Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nordic Noshes

Never tell a Finn that they are Scandinavian. Although their proximity to Sweden and Norway would lead you to believe that Finland is indeed a part of Scandinavia, this Nordic country actually associates itself more closely with Estonia and Hungary. The Finns, like the Hungarians and Estonians, speak a Uralic language which is one of only four non Indo-European language part of the official EU languages. "Finland" is actually the Swedish name for Suomi which means "Finland" in Finnish. Why do we call Finland by its Swedish name and not its Finnish one? A lot of it is probably due to the fact that Finland was part of Sweden from the 1100s to 1809. It was then controlled by the Russian Empire until 1917 when the Finns declared independence. I cannot imagine living in a country where winters reach -49 degrees and last for 200 days. The coldest region of Lapland experiences permanent snow from October until May. The 5.4 million Finns who call this icy nation their home have made the best of it. Just look at the amazing saunas they have constructed to battle the cold and promote relaxation. I'd like to take a steam bath for several hours to sweat off all my worries.

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Finnish cuisine contains influences from the indigenous Sami people who were (and are) reindeer herders living in Lapland. The Karelian people of Eastern Finland (aka North Karelia) also have contributed many features to Finland's culinary repertoire. Fish, rye, mushrooms, potatoes, and other food sources that can survive the harsh climates of Finland create the basis of most Finnish meals. I tried to touch on as many different aspects as I could to create my Finish table.

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Karelian pasties are rye crusted treats filled with a variety of different fillings. The most common filling is a type of rice pudding that is combined with egg yolks to make a golden center. Traditionally the crust is made out of pure rye flour, but wheat-rye mixed versions are also common today.

Karjalanpiirakat
makes 8
For the crust:
1 cup rye flour
6-8 tbsp water
¼ tsp salt
flour, for dusting
 
For the filling:
½ cup rice
1 cup water
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
dash of salt
melted butter and milk, to glaze
 
To make the filling, bring the water and rice to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add in the milk and bring back to a simmer. Continue to cook until the milk is absorbed as well and the mixture resembles rice pudding. Allow the rice to cool before whisking in the egg and salt.
 
To make the crust, mix together the rye, salt, and water. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Roll them out into disks on a lightly floured surface until they are about 1/8” thick. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out while they are being assembled.
 
To assemble, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and cover a baking pan with tinfoil. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling into the center of each rye disk and spread it out to be about ½” away from the edges. Pinch in the edges and brush with the butter and milk mixture. Arrange the pastries on the prepared baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.

 
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Lanttulaatikko is a common Christmas side casserole in Finland. I wanted to try it out because it seemed interesting and used rutabagas which I had not yet cooked with on my trip around the world. Keep reading to learn of my impressions surrounding this interesting dish.
 
Lanttulaatikko
1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed (aka swede or yellow turnip)
1 slice sandwich bread, toasted
3 ounces milk or cream
1 egg
dash of nutmeg
2 tbsp brown sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rutabaga for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. In a blender or food processor, blend the sandwich bread into crumbs. Add the remaining ingredients except for the butter to the blender and blend until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes. Spread the mixture into a baking dish, top with small pats of butter, and bake for 40-50 minutes until the top looks dried out.

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Two popular Sami dishes are poronk√§ristys and lohikeitto. Since the first option is pretty much defined as saut√©ed reindeer and the latter would use up the salmon I had sitting in my freezer, lohikeitto won the draw. Reindeer is not a easily found commodity here in Tennessee, and, frankly, the thought of eating Rudolph is a little disturbing. Thick, and luscious lohikeitto is a soup that would warm any Sami up on a cold winter night. I have no problem understanding why it became so popular. 
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Lohikeitto
1 pound skinless salmon, cubed
2 leeks, diced
1 tbsp butter
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried dill
½ cup cream
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
salt and pepper, to taste
 
Heat a large pot over medium heat with the butter. Sautee the leeks in the butter for about 6 minutes until they are golden brown. Add the 6 cups of water, bay leaf, potatoes, and dill to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Mix the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water together. Swirl the mixture into the pot, making sure to stir it all together thoroughly. Add in the milk or cream as well as the salmon. Cook for another 5 minutes and then remove from the heat. Season to taste.
  
 
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The Finns do not have as big of a sweet tooth as their Swedish neighbors, so do not expect sugar-laden desserts following every meal. Instead, pancakes or porridge with just a hint of sweetness and fresh berries or lingonberry jam are the norm. I really enjoyed this comforting semolina porridge. It rounded out my meal very well.
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Mannapuuro
1 cup milk
2 tbsp semolina flour
sugar, to taste
pat of butter
lingonberry jam
berries
Bring the milk to a boil in a small pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and whisk in the semolina, making sure there are no lumps. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the porridge has reached your desired thickness. Add sugar to your liking and top with berries and lingonberry jam.

 

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I’m still not really feeling Europe. They made really good breakfasts, but their dinners have been lacking. It’s kind of ironic since the African breakfasts were a bit of a nightmare, but Africa has yielded some of my favorite dinners. I guess each region just cannot have two good dishes in one day. Maybe Eastern Asia or South America are great lunch destinations since neither their dinners nor breakfasts have particularly stood out. Who knows? The lanttulaatikkois was one of the only things that I just could not force myself to choke down throughout my journey around the world. The rutabaga-nutmeg combination just was not going for me. I should have known that the dish had little potential when my roommate Rachel asked me if the chopped up rutabaga was a mango and then later on Anna asked me if the finished product was cornbread. I hate throwing food out, so I asked my three roommates if they wanted any lanttulaatikkois. I totally butchered the name, but they got the point that the weird cornbread/ mango stuff was foreign. Hannah wouldn’t even look at it, Anna tried it and had the same thoughts about it as I did, and Rachel was okay with it. (She is absolutely not picky at all, so her liking the dish is not surprising.) Other than this unfortunate dish, I enjoyed the rest of my Finnish meal. I'm not really a salmon or dill person, but the soup was not bad. I really enjoyed the pastries as wells as the porridge. They were perfectly unsweetened just like I like my sweets to be. :)


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