May
27
2009
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Packing a Pre-Summer Health Punch

lima_beans

My favorite butter beans

I’m not giving you my little secret for getting through that warm weather day foodwise until it really is warm. Here in the Mälar islands it is windy and although we are all trying to wear summer clothes, the odd sweater creeps out even with the best intentions of being summery.

So, even if the early summer weather is playing tricks on us with wind and rain, as it is supposed to do if we are going to have a good harvest, there is some great healthy Nordic-style food to be enjoyed in the spirit of getting fit and energized for the season. If you’ve been out for a long walk in the park in this sort of weather, you’ll be hungry and this is just the dish for you.

If there are three ingredients that I find to be very Nordic, they are root vegetables, oily fish and beans. All three have played a major role in the kitchens of this part of the world and all three are clear winners when it comes to your health. The question is can you combine these successfully to create a meal with fantastic taste and a real health punch.

As I found myself out on my deserted island with just those three ingredients and a hungry husband to feed a few days ago, I came up with the following which is a delightful meal on windy, cool pre-summer days when you are trying to give your body something really good. Years ago, I learned that with food limitation is the mother of invention and you should always remember this when trying to find inspiration in your kitchen. Here is the recipe.

Mashed Root Vegetables with Sardines and Butter Beans
Serves 4

For the mashed root vegetables:
6 medium potatoes
2 large carrots
50 grams butter
1/2 dl milk
A pinch of ground muscat
Salt/Pepper

For the bean topping:
1 large zucchini, julienned
380 g lima or butter beans (cooked)
4 tbsps canola oil or olive oil
1 clove garlic

2 cans sardines (including at least 4 whole sardines)

Peel the potatoes and carrots. Cover with water in a pan and add a pinch of salt. Bring to boil and cook on medium heat until you can easily pierce with a fork. Drain away the water. Mash the vegetables with a fork or potato masher. Add butter, half of the milk and place over low heat, blending together the ingredients. Add the remaining milk, if needed and season with muscat, pepper and salt. Cover and keep warm.

Saute the garlic and zucchini in olive oil for 3-4  minutes on medium heat. The zucchini should not be too soft. Add the cooked beans, saute for a further 2 minutes and season with salt and pepper.

Assemble on individual plates. Spoon a large ball of the mashed root vegetables into the middle of the plate. Spoon the bean and zucchini mixture over and around the mashed vegetables and top with a sardine, preferably broken into two pieces.

Artistic, delicious, full of energy, divine! Remember to check the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook and Paavo’s Bytes for more recipes!

May
11
2009
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Asparagus Time

Asparagus and Potatoes with Lemon Oil

Asparagus and Potatoes with Lemon Oil

If you want a real lift this May, I suggest you try the light lunch prepared in under 10 minutes that I enjoyed today. What was it that I prepared and ate? Asparagus. What is that doing in the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook, you might ask? Doesn’t that grow in a sandy, dry environment somewhere where it is much warmer? In actual fact, asparagus is a hardy plant that grows in a wide variety of climates and can even tolerate frosts. Asparagus from Gotland has become a delicacy in Sweden, for example. During the past decade asparagus has become a favorite of Nordic kitchens during the warmer, lighter season.

What’s so good about asparagus from a health point of view? Just a few of its many virtues include that it is a great source of vitamin C, B2 and one of the richest existing sources of B9 (folates) among other essential vitamins and minerals. If you’ve got diabetes, gout or fluid retention you’ll want to eat more of it. It’s also one of those foods that you don’t have to buy organic since it has relatively low pesticide residues. Since it doesn’t have a long shelf life, it’s one of those vegetables you’ll have to eat relatively fresh. There are, of course, also frozen options.

A more long-standing great favorite of the Nordic kitchen is the potato and these combine beautifully with asparagus for a delightful and satisfying meal. If you’ve got any of those boiled potatoes  left from last night’s meal, don’t throw them out! They will make a perfect lunch with asparagus.

Asparagus & Potatoes with Lemon Oil
Lunch for 2

Bunch of asparagus (green or white – up to you)
4 medium-sized boiled potatoes, room temperature (ecological please!)
1 lemon cut in half
Canola or extra virgin olive oil
Salt/Pepper

Wash the asparagus, cut off the hard ends of the stalks and place in a pan just covering with water. Sprinkle in a little salt. Bring to boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a sieve, draining out the hot water and rinse immediately with cold water so that the asparagus retains its crispness. If you’ve got an asparagus cooker (steams the asparagus upright so that it cooks more evenly and preserves more of the nutrients) it will take about 10 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into quarters and divide between two plates. Divide the asparagus into two quantities and pile next to the potatoes. Drizzle potatoes and asparagus with oil and serve with a half a lemon for squeezing over just before eating.

This dish is as divine as it is simple. P.S. Kids and adults alike love it.

Jan
03
2009
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Light-on-the-Butter Salmon Casserole

Hello Mr. Salmon

Hello Mr. Salmon

Laxpudding or Salmon Casserole is one of those absolute staples of the Swedish kitchen. If you don’t eat it once a week, things aren’t really ‘kosher’.This thinking heralds from a time when salmon was at one point in Swedish history the staple food of the peasantry. The servants ate it on most days.

One of my problems with Laxpudding is that it can become rather buttery and can feel heavy. That adoration of melting butter over everything might also be a little hangover from peasant culture where it was a luxurious food item to be eaten sparingly.

Here is my best shot at Laxpudding, maintaining its traditional ingredients, but lightening it up a bit and keeping an eye on the butter.

Laxpudding or Salmon Casserole

300 g or  11 oz. gravad lax or dill-cured salmon, sliced into strips
1 large white onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
10 medium cooked potatoes, thinly sliced
1 dl 1/2 cup chopped dill
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps butter or margarine
2 dl or 3/4 cup light creme fraiche
3.5 dl or 1 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
salt and white pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 200 C or 390 F. Gently saute the onion and zucchini in olive oil for about 2 minutes. Layer the potatoes, zucchini, onion, salmon and dill in a greased casserole dish, starting and finishing with a layer of potato. Blend the creme fraiche with a small quantity of the milk and then gradually add in all of the milk. Add eggs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend until even and pour over the mixture in the casserole dish. Dot with butter or margarine. Bake for 45 minutes or until fully set. Serve with a green salad.

Just a little added note concerning new books out on Husmanskost (the food of the common man). If you read Swedish, I can very warmly recommend ICA’s new book Hela Sverige’s Husman (ICA AB, 2008) which is packed full of the best recipes for traditional Swedish food that I have tried so far (and that is a lot!). Why? Because it truly gathers together the best recipes of the common people FROM everyday people! If you do not read Swedish stick to our Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook and you’ll find a treasure trove of new and old Nordic cuisine for your good health there!

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
31
2008
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Comfort Fish

Look what landed in my fishing net!

Look what landed in my fishing net!

“Ugh! Not fish again!” If you are used to hearing this complaint each time that you serve up this most nutritious of foods, you need the recipe, below. As it gets colder, fish can also mentally feel like too light a food. Doesn’t winter conjure up thoughts of great meat stews with a rich brown sauce? Here in Scandinavia everyone begins to think wild meat stews during this season. Right now, however, I want to give a little shout for fish as a warming winter comfort food.

Before I continue my little shout for fish, I really must point a few things out about purchasing fish. Sometimes these days, I wonder whether I can buy fish with a good conscience at all. Watching those great trawlers hauling in everything left in the seas (or so it seems), doesn’t make eating fish feel great. Yet there are certain types of fish that you can consume with a good conscience and you can find out more about that at the World Wildlife Fund’s Fish Yes List . You’ll also be able to find out a lot more about eating fish responsibly at the upcoming new healthy and eco-smart food directory at www.nordicwellbeing.com (launching December 2008).

This week, I chose Sej which in English is Coalfish or Coley. This isn’t everyone’s first choice because many think it tastes too ‘fishy’. However, it is widely available and a good nutritious fish with a nice firm white meat that one can eat with good conscience where I live. If handled properly in the kitchen, just as with any good fish, it gives amazing results. According to my family, I handled the Coley well this week. They gave me a 4 out of 5 for the recipe below which means something from these discerning eaters!

The potato and sauce in the recipe makes this a wonderful winter comfort dish but at the same time means that you must eat it mindfully. That is, just because there is fish in it, it isn’t a super light dish. Serve with a green salad with viniagrette dressing or even a Cabbage Salad (see recommendations below).

Comfort Fish

800 g or 1.8 lbs Coley fillets or other sustainably harvested fish with white meat
Lemon pepper

For the sauce:
1.5 tbsps flour
3 dl or 1.5 cups milk
1/2 fish stock cube
1 tbsp chervil, parsley or dill finely chopped

For the mashed potatoes:
1 kg or 2.2 lbs potatoes, cooked and peeled
1.5 dl milk
Butter or margarine
Salt & White Pepper

Preheat your oven to 225 C or 437 F. Rinse and pat dry the fish fillets. Place in a greased oven-proof dish and season with lemon pepper and salt. Bake for 7 minutes.

Prepare the sauce. Place flour in a small cooking pot, gradually stir in the milk over low heat until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Add in the stock cube and stir until thoroughly blended in and the sauce has thickened a little. Sprinkle in the herbs last. Set aside.

Prepare the mashed potatoes. Mash the potatoes in a cooking pan. Add a few clicks of butter and pour in the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Blend together over low heat until the potatoes have reached a smooth consistency.

Assemble the dish. Raise oven temperature to 250 C or 482 F. Place large round spoonfuls of the mashed potato around the perimeter of the baking dish (on top of the fish). You can also pipe the mashed potato around the perimeter of the dish. Pour the sauce over the middle where the fish is still visible. Bake 10 minutes or until the potato is slightly browned. Garnish with a sprig of leftover herb and serve with a green salad. Cabbage Salad works well (see this blog). Don’t forget to visit the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook where this recipe and many more are gathered together!

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