Dec
03
2008
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Just Right with Rutabaga

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

I recently asked my friend, Paavo from Finland who caters to some of the more illustrious tables of Manhattan, what some of his favorite memories of Christmas food from Scandinavia were. I expected something elaborate and well, frankly, upmarket, but certainly not Rutabaga Casserole. I shouldn’t have been so suprised, Paavo is, after all, a master of suprise.

So what is rutabaga? It is what I have previously called turnip or yellow turnip in this blog; a marvelous mixture between a turnip and a cabbage (thus deserving of its Scandinavian name, kålrot, which literally means cabbage root) that will henceforth be known as nothing other than rutabaga in this blog.

Rutabaga has had a hard time in northern Europe.   In hard times it has been a food of last resort, making it a food of no resort during good times. Its rehabilitation has been tough in Germany where it earned a reputation as famine food. In Scandinavia those associations are not quite as strong and there has been some creativity around rutabaga. After all, it comes from this part of the world – it is thought to have spread its way westward from Siberia and Finland during the 17th century – so we ought to know how to handle it!

Aside from its original taste, rutabaga is both nutritious and eco-smart. It is a good source of vitamin C, folate and fiber. The down side is that it is a high GI food, but on the other hand low in fat. As with everything else, consume in moderation. On the environment side, it grows in cold climates, reducing the need for pesticides.

Finns are the grand masters of rutabaga, particularly in the form of Rutabaga Casserole which is a classic during the holiday season. It’s got a bit of cream in it to give it that festive flavor. However, if you want a superb light rutabaga recipe that got 5 stars from my family (can you believe it?), you’ll want to try my low-fat rotmos or Mashed Root Vegetables. This dish is an exciting alternative to the much less interesting mashed potatoes and healthier too! Here are both the casserole and mashed root veg. recipes.

Rutabaga Casserole

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium potato
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp butter

Cover rutabaga and potato in water with a dash of salt and cook until soft.  Drain off the water and mash. Mix the bread crumbs with cream and allow to soak for a few minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and egg. Fold this mixture into the mashed root vegetables. Pour into a casserole dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake in 350 F or 175 C for about one hour until lightly browned on top.

Mashed Root Vegetables or Rotmos

1/4 medium rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt/Pepper for seasoning

Cook the root vegetables until soft. Drain and save the liquid. Mash by hand or in a blender so that the vegetables are smooth. Return to the cook pan and over low heat blend in a few tablespoons of the liquid until the rotmos has reached the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

For more recipes visit The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook!

Nov
22
2008
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The Indomitable Potato

An exhibition of pest-resistant potato types

An exhibition of pest-resistant potato types

During the past years potatoes have come under attack for being high carbohydrate foods that send our blood sugar soaring. As always, with extremist conclusions about good ingredients like the very best of potatoes, there are plenty of arguments that one can make to the contrary. Potatoes are very low in fat if handled the right way, they can be an important source of B vitamins and important minerals such as potassium and magnesium and they may even have a preventive effect against certain viruses and cancer due to the presence of antioxidants. The most important thing, a with all foods is to eat them in moderation.

In the Nordic region potatoes are today regarded a basic ingredient in traditional food. However potatoes have only been around as a staple food in this region since the 18th century. Before this time they were often regarded as the food of the devil from faraway lands (South America).

During this cold season we want more out of potatoes than just plain boiled. There needs to be a little extra – some excitement that combats the dreary season. The problem is that most of the excitement that you can add to potatoes is also fattening.

Here is a basic recipe for potato gratin that got the thumbs up from my family. It fits well as a side-dish with most meals and it isn’t the carb bomb that most gratins are.

Slender Potato Gratin

8 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 dl or 2 1/4 cups milk or lactose-free milk product (soy or oat milk)
Salt/Pepper
50 g butter, in small cubes

Preheat oven to 225 C or 437 F. Grease an oven-proof casserole dish and create a bottom layer of potato. Cover with a layer of onion. Season with salt and pepper. Continue with this sequence until all of the potatoes and onions are used up. Pour over the milk. Scatter butter cubes on top of the bake. Bake for 40-50 mins or until the potatoes are soft.

For another great Scandinavian idea about how to use potatoes the slender way visit my article, A Light & Satisfying Winter Meal. Visit the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for more great recipes!

Oct
01
2008
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Apples, apples and more apples

Divine Aromatic Apples

Divine Aromatic Apples

If there isn’t something sweet available in the kitchen as the day wears on, I begin to hear a certain scrounging going on in the kitchen. Empty chocolate wrappers get frustratedly thrown into the garbage and family members begin to look around in the various little dried fruit jars and other “sweet” storage containers I have around the house. My family is rampant with sweet tooths!

Any doctor will tell you to cut out the sweets. Your body doesn’t need anything sweeter than fruit. Still, there is that longing for a little extra beyond the wholesome apple – so why not make something good with it that isn’t hard to prepare (with a little practice) rather than having everyone scrounging for those wrappers?

17th century map of the first Swedish Apple Orchards

17th century map of the first Swedish apple orchards

If there is something that is easy to come by in the autumn where I live, it is an aromatic apple. In a local newspaper article, I just noticed a very interesting historical fact discovered about apple growing in my vicinity: a newly-discovered map drawn sometime during 1630-1640 shows that Sweden’s oldest apple orchards were located near here in a place called Färingsö on Lake Mälaren. In the international apple world, Sweden has a reputation for most flavorsome and greatest variety. It’s got to do with our blissfully long summer days in which there is an intensive build-up of sugars, fruit acid and aromatic substances and our short nights in which those processes take a short break.

Steeped in history, I set about making something sweet for the family using the overflow of apples I have in my kitchen at this time of year. The result was pleasing – 4 out of 5 stars from the family. I used a bit of the leftover apple sauce I had prepared for visiting one-year-old twins this past weekend underneath the fresh cut apples on top of the pie with a tangy and lagom (a very useful word in the Swedish language unavailable in English meaning just right) moist result without loosing the crunchiness. Pie takes a little effort in the beginning but once you perfect the crust, it really isn’t a big deal. Remember – efficiency and convenience is often also about skill honed by practice! You can also go for the ready-made pie crust but it’s not as good and you don’t have control over ingredients which is an important feature of a healthy kitchen.

Lagom (Just Right) Apple Pie

For the crust:
2 dl or 3/4 cup wholemeal flour (grahamsmjöl)
1 dl or  1/2 cup white flour
1 dl or 1/2 cup wheat germ
100 g butter in cubes
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 392 F. Grease a 22-23 cm or 9-inch pie dish. Mix all crust ingredients together in a food processor until they wrap into a ball of dough. If the dough is too loose, add a tablespoon of flour. If it is too dry, add a tablespoon of water. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin on a floured surface. Alternatively use my little trick of rolling it out in between two sheets of floured baking paper, making it easier to lift into the pie dish. Line the pie dish with the dough. Cut away remaining dough (don’t waste it! line a mini-pie dish if you have one with what is left). Bake 7 mins. Remove from the oven and add filling.

For the filling:
4 dl or 1.5 cups apple sauce (preferably made at home with honey – see recipe)
4 medium-sized tart apples washed and cored (if you like a crunchier recipe, keep the peel on)
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsps brown sugar
1 dl or 1/2 cup chopped almonds
A few small cubes of butter for the topping

Prepare the apples and slice into a bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar, and toss.  Spread the apple sauce evenly over the pie crust. Place apples in a round arrangement sprinkle over the almonds. Place a few butter cubes on top of the pie (be sparing!). Bake 25-30 minutes, making sure that the nuts do not burn.

Honey Apple Sauce

4 medium-sized tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks
Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2 dl or 3/4 cup honey
2 tbsps corn starch or other sauce thickener
a little cold water for mixing the corn starch into

Place all ingredients except for the corn starch and water in a cooking pan over low heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon as the honey begins to melt. Allow to cook but not boil until the apples are soft. Test consistency. If thick enough, leave corn starch aside. If too watery, mix corn starch with cold water in a separate bowl and add gradually to the cooking pot until the sauce has reached the desired consistency. Purée if desired. Enjoy just as it is or in my lagom apple pie!

If I’ve just awoken your curiosity about apples (I sure hope so!), check out the archived articles Wisdom Tree and An Apple A Day and the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for more superb savory and sweet apple recipes.

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