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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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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