??

This a phenomena called “russ”,  a nationwide term that describes high school graduate students and has been a country wide celebration for over 100 years.  Historically the word is built on a Danish tradition stemming all the way back to the 18th century where university students called themselves ‘russ’ or ‘rus’.  Back then, Norway didn’t have their own universities, and Norwegian students who were interested in educating themselves further, would have to travel to Denmark.  To be able to begin the studies, one would have to pass an initial exam, called examen artium, and when the exam papers were handed in, students were given a horn to wear on their forehead.  Only when the results of the exam came back and students passed, was the horn removed from their forehead, and they went from “wild animals” to civilized students.  The word “russ” stems from the Latin term “cornua depositurus”, which means to ‘to put away the horns.’

Examen artium was later moved to the high school and the term ‘russ’ followed along with it.

Initially, the russ celebration were for the upper class, elite population and their children only.  In 1905 only 300 students graduated and completed their exams, while today over 40,000 high school students graduate.

Image from wikimedia of the russ celebration in the 1940s:

Russefeiring i Trondheim 17. mai / Avgangselever ved Katedralsko

The russ culture has always been dominated by the idea of breaking with society’s norms and rules.  It’s when young adults get a ‘carte blanche’ in many ways to act out, be a little crazy and do things out of the ordinary.

While the tradition is present both in Denmark and in Sweden, the Norwegian celebration is definitely unique and much grander than in their neighboring countries.

Customarily students dress in red overalls,  make up new names for themselves based on their individual personalities, group together to buy red vans they drive around in during this period,  make their own “business cards” they hand out to younger kids and others,  gather at big events throughout the country, party and stay out late or all night during the entire month of May (and then some),  create and organize a comedic play they act out on stage and invite friends and family to attend, put together a special newspaper with articles and description of each student that will be published and sold on May 17th, come up with special rules and ‘dares’ to accomplish to collect items in the tassels of their hats corresponding with their deeds, and so forth…

Speaking of the latter, a lot of these dares and rules historically involved a lot of alcohol related ‘tasks’, some of which potentially were really dangerous so they have been cracked down on . Other rules have involved illegal actions, hence they have garnered a lot of criticism in the press and among people.   A few examples include:

  • drink 24 bottles of beer in 24 hours (you get a beer cap in your tassle)
  • drink a bottle of wine in 30 minutes (you get a wine cork in your tassle)
  • run naked down the street
  • walk into a store and ask for condoms without speaking
  • stay awake for 24 hours without sleeping
  • go swimming in the ocean before May 1st (you get an ice cream pin)
  • stand up every 5 minutes during class at school and yell “cheers!”
  • walk around for an entire day wearing loaves of bread for shoes
  • sit in class wearing only underwear for an entire hour
  • make out with a freshman in high school
  • spend the night in a teacher’s yard or hallway/entrance

Plus a lot of other rules that may or may not offend the reader… ha!  There is also a group of students who elect to be “kristen russ” (i.e Christian russ), who don’t participate in drinking alcohol or sexual games.  They are often referred to as “krussen”.

Why does alcohol have such a prevalent part of the russ celebration?

During the early 1900s ,the children of the elite would protest against the temperance movement  by drinking publicly during the 17th of May celebration. Even then the russ were obsessed with breaking society’s rules.  Today, alcohol is still an important part of the festivities;  it creates community and fun among students,  and serves as an ‘excuse’ to experiment with your identity, social relations and cultural boundaries.  The act of drinking is also a visible symbol of removing yourself from the label as a child and student to entering adulthood.

The russe period very much signifies the transition from child to adult, much like a confirmation.  The beginning of the celebration begins with a baptism; where each ‘russ’ student is baptized and given a new name, and removes all outer characteristics such as individual clothing and style, and replaces it with the overall and cap.   The students then move into a phase where everything is legal and rules are there to be broken.

Oh, and each year the russ have an official song.  You can listen to this year’s song HERE.

Here is a photo of one of the earliest russe vans:

russebilgammel

(Photo from dagsavisen.no)

And here is how it has evolved, this is from the 1980s:

russebil

Shops and businesses will sponsor the students’ vans if they get their names and details listed on the cars, which is a great way to pay for the van. Today the buses can be a whole lot bigger and more luxurious, here’s a snap of what one may look like inside:

russebilinne

(Photo from midtsiden.no)

So what about the very peculiar clothing?

The russe cap was first introduced in 1905, when red graduation caps were worn by graduates of higher schooling in Kristiania.  The hats were initially only worn by boys, who again were inspired by German students who wore red caps when visiting Norway in 1904.   The overalls and buses/vans didn’t arrive until the 1970s and today are highly influenced by clothing manufacturers and commercial equipment companies.

Why overalls?

It was meant to show solidarity with the workers, symbolic of the radical times in the 70s. The students will wear their overalls and caps every single day for the month of May until graduation, which happens right after May 17th, which officially marks the end of the celebration.

Now doesn’t this sound a whole lot more fun than stressing over getting a date and buying the perfect dress /gift for prom??  Comment below and let me know what you think!

 

Leverpostei; another Norwegian classic reinvented

Liver pate, or leverpostei, is as common in Norway as smoked salmon, the brown cheese and that caviar that comes in a tube when it comes to spreads for open face sandwiches Norwegians eat for breakfast and lunch.  Every kid grew up eating leverpostei, perhaps with some sliced cucumbers or if you were a fan of pickled beets, those would be a perfect addition too.

As children in Norway, many were familiar with and saw this canned guy on the breakfast table every day:

leverposteigul

The can comes with different faces on it; the first face was of Per Andreas Christensen which was released 63 years ago.  Christensen was the son of the owner of the Stabburet factory in Fredrikstad, and was the cover of this liver pate until 1972.   Since, only five other faces have had the honor of being pictured on the package, according to a Norwegian press release.

This leverpostei was easy to keep, cheap (about $4) and super smooth (aka processed) – makes me really wonder what was in it, though!  It is estimated that over 50,000 cans of pate is being sold daily in Norway.

There are several reasons why you would want to make your own pate.  While leverpostei has been touted as really healthy and rich in iron, it depends what kind of pate you are eating. Commercial “leverpostei” is generally of really low quality; from additives and sugar, bad quality raw ingredients, over processed ingredients, excessive salt, nitrates and unnecessary conservation methods just to mention a few.  Making your own spread you have full control of what goes into the product, and wouldn’t you rather know what you’re eating?!

My mom would make her own liver pate for us when I was a kid, it was much more coarse in texture, almost like a French pate, with much more depth of flavor.   She made it especially for the Christmas holiday,  which is a tradition in Norway, as that is when our breakfast table became way more decadent than the rest of the year.   Her version was my inspiration for today’s recipe. Although hers was baked, mine requires no time in the oven – just a few hours in the fridge setting up.

Of course a major difference between the traditional leverpostei and mine, is that I don’t use animal products to make it. Typically the classic version uses some type of livers from animals like chicken or pork, but I chose to use lentils instead, along with mushrooms. You’d be amazed at how this combination can mimic both the texture and flavor of meat!

The pate will last about 5 days in the fridge, but you can also freeze it should you happen to have leftovers – it will hold up well in freezer for about 4 month.  Spread it on crackers or home made Norwegian style bread, served with pickles, cucumbers, or pickled sliced beets with fresh dill or other herbs. Really delicious and also lower in fat than its original, so you can have more!

I choose to call my version LEVEPOSTEI, omitting the R in the first word lever (Norwegian for liver), which turns the word into “Living Pate” because no animals were harmed in the making of this pate! 🙂
Velbekomme!

NORWEGIAN LEVEPOSTEI  

2 cups mixed mushrooms such as button, portobello and maitake, cleaned and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegan unsalted butter
1 small Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups (400g) cooked green lentils
1 cup (140g) toasted walnuts or pecans
freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon
1 heaping tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
optional: 2 teaspoons Cognac or sherry
teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute, until the onions become translucent, 5 to 6 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook until they’re soft and cooked through, another 5-5  minutes. Remove from heat.
In a food processor, combine the cooked lentils, nuts, lemon juice, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, parsley, Cognac or sherry (if using), brown sugar, and cayenne.  Process until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and additional cognac, soy sauce, or lemon juice, if needed.
Pour the pâté into a serving bowl or small terrine and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

IMG_2578

Serve on homemade Norwegian style bread – I topped mine with sliced cucumbers, red onions, pepper and dill:

IMG_2613

 

Carrot “lox” – a healthier alternative to smoked salmon

When I decide to start my blog several years back, it stemmed from a desire to spread the word about Scandinavian, more specifically Norwegian, food and share with my readers that yes, we do eat foods beyond Swedish meatballs and smoked salmon.

Of course the latter inspired today’s post, as I’m always trying to find plant based versions of animal based dishes from my home country.  When I veganized my blog three years ago, I was admittedly a tad worried I wouldn’t find things to write about,  as 90% of our dishes consists of either meat, fish, dairy or eggs.  But thanks to some very imaginative vegan cooks, and my own desire to use plants in a more diverse way, I have seen the most amazing creations being produced.

Which leads me to today’s recipe I would love to share with you, taking on the very famous smoked salmon dish so cherish by the Nordic countries.   I might gain some enemies when I say that salmon is not at all “healthy”, the way it has been advertised in media and on many health websites.  Salmon is in fact, half fat, which increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and the fish derived Omega 3 found in fish inhibits the action of insulin, thereby increasing blood sugar levels and aggravating diabetes.

Most salmon out there now are in fact farmed salmon, which contain unhealthy levels of contaminants like PCB, arsenic mercury, dioxins and other chemicals that cause cancer.   Commercial ships who are largely unregulated and heavily government subsidized, are cleaning the oceans of fish, particularly wild salmon, so eating this type of fish is now easier said than done.  In fact, three quarters of stores who claim their fish is “wild caught” is in fact farmed.

According to the Norwegian government, the salmon and trout farms in Norway alone produce roughly the same amount of sewage as New York City. The huge amount of raw sewage, dead fish corpses, and antibiotic-laden fish food sludge settling below farmed salmon cages can actually cause the ocean floor to rot, destroying vital habitat for the already strained marine ecosystem and turning coastal waters into open sewers.

While you may not be ready give up fish entirely just yet if you are still consuming this food, I encourage you to do your own research on this topic, perhaps starting by reading these articles here, here and here.  I always encourage everyone to come up with their own conclusions after reading studies and research that has not been funded by the specific industries of the product you are trying to read up about (reading articles from the fish industry on this topic would not be very objective, for instance).

All the information I’ve been studying for the past years, have made me want to come up with alternatives for fish but with the same taste.  I’ve been able to recreate crab cakes using palm of hearts, “tuna salad” using chickpeas and “Fish” tacos using Gardein fishless filets with much success.  And now… smoked salmon using carrots!

So how on earth can carrots taste like smoked salmon you say?  It all comes down to using the flavorings that make up the original dish.   Meat, for instance, wouldn’t taste very good if you eat it raw or just cook it without seasoning. It’s the rub, marinades and sauces you put on them that make up the dish.   With smoked salmon, it’s  salted and smoked – so for the “smoky” flavor I use something called “liquid smoke”, which is incredibly effective for re-creating the experience, and I add nori sheets, which is the Japanese word for for an edible seaweed species, to add the “fishy” flavors to the carrots.  You will see nori sheets being used to make and wrap sushi.  You can find nori sheets in your local health food store or at Asian specialty markets.

norisheets

Seaweeds are incredibly healthy and helps boost your immune system, may lower blood pressure and may favorably alter estrogen metabolism by modulating women’s gut flora, resulting in decreased breast cancer risk, among other things.

Today, with the increasing wealth, access to and development of fast food chains in Norway, people who are obese, living with diabetes, and developing cancer and heart disease are on the rise.   While people are in general eating more vegetables, the consumption of fish, meat and eggs have not gone down, and in many cases increased. It’s a well researched fact that everybody could do well with reducing animal based foods in their diet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate the same experience and flavors in your favorite traditional dishes!

I hope you will try this dish with an open mind, and perhaps you even have vegetarians in your household that would appreciate eating a traditional, Norwegian dish!

I served my smoked “lox” on top of scrambled tofu (resembling eggs), with slices of red onion, cucumbers and a sprig of fresh dill.  I also made home made rye bread with loads of seeds like sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and whole oats.

One recipe at a time… so here you go – and velbekomme!

SMOKED CARROT “LOX”

3 big carrots, peeled

1 nori sheet, crumbled into small pieces

1 tsp liquid smoke

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill

In a small bowl, combine the liquid smoke, soy sauce, extra virgin olive oil and fresh dill and set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler or a mandoline set on thin seeting, slice the carrots into large ribbons.  The carrots should be thin but not paper thin or see through.

In an medium sized, oven proof dish (I used a Pyrex dish), place the sliced carrots and sprinkle the nori sheet crumbles over.

carrotlox1

carrotlox

Add the liquid mixture and combine well.

carrotlox2

Cover the dish with a lid or foil. Let sit for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake carrots for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit to cool on top of stove with lid on. When it’s cool, place in fridge and let chill for at least 2 hours.

Now your carrot lox is ready – serve on bagels with vegan cream cheese, or home made bread like I did with scrambled tofu or chickpea “eggs” with red onion, cucumbers, capers and lots of fresh dill!

loxsandwich

loxsandwich2

Norway’s obsession with licorice

If you’ve ever been, or go to Norway – you are bound to see an unusually  wide variety of salty licorice candy in stores across the country.  Norwegians’ love for this not so sweet candy is very strong, and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland (the Finns refer to it as ‘salmiakki’), share our taste for licorice. In fact, I hear many Scandinavians who move to the United States, complain that some of what they miss the most, is their dear licorice, as if it’s an important food group and vital for their happiness!

The original licorice, made from the licorice root, were used only for medicinal purposes up until the 19th century .  It was particularly popular in fighting colds and digestive issues. Traditional Chinese medicine books talk about licorice and it’s also said to be mentioned in Egyptian papyrus rolls found in the grave of Egyptian pharaoh Tuthankamun (1347-1339 B.C).

Today, however, licorice is found in both sweet, salty and spicy versions and is mostly enjoyed as a candy or “sweet”.  The English apothecary George Dunhill, was said to have added sugar and other additives to licorice back in 1760 and thus our cravings for licorice started…

lakrisbilde

Salty licorice is a candy that tastes of licorice and has ammonium chloride added, giving it the salty taste.   The more ammonium chloride added, the saltier the candy.

When and how licorice and ammonium chloride were combined to become salt licorice, is unclear, but production in Norway, Finland and Holland can be traced back as early as the mid 1920s.

“Salt lakris” (salty licorice) is definitely an acquired taste – in fact, I believe that Scandinavians probably have a special gene that automatically gets addicted to this flavor. Most Americans I have surveyed for instance, have a strong aversion to the flavor, many even describing it as nasty and gag worthy.    Norwegians, however, like it so much we even add licorice flavor to ice cream, cookies and cupcakes, vodka and chocolate.  While the majority of Americans admit to having a big sweet tooth, many Norwegians have more affinity for salty foods, which could be part of the explanation here.

*Check out a funny Youtube video of a Canadian trying out Norwegian candy for the first time HERE,  licorice powder being the first one.  Too funny!)

I have fond (or should I say funny?) memories of getting together with friends and adding the spicy licorice flavored candy “Tyrkisk Peber” (Turkish pepper) to potato vodka growing up (don’t judge me), making our own flavored spiked drinks…   Let me tell you, this candy is not for the faint of heart… Most people find it so strong they have to spit it out.  Anyway, we must have started a trend, because today vodka companies produce their own Turkish pepper flavored vodka.  Somebody shared our love for it!

tyrkiskpebertyrkiskpebershot

Norwegians’ taste and demand for licorice is so big, that even luxurious licorice candy stores have begun popping up in the country.  LAKRIDS by Johan Bulow is such a store, selling licorice candy that is made with the “best raw ingredients and lots of love”, according to one of their representatives.    Their licorice does not contain any coloring agents and they make products such as licorice sticks, licorice marzipan, licorice powder for baking, licorice syrup and licorice mints.  These all come in boxes ranging from $12-70.

Have I intrigued you to try licorice? If you do, make sure it’s Norwegian! You can buy some here and here.

Or if you fancy a licorice milk shake, add a cup of plant based milk with 4 tbsp of vegan vanilla ice cream and 4 pieces of licorice mints or a tsp of licorice powder. Puree up and enjoy!!

 

*Note:  consumption of licorice is not recommended for pregnant women or people with high blood pressure, because it contains glycyrrhizin.

lakris1

Chocolate in Norway; now and then

Chocolate cake, or “sjokoladekake”, is the cake is the most popular cake in Norway today and what inspired today’s  recipe and blog post. Norwegians simply can’t seem to get enough chocolate, in fact Norwegians eat more chocolate than their Scandinavian neighbors in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.  Every Norwegian eats about 9.5 kilos (about 21 lbs) of chocolate per year if we are to believe a study published a couple of years back. The Swiss, unsurprisingly, top the list with the highest consumption, followed closely by Ireland, England, Austria, Belgium and Germany.

Chocolate first arrived in Norway sometime during the 18th century, when a merchant in Trondheim put an advert in the newspaper that read: “a kind of medicinal chocolate, which will help your stomach, chest, is good for healing coughs, gets rid of dizziness, clears phlegm and encourages fulfillment of marital duties.”  The last one cracked me up!

Although chocolate was initially released on the market as a medicinal food, it quickly became a luxury product for the urban elite.  In the beginning the market for chocolate was really small, even as chocolate factories popped up all over Europe.  People were slowly gaining larger disposable incomes, but in order to increase their market share, chocolate producers needed to get creative with naming their products.

By the turn of the century, Norway was in the process of becoming independent from Sweden, and was seeking its own identity.  In a time largely influenced by the romantic period, it was memories of the golden age and references to Norwegian nature that appealed to the masses.  The new products were named “Jarlen” (the Earl), “Bispen” (the Bishop), Fjeldsæter (mountain farm) and Prillar Guri (read more about her here).

But as people’s taste for and consumption of chocolate increased, discussions arised as to whether chocolate was healthy or not. In 1922, the government discussed imposing a “luxury tax” on chocolate, because chocolate was concluded to be damaging for the teeth and people’s health in general.   A tax of 33.33% was imposed on chocolate (10% for baking chocolate), and as a result, chocolate went from “healthy” to “sinful”.

During this time, Norway went through hard economical times, and the chocolate industry was hit hard. They started promoting chocolate as some of the cheapest, most calorie dense nourishment a child could give her child!

stratos

In a time when many went hungry, it was important to consume enough calories, and the commercials showed mothers with healthy looking, chocolate eating children. Simultaneously, chocolate maintained its luxury status, as seen in the many confectionary boxes (konfektesker) with many names of royals on the lids:

konghaakonkonfekt

In the 1930s, the chocolate industry started targeting men as well, to increase their market reach.  “Hjemmekos” (our word for the Danish term “hygge”, basically having a cozy time at home), wasn’t something that appealed to men, but going for outdoor hikes and being out in nature, on the other hand, became a sort of status symbol for men .   This most Norwegian of  all phenomena, was not common before the turn of the century.  People didn’t have the time or the money to go on hiking trips, as this was something associated with the wealthy and having money.  But with time, people’s financial status slowly improved.

Going hiking and being in nature now became common place, and the motto “Ut på tur, aldri sur” (literally translated to ‘out hiking, never in a bad mood’), became popular, as chocolate was always included in people’s backpacks as part of an easy, nutritious “niste” (packed lunch) when they went out in nature. In one of their commercials, big chocolate producer Nidar said that “big packed lunches are impractical and completely unnecessary baggage.  A few bars of chocolate in your pocket takes up no space at all”.

kvikklunsj

To this day, no Norwegians forgets to pack  their chocolate bars when going skiing or hiking.   Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer of polar regions,  took part in commercials for both Freia and Nidar:  a symbol of a real  Norwegian man who fought the  tough nature!”

From poor mothers feeding their children, royals and celebrities to polar heros –  we can see it’s not so much the chocolate that has changed, but situations and society around it.

Even today, Norwegians prefer their own chocolate;  produced right in their own homeland.  Brands such as Nidar and Freya are most popular, but there now a ton of local artisan producers of chocolate, one of them is “Fjordnær”, a gorgeous chocolate made in the gorgeous Geiranger fjord:

sjokoladefjordnaer

fjordnaer

Norwegians are pretty conservative in their taste, a recent study shows that 40% of people like and stick to the same chocolate they ate as children.  Milk chocolate is the predominant go-to type for Norwegians  (Freia’s “melkesjokolade” is king here),  and older, traditional brands are most popular. Typically a clean chocolate with not too much fuss is preferred.

While I love to cover traditional foods from Norway, I also want to shed some light on what is actually being eaten, cooked and baked in Norway today.   Like I mentioned earlier, chocolate as a product has not changed,  but the way in which is is enjoyed changes with the evolvement of time.  As the world is becoming smaller and smaller with the internet and people traveling more, we see an increased popularity in particularly American food in modern Norway.

Brownies have to be some of the most popular international pastries made by Norwegians today, particularly among kids and younger people.  Since I’ve already covered sjokoladekake in a previous blog post which you can read here, I wanted to pay tribute to my adopted home land and post a recipe for brownies made entirely without eggs or dairy to show you how decadent and similar pastries can be without the use of these animal products.

This is a cake that can be whipped up in minutes, and guaranteed to be a hit with anyone you serve it to.   Use whatever chocolate you have on hand. Despite being Norwegian,  I prefer dark over milk chocolate (also I no longer consume cow’s milk), and that is what I used in my recipe.

Happy baking and don’t forget to brush your teeth after you indulge, because you never know! 🙂

brownies1

DECADENT VEGAN BROWNIES

1/4 cup natural almond butter

heaping 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup melted coconut oil

1/2 cup (packed) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

2 flax eggs (2 tbsp ground flaxseeds mixed with 6 tbsp water)

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celcius).

Line an 8 X 8 brownie pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine almond butter, brown sugar, maple syrup and melted coconut bowl with a whisk.  Whisk until you have a nice, smooth mixture.

Add cocoa powder slowly in, while whisking, making sure no lumps are left. Add in the vanilla extract and salt, then the flax eggs. Switch from a whisk to a spatula and lastly add the flour, before folding in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 25 minutes or so.  Cool for about an hour before slicing and devouring!

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Sunnmørsbrød; a traditional bread from northwestern Norway

Sunnmøre is the Norwegian region in which I was born and raised.  Located on the north western coast, it’s an impossibly beautiful part of the country, decorated with majestic mountains, gorgeous, big fjords and beautiful valleys scattered all over the area. Geiranger, one of Norway’s most popular tourist destinations, is also located here.
There is such a rich food history in Sunnmøre, and the interest for local, organic and artisan products have skyrocketed and now there are an incredible array of high quality food producers offering everything from jams, vinegars and sauces, to biscuits, organic flours and oats, mustards and spice mixtures to mention just a few of the selections from home.
While this blog piece is about bread, Sunnmøre is most famous for its incredible cake culture (think bløtkake, marsipankake, kvæfjordkake, nøttekake, tropisk aroma.. I have covered them all here on the blog). If you get invited to a confirmation, wedding or other major party here, don’t think there will only be one, or even TWO elaborate looking cakes on the table.  Most likely there will be at least seven or eight, and I have witnessed up to TWENTY FIVE different cakes on a table at once. You can safely say the Sunnmøre locals love their desserts!
But I digress…. back to bread!  The people of Sunnmøre is also known for their love of bread, much like the rest of their fellow Norwegian countrymen.  I grew up with a mom who would make home made bread on a regular basis.  I loved coming home from school (which was only a stone’s throw away by the way, I could walk to my grade, middle and high school in anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes), smelling that yeasty, sweet bread smell, knowing I would have some delicious open face sandwiches in store.  Her mom had shown her how to make these special dark rye and whole wheat flour based breads that tasted so fresh and from the region, and it was this memory that was sparked in me about a week ago when I received a truly special artisan made Norwegian apron from Hovden Formal Farm Wear.
This small company specializes in making traditional old school Norwegian work shirts called busseruller, and is run by an amazing fellow Norwegian woman, Ingvill Kaasin Montgomery, who like me, is an expat and an entrepreneur.   You can read all about her and her beautiful creations in my blog post from yesterday HERE.
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What we think of as “bread” today (i.e. loaves=, was not bread for most people in the country side in the old days in Norway, and was predominantly a city phenomena until the mid 19th century.   “Bread” was actually a crisp bread, what Norwegians today call “flatbrød”.  This was often referred to in Norwegian as “stump” or “kake”.  The flat bread was usually made in huge batches, and could last up to a year, stacked up on top of each other, until it was time to make bread again.  Part of the reason why breads were made super thin and flat like this, was to avoid mold forming on the bread.
People’s every day “bread” was in fact porridge, made out or barley, rye or oats,  as this was extremely filling, made with readily available ingredients and not expensive.  Wheat flour, of which most modern breads are made of today, was not at all common back then.  There is a word in Norway called “hvetebrødsdager”, which relates to the period after people get married, where no obligations have to be met, but the couple will go just relax and spend time with each other.  Hvetebrød is Norwegian for wheat bread, and so the meaning behind this is that it’s a special, luxurious occasion, much like baking with wheat was back in the old days.
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My sister Agnes reminded me of Sunnmørsbrød a few weeks back when she sent me a photo of her weekend activities in the kitchen. She is an amazing and seasoned baker, and she inspires me weekly with her creations, as she too, is very interested in bringing back old, traditional recipes.   The bread recipe in this post is loosely inspired by one she sent me, and I’m happy to say the bread came out perfect!
The amazing thing with this bread, is you don’t have to let the dough rise twice so it’s quicker to make.  The dough gets rolled out immediately after kneading and shaped into loaves, and it needs resting only once. As always, play around with baking time, but 45 min-50 min should do it at 400 degrees – they should be crispy on the outside, soft and light on the inside, and gorgeously brown on top.
Whenever I bake, I like to use organic flours, and sometimes even sprouted flours too, for maximum health benefits. This is a typical hearty Norwegian bread, with a crispy crust and soft and moist on the inside.  Honestly my favorite way of eating it is straight out of the oven with just a nice, thick layer of (vegan) butter, but of course you can freeze these breads easily and they hold up really nicely without crumbling.
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SUNNMØRSBRØD

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

About 5 cups luke warm water

3 tbsp rapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup or light syrup

1 tbsp salt

1 1/4 cup (300 grams) whole wheat flour

1 1/4 cup (300 grams) rye flour

1/2 cup (100 grams) old fashioned oats

4 1/4 cup (1,000 grams) all purpose flour

Pour the yeast, water, rapeseed oil, sugar and maple syrup into a bowl of a stand mixer.  Meanwhile in a separate bowl, combine the rye and whole wheat flours, oats and salt and let sit for about 15 minutes.  Then add the all purpose flour and with a dough hook, start kneading the dough for about 10 minutes.  Pour the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface, divide in three equal pieces and roll out to loaves.  Place in three 2 quart loaf pans (or you can just place them in free form on a  lightly oiled baking sheet which I did for two of my loaves), cover with a towel and place in a slightly warm area for about 1 hour.    You can see the difference in shape/appearance of the loaves baked in a form and the loaves just placed losely on a sheet. I kind of prefer the latter, and not a ‘perfect looking’ bread myself 🙂
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the top of the loaves with melted vegan butter,  and bake for about 45 minutes.  Let cool on a rack but not too long – because warm bread and butter is the BEST!! Freeze any loaves you and your family don’t devour immediately! 😃

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Reviving the busserull; an old Norwegian work shirt, plus an apron that inspired me to bake

Every so often life throws you those serendipitous moments, when a reader of your blog connects with a Norwegian across the United States, mentions you and suggests reaching out. That woman does, and you end up getting to know a wonderful, budding entrepreneur and fellow Norwegian you otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

That is exactly what happened just a few short months ago. I believe nothing is a coincidence. People come in to your life for a reason, as much as they leave your life the same way.   The person I connected with is Ingvill Kaasin Montgomery, founder of the super interesting company and online clothing shop,  Hovden Formal Farm Wear, who happens to share my interest and love for Norwegian history and traditions.

Ingvill told me she was inspired to bring back old the Norwegian work shirt from 150 years ago worn by farmers and workers, called “busseruller” in our language (“arbetsskjorta” in Swedish and Danish), and decided to start her own company after she moved from Norway to the United States.

What on earth is a busserull It’s a traditional, every day light shirt or cardigan that was worn in the 1800s by men, particularly when working outside.  It is made from square pieces in the back and front with wide arms, and has either buttons or a string tie in the neck.  The name stems from the Italian and low German  ‘busserun’, which means seaman’s shirt, and the French ‘bougeron’ (work blouse).

Don’t think you have to be a farmer or do manual labor to wear busseruller.  These beautiful, classic creations have a versatile usage, and are worn to parties, everywhere in daily life and even weddings!  Just don’t ever think about wearing it to church…

While a busserull looks like a shirt, it’s typically worn as a heavier layer on top of a lighter shirt.  The busserull made a comback in the 1960s when the academic crowd started wearing the shirts, perhaps because they saw it as a traditional piece of clothing for the labor force.

(Images below are from Hovden Formal Farm Wear’s website):

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A native Norwegian now located in Portland, Oregon since 2008 – Ingvill started making busseruller in 2014 and works with a local designer to create these historical shirts, focusing on using sustainable and ethical production methods made from quality pieces.  She consciously chooses not to resort to cheap labor in Asia, but rather 80% of her clothes are produced by a small company located in Pamplona, Spain consisting of 8 ladies who specializes in sewing traditional, European clothing (among other things, traditional Basque garments).   Her goal is to keep all production as local as possible, and part of her plan is to move the American production to Portland, OR where she resides.

Ingvill originally got the idea to produce busseruller when working in the wine industry in Oregon, witnessing winemakers, who are essentially farmers, having to attend wine dinners, tastings and presentations in the city .  They didn’t feel comfortable wearing suits,  and the look also didn’t represent them as wine producers. So Ingvill thought: busseruller would be perfect! Elegant looking yet comfortable to wear – a win win!

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Because Ingvill’s company is so dedicated to ethical manufacturing, social and environmental standards, she is committed to raising consciousness of the price we have to pay for mass produced, cheap clothing.  Instead, Hovden Formal Farm Wear insists on making quality clothing and pieces that are long lasting; an ode to vikings who didn’t have much, but were meticulous in taking good care of their clothes so they could last a life time.  I just love this about the company!

The original busserull look (Photo Credit: Paul Stang, Fylkesarkivet):

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Hovden’s website reads: “One of the reasons the shirt is so unique is the way the pattern was designed. Because fabric was a scarce commodity 150 years ago, the shirt was made up of squares and rectangular pieces, which resulted in almost no fabric going to waste. The proportions were drafted in such a way that fit the 3-dimensional body with ease and comfort. We have replicated this pattern.”

This is an important part of the makings of the busserull shirt, based on how Norwegians used to live in the old days where every single thing is utilized, and nothing is discarded. I’ve repeatedly written about this concept on the blog, as it relates to food history in Norway, where using leftovers regularly and creatively was an important part of our tradition.  I believe we can all benefit greatly from being reminded of the importance of appreciating the value of ingredients and things we surround ourselves with.

While the busserull was originally a man’s shirt, today it’s gender neutral.  Women’s work clothes back then were aprons.

I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful apron Ingvill made, which you see me wearing in the main picture in this blog piece.  I love how comfortable and versatile it is, but the best part of this apron for me, is that I feel it brings me home to my ancestors and family in Norway. My grandparents on both sides were farmers and fishermen, much like a lot of Norwegians back from a hundred plus years ago.  They were humble, hardworking people who appreciated and cleverly used local resources available to them, and not to mention: amazing cooks!   I can envision both my grandmothers, Sarah and Karoline, in an apron such as this, hard at work in the kitchen baking lefser, flatbrød and soups and stews from root vegetables grown on their farm.

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Wearing the apron inspired me to get in the kitchen immediately to bake a special kind of bread from my region of north-western Norway, which I will share with you in part 2 of this blog series tomorrow!

You can read more details about Hovden Formal Farm Wear’s gorgeous apron and purchase it HERE.

As a female career and empowerment coach, I love meeting other women who are in business for themselves. It’s extra fun  when these women are Norwegian and expats like myself,  on a mission to improve the world and raise consciousness of how we live our lives!

I look forward to working with Hovden Formal Farm Wear in the months and years to come, to promote and support Norwegian businesses, history and traditions in the United States.

Hovden Formal Farm Wear has an online store and can ship shirts all over the world. You can find Ingvill at http://hovdenformalfarmwear.com.  Also check out their FB page and Instagram account.

Email hovdenffw@gmail.com.

 

 

Mandelstenger; simple Norwegian almond cookies that will impress

I remember a little over three years ago when I decided to go vegan for the animals, and I thought to myself “Christmas will never be the same”, because I thought that when I made the conscious choice to give up meat, fish, dairy and eggs, there would be nothing left to eat in the Norwegian cuisine. And most certainly was I not going to be able to enjoy all the delightful Norwegian cookies we make – 7 different kinds every year, at the very least!

Boy, was I wrong. Little did I know that vegans are super creative, and that includes Norwegian vegans!  I’ve been following the super talented blogger and now cookbook author, Mari Hult from Vegetarbloggen for a while now.  My niece brought back her newly released cookbook “Sykt godt” from Norway earlier in the fall, which I have been thoroughly enjoying.   Her recipe for mandelstenger (literally translated as ‘almond sticks’) was my inspiration for today’s blog post.  Spoiler alert: they turned out amazingly good, so get excited!!

The vegan movement is growing in Norway, as people are getting increasingly aware that their meat and dairy heavy diets may not be the healthiest choice. Heart disease, cancer and obesity has risen dramatically in Norway as in the rest of the western world and processed and fast food is plentiful everywhere .  That is not to say every choice we make has to be 100% healthy, but overall,  if we choose to be more conscious about what we put in our bodies, our health will benefit as a result. This is also the basis for my health and life coaching which you can read more about over at sunnygandara.com.

To get back on track: Christmas is definitely in the house in the Gandara household! I realize a lot of my readers are very in touch with the classic, Norwegian recipes of old times such as krumkaker (still wildly popular in Norway), sandkaker, fattigmann and goro (not so much), sirupssnipper and more.   Regardless, Norwegians are known to go a little nuts with baking cookies during this holiday, it’s simply not Christmas until you’ve got at least a handful of different varieties (7 to be exact) baked and boxed up.

But what kind of cookies do Norwegians like to make and eat in 2016?  In addition to today’s cookie, others include brune pinner (very similar to mandelstenger), kokosmakroner, mandelflarn, julekaker/julemenn, pepperkaker, smultringer, hjortetakk and risboller to name a few. I’ve also seen the influence of American and other international pastries in Norwegian households, as my fellow countrymen have embraced the love for brownies, muffins and biscotti.

Mandelstenger are soft and chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside, and is almost like candy it’s so good.  They are very similar to the better known ‘kransekake’, as the base for the batter is ground up almonds. I’ve also seen versions of this called “heksefinger” (witch fingers!) and “Finnish bread.”

Super quick to make and requires few ingredients, it has become a favorite of many people.  Even though it may be considered a ‘modern’ recipe, this cookie has existed for a long time in Norway’s cuisine in different versions, and were by many considered one of the “7 types of cookies” made for Christmas (read more about that in my blog archives here.)

You can make these gluten free recipe simply by omitting the all purpose flour and substituting either gluten free flour or cornstarch, it just helps bind the batter together.

I hope you will enjoy these as much as I did, they will most definitely continue to be part of my Christmas cookie baking tradition going forward!

MANDELSTENGER

Makes about 20 pieces

7 0z/ 200 grams whole almonds

3 oz/ 80 grams vegan butter

6 0z  (3/4 cups) / 160 grams sugar

3 tbsp soy yogurt (I used the brand Kite Hill which is deliciously creamy and tangy) plus extra for brushing on top of batter

4 tbsp all purpose flour (sub gf flour or cornstarch if gluten free)

1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celcius).

Dress a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Set aside about 10-15 whole almond and roughly chop them up.  These are to be sprinkled on top of the cake batter.

Grind the remaining almonds in a high powered blender or a food processor into a mealy flour.

In a stand mixer, whip the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the soy yogurt. Add the ground almond meal, all purpose flour and baking powder, stir until just combined.

Press the dough onto the parchment paper dressed cookie sheet into a large square – the batter should be about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.   Spread a little soy yogurt on top and sprinkle with the remaining almonds.

Bake in oven for about 15 minutes on the bottom shelf, remove from oven and using a pizza cutter, slice into about 2 inch thick/4inch long pieces, while the dough is still soft.

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Place back in oven and bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Keep them in a container with a tight lid. Will last for about a week.

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Kanelkake; a simple, everyday Norwegian cinnamon cake

It’s no secret that Scandinavians have a special love for cinnamon and Norwegians are no different.  Cinnamon has been documented to be used in cooking since the 17th century in Norway, but started to be imported already in the 13th century to convent gardens and to major cities.  Bergen was one of the main cities for spice trade.  The traditional Norwegian farmer remained however skeptical at this stage to using these foreign spices.  Spices and herbs were associated with status and wealth for the longest time. In the middle ages, people in Norway ate very few vegetables, but spices and herbs were added to meat (which was also sparse and reserved for the richer population).  In the 17th century it became more common place to use cinnamon to add flavor as well as to preserve foods.

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These days, you’d be hard pressed to find any popular pastries not containing cinnamon in Norway (although perhaps a bit of an exaggeration), but you won’t find this one complaining! 🙂

I love recreating simple cakes such as the one I am featuring today, “kanelkake” (kanel is Norwegian for cinnamon), because it’s very light and not overly sweet.  Most cakes I have come across in the United States are either covered in frosting or buttercream, which makes them a “special occasion” cake at best. This is more like a coffee cake or a breakfast bread even, that you can enjoy in the morning or a Tuesday afternoon (or any other day!).

The best part for me is that it contains no dairy or eggs, but is still super juicy, light and fluffy and of course- flavorful with a nice kick of cinnamon!  My chef husband devoured half of this cake before I even got to it – so if you make it, hide it in a special place, and be sure to have a piece while it’s nice and warm right out of the oven!!

KANELKAKE (Cinnamon Cake)

1 1/4 cup almond milk (or other plant based milk)
1/2 cup melted coconut oil or neutral oil
2/3 cup coconut sugar or cane sugar
2/3 cup chopped almonds or walnuts
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp vanilla extract
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups all purpose or spelt flour

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Dress a 9X9 inch rectangular baking pan (like a brownie pan) with parchment paper (or 20x30cm pan for those of you in Europe).

Combine all ingredients in the order above in a large bowl, and pour into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes until a cake tester runs clear in the middle. Cool on a rack before you dive in!!

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